The widespread fires across Kalimantan and Sumatra are devastating forests and peatlands and have resulted in not only human casualties, but also wildlife. As the fires continue to spread, wildlife is displaced from natural habitat and many species, including orangutans and sun bears, are forced out of their natural range and into closer proximity to human settlements or villages.
Since early September the BOS Foundation Nyaru Menteng orangutan rescue team together with the Central Kalimantan BKSDA have rescued 8 orangutans forced to leave their forest homes throughout Central Kalimantan.
Rescue missions commenced with 1 baby boy and girl below the age of 1, who were confiscated from local people. The babies were confiscated at different times and those holding them both claimed to have “found them stranded alone without the mother near an area which was on fire”. Orangutan mothers are extremely protective of their offspring and would never abandon their infants and in turn the infants cling onto their mothers for dear life. We assume that these mothers were very tragically killed and their babies taken from them. (read more on Napri’s confiscation story: Emergency Recues from Devastating Fires)
During the confiscation process, we found these boys to be extremely weak, and the thick haze in the Orangutan Rehabilitation Center of Nyaru Menteng where they are currently placed under treatment, has made their recovery not as speedy as we hope. Even so, both have now gained weight almost twice the weight the day we confiscated them.
It is not only baby orangutans which are arriving at our centers. The BOS Foundation team at Nyaru Menteng and BKSDA have also rescued several older orangutans from burning areas. In Sampit, East Kotawaringin Regency, we saved an 11-year old adult female who had been trapped by fire in a small area of farm-forest close to a persons house. Luckily, despite being very frightened, she was healthy and was able to be translocated directly to the Lamandau River Wildlife Sanctuary. We will only translocate wild orangutans if they are independent individuals (independent from their mothers) and are physically healthy.
From the Pulang Pisau Regency, our team has received numerous reports of displaced orangutans fleeing from burnt areas of forest. The BOS Foundation Nyaru Menteng orangutan rescue team and BKSDA have rescued a further 4 orangutans from this region, 2 males and 2 females.
Rescue missions in this regency were challenging as we had to track the individuals very close to areas which were still on fire. Searching in the heavy smoke is tough. You can hardly breathe or see. Things become even more challenging when you are faced with an attack from a panicked mother sun bear.
Out of the four rescues in Pulang Pisau, there was one individual, a 4-year old who does not seem to possess any wild behavior. We believe she may have escaped or been released from illegal captivity in someones house or garden. This female will progress through the rehabilitation process before she can be released back to the forest. The three others have clearly grown up in the wild and we will move them to safe habitat as soon as possible.
In Buntok, the joint BOS Foundation-BKSDA team rescued a 25-year old female in a severe physical condition. She is now under close observation and treatment at our medical clinic at the Nyaru Menteng Orangutan Rehabilitation Center.
We have responded to many reports to try to save as many orangutans as possible who have been forced to leave their devastated forest homes. Sadly we know that it is very likely that many orangutans and sun bears failed to survive. All we can do is keep working and keep trying our best to give a new home and hope to those we can rescue.
Many remember the extremely disturbing story of a female orangutan under our care called Pony, who was rescued from a brothel 14 years ago. We continue to receive regular inquires about Pony, who is still being cared for within our rehabilitation centre at Nyaru Menteng, in Central Kalimantan.
Pony was brought to Nyaru Menteng in a terrible condition on February 13, 2003. Her hair had been completely shaved off and she was covered in mosquito bites. She received immediate intensive treatment from our dedicated medical team, and over time started to socialize with other orangutans. Pony was placed in our Forest School, where she began to learn forest survival skills under the guidance and loving care of our babysitters.
Pony Returned fromTwo Different Pre-Release Islands
After spending two years in Forest School, Pony was deemed to have acquired sufficient skills to be moved to the final stage of rehabilitation on a pre-release island. However, on Bangamat Island, technicians reported they observed her spending most of her time on the ground: She appeared disinterested in foraging, preferring instead to wait for fruit to be distributed at the feeding platform. At that time, Pony seemed to be lacking social skills and competitiveness. Her range was also limited, even though she was once seen crossing the waterway separating the pre-release islands during the dry season.
Pony on Bangamat Island, waits for food to be distributed at the feeding platform
In July 2010, Pony was moved back to the socialization complex at Nyaru Menteng after failing to thrive. Our technicians paid close attention to Pony’s needs and behaviour, and she was occasionally taken back to Forest School where she could relearn some of the basic survival skills she seemed to be lacking. Over time, Pony appeared to build up a sound skillset, which led us to believe she was ready to have another go at the pre-release stage. On June 29, 2013, Pony was transferred to the pre-release island of Kaja. At the time of her release, she weighed 60 kilograms.
Pony was transferred to Kaja Island on June 29, 2013
Much to our relief, on Kaja Island Pony demonstrated improved natural abilities and wild behaviours: she was more agile; good at foraging; spent a lot of time up in trees; explored deep into the forest; made sturdy nests; and socialized with other orangutans! She seemed to be learning from other orangutans through her interactions with them, which differed vastly to her previous experience on Bangamat Island.
Unfortunately, Pony’s enthusiasm lasted only three months, and in September our technicians found her in a weak and lethargic state. Upon examination, our medical team found that Pony had several wounds, her hair was surprisingly dry, she showed symptoms of chronic malnutrition and she had lost 16 kilograms.
Pony’s condition deteriorated and she suffered from various illnesses and injuries – she even had torn muscles on her fingers and toes, and had to undergo regular physiotherapy.
After a month of intensive treatment, and another year under close medical supervision, Pony’s condition improved. In August 2014, she was placed back in a Socialization Complex, which is where she is still located today. This gorgeous female is now 21 years old and in a very good health. She has a good appetite and engages with the skill-enhancing enrichment tools provided by our team members.
Pony in the Nyaru Menteng 2 Socialization Complex
We hope Pony can one day be successfully introduced to a pre-release sanctuary island with other unreleasable orangutans like her, but we are also realistic in the knowledge that her sad history in human captivity has ultimately damaged her in ways that she will always need our support.
The BOS Foundation’s Orangutan Reintroduction Center at Nyaru Menteng recently received another orphaned orangutan, this time from Madara village in South Barito regency.
Yutris, is a 7 month-old baby male orangutan weighing 3 kilograms. He was apparently found without his mother by bird hunters and taken care of by a local resident of Madara before being taken to Buntok, South Barito regency. As soon as he arrived in Buntok, Yutris was handed to Mr. Heto, a BKSDA (Wildlife Conservation Agency) officer posted in Buntok and then finally on to Nyaru Menteng on 6th May 2015.
Mr. Hento, a BKSDA officer
Little Yutris arrived at Nyaru Menteng around 7 pm and was given an initial health examination before entering into baby quarantine. Vet Suli Partono conducted the initial health checks on Yutris and confirmed that the baby orangutan was in good condition. During quarantine, Yutris will be taken care of by a babysitter Lisawati in nursery where he can play in the baby playground. As soon as he successfully finishes quarantine, he will join our other baby orangutans. For now, Yutris seems happy playing in the baby playground with his friend Blegi who are also in quarantine time.
We hope that Yutris’s test results reveal that he is completely healthy so that he can join his peers as soon as possible and begin to sharpen his natural skills and rebuild his life with the help of our team.
Almost all orangutan babies who arrive with us are orphaned. Many of these infants are all too often traumatized as they were brutally separated from their mothers during their illegal capture. These orphaned orangutan babies then need go through a long rehabilitation process and be taken care of and nurtured by surrogate mothers; our dedicated babysitters. Arief is one of these young orangutans who lost his mother and is now being cared for in our orangutan center at Samboja Lestari. Whilst in Forest School, Arief met Long a 10-year old female orangutan who loves him like her son. This is a must-read emotional story from Samboja Lestari.
An Emotional Meet-Up
Within our Forest School Level 2 in Samboja Lestari, it is normal to see young orangutans playing or busy working on their other activities like foraging and nest building up in the trees. There are 32 orangutans here aged 5-8 years old. Each morning when these young orangutans wake up, they are brought out of their night-time enclosure and given a light breakfast. This starts them off for the day, but does not fill them up completely so that they are encouraged to forage for food in the forest, like a wild orangutan would. After a busy day our team provides additional fruits and other food supplements to make sure they receive a sufficient diet.
But there is this one special and emotional sight we have witnessed in Forest School Level 2: A 10-year old female orangutan carrying and busily tending to a 4-year old orangutan. This is an unusual occurrence because there are no mother and infant units roaming around free in Samboja Lestari. But these two orangutans are not mother and son. They are a female orangutan called Long from Forest School Level 2, and little Arief from Forest School Level 1.
The story of Long and Arief started when they first met in Forest School Level 1. Long played far enough from her own Forest School that she reached the younger school, Level 1 where Arief was and that was how the two met. Somehow, Long’s maternal instincts kicked in and she picked up and carried Arief in her arms. As a young orangutan who still desperately needed a mother, Arief willingly accepted Long’s invitation. Since then, they have been inseparable.
A good Mother and Teacher
Long has always been an independent orangutan. She rarely returns to her enclosure at night and instead prefers to build night nests in the trees. As such she is an excellent mother and teacher for Arief.
After living with Long for many months, Arief is now skillful in building his own nest, a skill that not even all Level 2 Forest School orangutans have developed. Since he started living with Long, Arief never comes back to his own night-time enclosure, but he shows up every once in a while and eats the fruits given by the technicians so our team can continually observe his condition.
Long only trusts Technician Angga. Angga is the only technician accepted by Long and Arief. Everytime they see Angga, Arief will come and see him and Long is accepting. But if it happens to be one of our other technicians, Long will instinctively protect Arief and even go as far as trying to bite them.
A Unique Relationship
Long and Arief’s story is unique. Normally a wild female orangutan would start to reproduce somewhere between the age of 13-15 years old. In the rehabilitation center, they reach maturity at an earlier age, but Long is no more than 10 years old and she voluntarily takes care of Arief, who is clearly a burden (literally) and has taken on complete responsibility for him.
This is an amazing and heartwarming story for us and hopefully this will be the start of a wonderful journey for Long and Arief. With Long’s independence, we hope to soon promote her Forest School Level 3, which is the last step before release. Will Arief continue to live with Long? We don’t know, but we will follow their unique relationship closely and see where it will take them.
On Saturday, 6 October 2012, East Kalimantan Conservation and Natural Resources Authority (BKSDA) contacted the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation (BOSF) to check the health of three recently rescued orangutans: a male of around 1-2 years old, a female of 3-4 years old, and another
female of 4-5 years old.
The young male orangutan had been kept as a pet for a year by a local community member after he found this small individual on a road near to an oil palm plantation, whilst the 3-2 year-old female orangutan, who was also kept as a pet for three years, was found in a private plantation in Sangatta. Finally, a local community in Samarinda handed over the 4-5 year-old female orangutan to the Mulawarman University however her background story is not really known.
Female Orangutan 3-4 old.
These stories are the same for so many of our other orangutans who are all victims of deforestation for human development purposes. They are left with no natural habitat hence no home. When areas are cleared of forest, orangutans are often found wandering through plantations desperately looking for food and are regarded as a threat or simply pests. The adults are often killed and infants caught and kept as pets. Often these poor infants are kept in terrible conditions either chained up or kept in tiny filthy cages. Many of them don’t survive.
The BOS Foundation has rescued thousands of orangutans from areas of conflict. Our two Orangutan Reintroduction Centres; Samboja Lestari in East Kalimantan and Nyaru Menteng in Central Kalimantan currently care for a total of 850 orangutans. We provide welfare, healthcare and rehabilitation to enable them to be returned to safe secure natural habitat. The rehabiliation process can take more than 7 years as when a young orangutan is taken away from its mother, it loses a whole lifetime of early learing in how to survive in the forest, which it normally gets from its mother for the first 6-8 years of its life. Our dedicated carers provide those skills to our orangutans so that they can one day be returned to their natural home.
Female Orangutan 4-5 yo.
Although our resources are stretched to the maximum, once again the BOS Foundation has helped rescue these orphaned orangutans. This year, we have released 6 orangutans from our rehabilitation center in East Kalimantan. However, within the same year we have taken 7 orangutans into our center, including these three newcomers. This means we are back where we started in terms of the number of orangutans in our East Kalimantan rehabilitation center and in terms of meeting the goals set by the Government of Indonesia of releasing all of our rehabilitated orangutans by 2015. In fact, we now have 1 individual more than we initially had in the beginning of the year! A little space that we managed to free by releasing orangutans have again been filled to maximum capacity.
Therefore, on behalf of our reintroduction program at Samboja Lestari in East Kalimantan and BKSDA, we call on all of our friends to support and donate to us to help us look after these orangutans. We ask companies who either directly or indirectly cause deforestation to take the responsibility for the orangutans welfare. If everyone supports, we can share the burden of responsibilty and work to make sure all our able bodied orangutans can once again be returned to the wild where they belong.