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 – (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.
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.
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