Category Archives: Orangutan Care Centre & Quarantine

Orangutan Care Centre and Quarantine (OCCQ)

The last time I wrote, I talked about Mr Sehat from the Orangutan Care Centre and Quarantine (OCCQ). I thought you might like to learn a little more about the Centre and what goes on there. The OCCQ is located in a village on the outskirts of Pangkalan Bun and is where we receive orphaned, confiscated or injured orangutans. It is the first step of the rehabilitation process, which will end with the orangutans being released back into the wild in the Lamandau Wildlife Reserve. The Centre was opened in 1998 and its facilities include an operating theatre, X-ray room, laboratory, library and separate quarantine complex. Adjoining the OCCQ is a remnant patch of rainforest which provides a learning area and “halfway house” for the orangutans before they return to a life in the wild. Three Indonesian vets, two laboratory technicians and over 100 local people are employed there. Currently, the OCCQ is caring for over 300 orangutans in various stages of rehabilitation.

Orangutans are received as young as four months old and may remain at the OCCQ until the age of ten, or even older. Often when they arrive, the orangutans need 24-hour care. Many are severely traumatised and suffer from disease, injury and malnutrition. Without a high degree of care, they would not survive.

It is very difficult to describe how one feels about the OCCQ. It certainly confuses me. The orangutans receive the best of care and it is real joy to witness their recovery and development as they go through the process of rehabilitation. However, the fact can’t be ignored that far too many are in captivity and this is because their habitat is being destroyed. Over-crowding is a chronic problem, which is why finding release sites, like the new Mangkong one, is so important.
OCCQ from above

OCCQ from above – (Jodie & Pete Sheridan)

The OCCQ generates an endless wish list – medicines, equipment, children’s multi-vitamins, infant-formula milk and a host of other things. With some of those things, I can try to help but with limited resources available it does create the dilemma of where money would be best spent – improving the short-term welfare of the orangutans at OCCQ or tackling the longer term problems of habitat loss and therefore protection for the wild population. We try to get the balance right. By working intensively in the Lamandau Wildlife Reserve, a government designated release site, we achieve both welfare and conservation gains. We can get the orangutans out of cages while, at the same time, protect a large area of forest.

I have included a short piece about the OCCQ from Jodie Sheridan. Jodie and her husband Peter are Australians who are volunteering at the OCCQ under the Australian equivalent of VSO or the Peace Corps. Jodie had written a piece for her sponsorship programme’s newsletter which makes interesting reading.

Jodie writes:

It’s hard to believe Pete and I are fast approaching the two year mark for living here in Indonesia. It feels like only yesterday that the Australian Orangutan Project (AOP) and the Volunteering for International Development from Australia (VIDA) Program selected us to come to Borneo to help orphaned orangutans. It has been an adventure to say the least, full of amazing moments and tough times too.

Highlights come to mind easily.

For Peter, being a huge snake fan, seeing spitting cobras, vipers and reticulated pythons in the wild certainly rates a mention from him but his most rewarding moment came after working solidly for three months building a playground for the smallest of the orangutan orphans and seeing them use it for the first time.

Orangutan Playground

Play time! (Jodie & Pete Sheridan)

Watching the small babies swing, roll, jump, smile and laugh because of the work we had done felt truly amazing.

For me, it’s too hard to choose just one highlight so you get a couple of my most favourite moments!

Setting up enrichment programs to stop the orangutans getting bored on days they can’t play in the forest. Something as simple as a hessian sack or cardboard box can provide hours of fun. Going with armed Indonesian Police in the middle of the night and seizing an orphaned orangutan being kept illegally at someone’s house certainly gets the adrenaline pumping. Generally the orangutans are kept in such appalling conditions that if we don’t get to them quickly they can die from malnutrition, neglect or disease. But I guess I would have to say the most magical moment was releasing an orangutan named Gloria back to the wild. When Gloria was captured she received major wounds to her upper arm and as a result had very little use of one hand, she was also terrified and angry towards people. I befriended Gloria and was able to take her to the forest regularly to strengthen her muscles. After 5 months she had almost full use of her hand and even though she was young, her forest skills were remarkable. Gloria was taken to our release site and as she moved off into the jungle, she turned and looked back at me before slipping out of sight. Thinking about that moment still gives me chills. She is still occasionally spotted and is happily living independently in the forest and I could not have asked for anything better.

But it devastates us to think that even with all the work done on trying to save the orangutan species that more orangutan infants are orphaned everyday and the problem is only getting worse. Indonesia’s rainforests are destroyed at a rate of a 6 football fields every minute due to illegal logging and clear felling to make way for a booming palm oil industry. Palm oil, that is on every shelf, in every supermarket, in every country in the world

Camp Mangkong

A quick blog to let you know about a very good day. But first the background. About a month or so ago we removed some illegal loggers from the Mangkong River and subsequently we built the guard post there – the post which flooded.

Map of TPNP and Lamandau

I accompanied a follow-up patrol to make sure there was no more logging taking place upstream. Well there was definitely no logging but, even better, we found what appeared to be an ideal orangutan release site (see photos below). I won’t bore you with all the factors that come into play when choosing a release site but suffice it to say “location, location, location” isn’t everything! You have to have forest, access and a clearing for the buildings plus a few other things. Anyway, we saw this site and all said “perfect”.


The Patrol Team, who monitor illegal activities, are seperate to the Camp’s staff, who monitor the released orangutans in Lamandau and they are separate again from the staff at the Orangutan Care Centre Quarantine (OCCQ) where the orangutans start the rehabilitation process. One of my jobs is to try to integrate all the different branches of our operations, so last week I went back up the Mangkong with Mr Tigor, the Camp’s Manager, a couple of his staff and staff from the OCCQ.


Foremost among the OCCQ staff was Mr. Sehat, he is someone I truely admire and he has an absolutely magical way with orangutans. At the OCCQ he is the “dominant male” – bar none. I once watched an orangutan trying to wrestle a tub of fruit from one of the other assistants. Mr. Sehat happened to be walking past. Immediately, the orangutan let go, sat down meekly and gratefully accepted his allotted share. There is no force or aggression in his manner, it is simply will power and years and years of experience. Sehat once carried a sub-adult male weighing some 70 kg (154 lbs) from his enclosure to a traveling crate just so the orangutan would not have to be anesthetized.

Mr Sehat

Photo taken of Mr Sehat on an earlier orangutan release.

To continue, if Mr. Sehat agrees with something we know it has to be alright and he took one look at the selected site and asked grinning, “Why haven’t we found this place before?”. Ukim, one of the other assistants, sized it up perfectly – and with the brevity typical of a Dayak. He looked around and said simply “it’s never been burnt”. Fires destroy the natural seed bank in the soil (rainforest trees are not adapted to cope with fire). Even if an area has been logged it will recover but once it is burnt, recovery will be much, much slower. Mr Tigor was equally enthusiastic and he had even started pacing the layout of the new site. For my part, it was reassuring to know that everyone was in agreement, this was a perfect release site. You can expect to hear more about the Mangkong Camp and the orangutans, who will make their home there, in the future!

Volunteer programme

Committed, enthusiastic, slightly nutty (it helps!) and hard working – our volunteers. Another year’s volunteer programme has ended and again it has proved to be invaluable to our field operations.

The programme has been running successfully for seven years. Each year, between April and November, we have up to four teams coming out to work with us in the field. Volunteers pay £600 for six weeks which covers all their living expenses but also importantly pays for all the construction and material used during the programme. All of the money received from the volunteer programme stays in the field.

For the past few years, the main target area of the programme has been the Lamandau Wildlife Reserve. Projects have included the construction of guard posts, building release sites for ex-captive orangutans, marking out boundaries and assisting with reforestation programmes. In 2008 we hope to build two new orangutan sites in Lamandau in order to relieve pressure at the OCCQ. All of the teams in 2008 will be concentrating on constructing one of the release sites and we hope to raise funds for the construction of the other site.

Vicky Dauncey, the volunteer co-ordinator for this year has sent us a taster of what the last two teams got up to….

Map of TPNP and Lamandau

Map – to help to get your bearings!

Team 3 – Our focus on this team was to construct a guard post in Sungai Mangkung, Lamandau. We experienced a lot of rain!!

vol prg T3

By the second week there was no dry land except the pondok and the building site but the upside to this meant it was cooler in the day and so it made the physical work less demanding. Morale stayed high during our work in Lamandau despite the flooding (in the last few days the water entered the pondok!).

Volunteer programme 2

Team 3 Vol prg 2007

Volunteers and Orangutan Foundation staff at Sungai Mangkung, Lamandau

Eventually we were forced to leave without finishing the post. This meant that we had a few days, on the beach, at Tanjung Keluang, planting saplings and cleaning the area of rubbish. This was funded by the Forestry Department and we worked with two forestry department staff whilst we were there. Living (sleeping in hammocks) and working at Tanjung Keluang was an incredible experience and one I hope the volunteers will not forget.

Team 4 – The first week was spent in Sungai Buluh Kecil, TPNP. Re-planting an area destroyed by fire. First we had to check an area that had been previously planted and replace dead saplings. This was particularly physically tough as the terrain is swamp. After six days the volunteers were exhausted and, although proud of their work, they were happy to leave!

Buluh kecil-river shot

Buluh kecil guardpost

Sungai Buluh Kecil, TPNP

Two rest days were spent in PKB and during this time we visited the OCCQ. The OCCQ really brings home the importance of building the guard posts and release camps in Lamandau and really helps to motivate the volunteers.

After the rest we went to Lamandau to finish the guard post at Sungai Mangkung, that was started by team 3. In comparison to the first week this seemed like light work and it helped that we were working in a beautiful location and that the water had receded!

Pak Sariamat, Pak Matjuri, Ibu Opit are long standing staff members and highly valued on the volunteer programme. Thank you for your continued hard work.

If the Volunteer Programme interests you please visit the Orangutan Foundation website

Setting Orangutans Free

It is about time you read a story about orangutans, so here is a great one. Last Sunday, we released two teenage female orangutans back to a life in the wild.

Kath and Jutak came to us as orphans. Both were confiscated from people who were holding them illegally as pets. Kath’s story is particularly tragic. She was confiscated from an animal dealer, in West Kalimantan (the neighbouring province) way back in 1998. She was chained around the neck, where the skin was rubbed raw. She cowered from her “owner” who became very aggressive during the confiscation. Eventually, the Police were called to tell him to back off.

During her time at the Orangutan Care and Quarantine, Kath’s weight increased over three-fold. On Sunday she weighed a healthy 25kg. Unfortunately, Kath was plagued by a persistent cough which prevented her from being released any earlier. The nightmare disease with captive primates is tuberculosis but repeated tests for TB came back negative. However, the cough would not respond to any medication whether homeopathic or western. It is only in the last couple of months her cough has subsided. And as soon as that happened, we thought “time to go!”

Orangutan Release - pickup truck

Kath and Jutak in the pick-up

After a final health check by the vets, the two orangutans were carried over to the travel cages, which were then loaded on to the back of the Forestry Department’s pick-up. (I laughed when I saw a little orangutan in one of the neighbouring enclosures standing on tip-toes trying to see what was going on). At this point, Kath and Jutak were OK, but their adrenaline must have been starting to flow. After the twenty minute drive to the jetty they looked decidedly nervous. When we tried to move their cages into the waiting speedboats, it became all too much. The orangutans tried to grab onto whatever they could to stop themselves from being lifted. Their fingers were gently prised open and the cages lowered into the boats.


As quickly as possible the boats took off and the two orangutans seemed to settle down, watching the river bank drift past. Kath even drank some water and ate an orange, which a truly scared orangutan would never do. A Brahminy kite circled overhead and twice hornbills flew across the river in front of us. Once we turned off the main Lamandau River into the Rasau River, a smaller, black-water tributary, the boats had to slow down, and the orangutans became positively curious. No doubt they were smelling the forest.

Release site

Once at Camp Rasak, far upstream, their cages were lifted onto a well barrow and trundled into the surrounding forest. Each Camp has a feeding site, which is also where orangutans are released so they know straight away where they can find food. The aim of rehabilitation is to return orangutans back to a life in the wild. The food they are given each day is only a supplement. It does not meet their full dietary requirement, so the orangutans still have to forage, but it does gives them some stability has they adapt to life in the forest.

Orangtan release

Release site feeding platform

In the OCCQ, the orangutans sleep inside at night. In Lamandau, they have to make a new nest each day. At the OCCQ, the older orangutans are only taken to the nursery forest every second day – so we can separate males and females to stop unwanted pregnancies (we are happy if they breed in the forest, but we don’t want any more babies in cages). In Lamandau, the orangutans will be climbing and moving all day, every day. It takes the orangutans some time in their new surroundings to find the food trees, and to work out where the previously released orangutans’ home ranges are. For all these reasons the feeding sites are useful on top of which they allow our field assistants to monitor daily who is around, whether they are in a good physical condition.

Feeding platform

In the wild again!!!

On Sunday, at the feeding site, Kath and Jutak climbed out as soon as their cage door swung open. But their excitement was not yet over. Straight away they were faced by Janu, a rather rambunctious teenage male. His thoughts were not on the mangoes laid out on the feeding platform, but on the two nubile females just arrived. He tried to inspect Kath who challenged him and slipped out of his grasp. There is no way a female orangutan can physically resist a sub-adult, let alone a fully adult male, but Kath had a plan. As she ducked out of the way, she exposed Jutak who Janu grabbed and held down with ease.


Curious Janu

I actually felt very sorry for Jutak. After having been loaded into a travel cage, driven in a car, put in a speedboat, and finally wheeled on a wheelbarrow, both her and Kath must have been, at the very least, bewildered. To be then grabbed and held down by a male of whose size she had never encountered, must have been the final straw. Jutak whimpered as Janu held her. The Assistants closed in to make sure he did not bite her, but nothing aggressive happened. Janu poked prodded and sniffed but then let her go. Jutak dashed up a tree and climbed hurriedly away. Kath, by this time had moved some off some 30m and was watching from high up in a tree.

We left them at sunset as both orangutans made their first nests in their new home. Two assistants will follow the orangutans for a week, recording how far they travel, what they eat and where they sleep. This way we can make sure they are settling in OK.

Despite the adventures of the day, it looked as if both will do just fine. We’ll keep you updated on their progress.

Orangutan Care Centre and Quarantine (OCCQ) to successful rehabilitation.

I want to introduce you to the OCCQ because behind the need to save the forests, is the need to save the orphaned orangutans who ultimately all come from the forests which have been lost. Increasing numbers of orangutans are arriving at the OCCQ as their habitat is destroyed. The OCCQ currently has over 300 orangutans and we urgently need to release the older orangutans back to the wild, where they belong. To date 155 orangutans have been released in the Lamandau Wildlife Reserve, most of who have come from the OCCQ.
Orphan orangutan with carer

Very young orphan orangutan with carer

Orangutan Care Centre and Quarantine (OCCQ) cages

Orangutan Care Centre and Quarantine facility

Inside the Lamandau Wildlife Reserve, we operate five release-camps each with a staff of up to seven field assistants. OF plans to build two more release camps at Lamandau to relieve pressure at the OCCQ. One of the camps will be constructed by participants from our invaluable Volunteer Programme and we are currently trying to raise funds for the construction of the other site and both release camps’ running costs.

The release of orangutans into the Lamandau creates a visible reason to increase the protection of threatened forests. Last August we managed to stop the establishment of an 8,000 ha oil-palm plantation that would have wiped out the reserve’s buffer zone and impacted heavily on the nearby Lamandau River.