Wednesday 21st September 211
Back to Borneo
Endangered Bornean orangutans return home from Sumatra.
Two orangutans, which started their life in the wilds of Borneo, but ended up as pets in Sumatra have returned home.
Kevin and Bobby, are male Bornean orangutans. Their mothers were almost certainly killed at the time of their capture in Borneo (probably whilst their habitat was being clear-felled) and their previous “owners” obtained them in Borneo before returning home to the island of Sumatra. Fortunately for both Kevin and Bobby, they were subsequently rescued by the Indonesian government’s local Nature Conservation department (PHKA) and staff of the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme (implemented by the Swiss based PanEco Foundation and the Indonesian Yayasan Ecosystem Lestari and PHKA). Under Indonesian law it is illegal to keep orangutans as pets and to trade, harm or kill them. Kevin was rescued in 2006, aged a little over 2 years and Bobby in 2009 aged around 3 or 4 years old.
Bobby above and below – male Bornean orangutan
Under the care of SOCP at the Batu Mbelin Orangutan Quarantine Centre near Medan, North Sumatra, both orangutans grew, gained weight and had excellent health. They were therefore very much ready for a return to a life in the wild. To do this, however, they had to be returned to the island of their birth. Bornean orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus) and Sumatran orangutans (Pongo abelii) are nowadays recognized by scientists as being two distinct and separate species. As such, Bornean orangutans must only be released on Borneo, and Sumatrans on Sumatra. Mixing the species on the two islands would be detrimental to the genetic viability of both species’ wild populations.
Kevin – male Bornean orangutan
The Sumatran orangutan is already listed as Critically Endangered by the World Conservation Union (IUCN), and the Bornean as Endangered. In fact there are estimated to be only around 50,000 Bornean orangutans left in the wild and as few as only 6,600 or so Sumatrans. The future for both is therefore already precarious enough.
For the above reasons, Dr Ian Singleton, Director of Conservation for the PanEco Foundation and head of the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme, approached the Orangutan Foundation, a UK registered charity, to help get the two young orangutans back to where they belonged thus contributing to the long term conservation of the Bornean orangutans, “Kevin and Bobby deserve the chance to be wild orangutans once again and we have done everything we can to make sure it happens. If we can at the same time highlight the plight of orangutans on both islands and remind people that it is illegal in Indonesia to keep them as pets then that would be an added bonus.” said the British born expert.
The Orangutan Foundation’s work is focused towards Central Kalimantan, in the Indonesia part of Borneo. In collaboration with the Indonesian government’s local Nature Conservation department (PHKA), the Orangutan Foundation runs a release site for rehabilitated and trans-located wild orangutans in the Lamandau River Wildlife Reserve.
On Saturday 17 September, the Orangutan Foundation team including their vet, Dr Fikri, flew to Medan, where the two orangutans were being kept together. On Monday, after final checks, Kevin and Bobby began their journey home. First they flew to Jakarta, on the island of Java. Both orangutans seemed fine and not too stressed after the first flight and the Orangutan Foundation’s vet gave them some fruit. They then flew onto Pangkalan Bun, Central Kalimantan, on the island of Borneo. On arrival, back home in Borneo, both orangutans looked out curiously from their cargo crate. The Australian Orangutan Project, partners of both organisations, kindly agreed to help fund the cost of bringing the two orangutans home.
Kevin and Bobby are currently resting and then they will undergo some additional final pre-release medical checks at a local government facility. They will then complete the final leg of their journey, by river on a longboat, to the 76,000 hectare.
Once at the reserve they will again be housed for a few more weeks in a large cage, but this time deep in the forest that they will soon be free to explore. This is to allow them to really rest up after all the travelling and to acclimatize to their new surroundings, the swamp forests of Borneo.
Their health and behaviour will continue to be closely monitored by Orangutan Foundation’s vet and once given the all clear and when the time is right, they will finally be freed and get their chance to live as wild orangutans once again. Even then, the OF team will continue to follow them and monitor their behaviour and health until such time they are confident they will survive with little or no more intervention.
The principle threat to wild orangutans on both islands is habitat loss, mostly as forests are cleared for conversion to agriculture, especially vast, monoculture oil palm plantations. Many of the orangutans in these forests die or are killed in the process. Some of the lucky ones manage to survive and end up as illegal pets. The luckiest of them all survive long enough to be confiscated and placed in a rescue centre, and are eventually returned to a life in the wild.
The general public can help support the Orangutan Foundation’s work in the Lamandau River Wildlife Reserve at http://www.orangutan.org.ukor 020 7724 2912.
For more information, high resolution images, or to arrange an interview,
call Cathy Smith on +44 (0)20 7724 2912 or email email@example.com
Notes to editors:
Orangutans are only found on two islands, Borneo and Sumatra and they are classified as two distinct species reflecting this geographic distribution.
Sumatran orangutans are critically endangered with only about 6,600 in the wild. Bornean orangutans are endangered with only about 50,000 remaining.
The Sumatra Orangutan Conservation Programme is a collaborative programme implemented by the Swiss based PanEco Foundation, Indonesia’s Yayasan Ekosistem Lestari (Foundation for a Sustainable Ecosystem) the Indonesian Government’s Directorate General of Forest Protection and Nature
The Orangutan Foundation works in collaboration with The Directorate General of Forest Protection and Nature Conservation of the Ministry of Forestry of the Republic of Indonesia (Ditjen PHKA).
The Orangutan Foundation is the UK representative of the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme.