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Day 1: Five Orangutans Return to Central Kalimantan

November 29, 2013

Closing the year 2013, the BOS Foundation is taking on the trickiest challenge yet, tackling multiple activities at once and involving cross-province collaboration of three of our programs – Nyaru Menteng, Samboja Lestari, and Orangutan Habitat Restoration (RHOI). These are our most complicated – not to mention, most costly – activities to date, yet very important in ensuring the survival of this iconic species.

The main activity is the 7th orangutan release from the BOS Foundation Nyaru Menteng Orangutan Reintroduction Program, which will start tomorrow on November 29, 2013, reintroducing 17 orangutans into the Bukit Batikap Conservation Forest. But the BOS Foundation was able to take this opportunity, thanks to the logistical support from BHP Billiton, to translocate a total of eight orangutans across both provinces, from East Kalimantan to Central Kalimantan and vice versa.

The Background

These cross-province activities are hoped to highlight some of the many challenges in orangutan conservation and the fact that it is actually easier and cheaper to leave them undisturbed in their natural habitat. Releasing orangutans is not as easy as one may think. It is not about simply taking them to a forest and opening their cages. There are many criteria to follow, both national and international (IUCN).  One of the criteria is to ensure subspecies are released into their appropriate locations.

This means orangutans must be released into their area of their origin, i.e. East Kalimantan orangutans cannot be released in Central Kalimantan or other forests outside East Kalimantan. Central Kalimantan orangutans cannot be released in West Kalimantan, etc. And therefore, it is necessary to conduct DNA testing to determine orangutans’ subspecies soon after they are rescued and/or confiscated, which is the responsibility of the government, in this case the local Conservation and Natural Resources Authorities (BKSDA). The results of DNA checks will help determine which rehabilitation center(s) the orangutans should go to.

However, such compliance to the necessity has never been adhered to. BKSDA usually send orangutans to a specific orangutan rehabilitation center simply based on closest proximity and/or availability of resources, instead of the location of their subspecies. Thus, so far, it becomes the responsibility of each rehabilitation center to ensure that release candidates go through DNA tests to determine subspecies, before releasing them in the forest.

The Switch

Following obligatory DNA testing procedures, the BOS Foundation found that eight of our orangutans are not where they should be. Despite having been rehabilitated over many years at our Orangutan Rehabilitation Center at Samboja Lestari, East Kalimantan, DNA test results revealed that five orangutans – Cici, Donna, Karen, Roma, and Marwoto – belong to the subspecies Pongo pygmaeus wurmbii, which naturally inhabits the central part of Kalimantan.

Similarly, three orangutans – mother-child pair Yayang and Sayang, as well as a female adult, Diah – who have been rehabilitated at our Orangutan Rehabilitation Center at Nyaru Menteng, Central Kalimantan, turned out to belong to the subspecies Pongo pygmaeus morio, which naturally inhabits the eastern part of Kalimantan. A switch must be made.

Samboja Lestari Team posing together before a busy day ahead

The Orangutans

Today, the five orangutans from Samboja Lestari, East Kalimantan finally embarked on the cross-province journey to Central Kalimantan. Activities at Samboja Lestari started at 10 am. Travel cages were cleaned and filled with comfortable leaves, then the team got ready to sedate orangutans.

Marwoto, the only male in the group

Marwoto, the only male in the group, was the first to be sedated. He came to Samboja Lestari at the age of 5 years old on October 4, 2001, after being confiscated by BKSDA in South Kalimantan. He is now an adult aged 17 years old and known as a natural forager. He is an expert at finding forest foods such as ficus, wild mangosteen, bamboo shoots and termites.

It didn’t take very long for the sedation to work on Marwoto. He soon fell asleep and was transferred to his travel cage.

Sedating Marwoto

Karen also didn’t give the any team any trouble. The sedation worked quickly on this 14 year-old female. Karen was confiscated in Jakarta by the local BKSDA when she was 5 years old and arrived at Samboja Lestari on July 14, 2004. Karen has always maintained her ‘wild side’. She is independent and very clever. Karen was the second orangutan of the day sleeping peacefully in her travel cage.

Karen has always kept her 'wild side'

Karen falling asleep

Donna, on the other hand, is a feisty female. The first sedation attempt was not successful. The 14 year-old kept swinging from one side of the socialization enclosure to the other. Donna used to be someone’s pet in Surabaya, East Java until the local BKSDA office were alerted to her situation and confiscated her at the age of 3. She came to Samboja Lestari on August 1, 2002. Like Karen, Donna has also maintained her wild nature and has grown into a dominant female.

Feisty Donna

Her dominance was clearly shown today. She was not about to make it easy for us to sedate her. But the second sedation attempt finally worked. She fell asleep and was safely transferred into her travel cage.

Donna finally asleep and transferred into her travel cage

Roma was also confiscated in Jakarta. She was only 4 years old back then. Roma arrived at Samboja Lestari on January 25, 2000. Roma has never liked being around humans. She is independent and has developed great forest skills. Roma, now a 17 year-old adult, was the fourth orangutan to be sedated. A few minutes later, she seemed to have fallen asleep. But as she was gently carried out of the socialization enclosure, she woke up! It was clear that she was not fully awake, but just to be safe, vet Agnes gave her an extra dose of sedation.

Roma doesn't like being around humans

Vet Agnes gave Roma extra sedation dose

Last but not least, Cici, a female orangutan aged 13 years old, was sedated. Cici was confiscated by BKSDA Jakarta and arrived at Samboja Lestari on January 8, 2003. She was only 3 years old at that time. During her years training at Forest School, Cici was known for her ‘disappearing acts’. She was an expert at hiding in bushes or swinging through trees without making a sound, making it hard for her babysitters to monitor her movements and earning her the nickname ‘gibbon’ because she was quick like a gibbon.

Cici is nicknamed 'gibbon'

Waiting for Cici to fall asleep

The Flight to Central Kalimantan

By 1 pm, all five orangutans were safely in their travel cages and had been loaded onto a truck. The team departed to Sepinggan Airport, Balikpapan and arrived there at around 2.30 pm. The Hevilift aircraft was already there, waiting for us.

After sorting out the necessary paperwork, we started unloading the travel cages from the truck and loading them onto the airplane. Cici went in first, followed by Roma, Donna, Karen, and Marwoto. Samboja Lestari Program Manager, Agus Irwanto, and a Senior Technician, Imam Gozali, also boarded the airplane to accompany the five orangutans on their journey back to their homeland in Central Kalimantan.

Loading process, starting with Cici

Rain suddenly poured down on us during the loading process. Fortunately, it stopped just before the airplane was about to take off.  The sun came out, the sky was bright and decorated with a beautiful rainbow as the airplane took to the sky at 3.45 pm.

Beautiful rainbow at the end of the runway

The Welcome at Nyaru Menteng

Meanwhile at Nyaru Menteng, Central Kalimantan, the day began with final technical preparations for orangutan release activities. All travel cages were cleaned and taken to the quarantine enclosure. The team also made extra holes on the travel cage for Yayang and Sayang for extra ventilation, safety and comfort, as the mother-child pair will share the same cage and will have to endure a long journey to the Kehje Sewen Forest in East Kalimantan.

Shortly after lunch, at around 1 pm, the Nyaru Menteng Team departed to Tjilik Riwut Airport, Palangka Raya, to pick up Marwoto, Cici, Donna, Karen and Roma. Although these five orangutans were accompanied by Agus and Imam, Nyaru Menteng also dispatched a backup team of vet, technicians and a security guard led by vet Anggun Mumpuni. Nyaru Menteng Program Manager, Anton Nurcahyo, the BOS Foundation’s CEO, Jamartin Sihite, and the Communication Team from Nyaru Menteng and the Headquarters also accompanied the team.

Nyaru Menteng Team waiting for the airplane

At 4.10 pm local time (Palangka Raya is one hour behind Balikpapan), the Hevilift Twin Otter aircraft bringing Cici, Donna, Karen, Roma and Marwoto arrived in Central Kalimantan! The unloading process went quickly and smoothly starting with Marwoto. The last unloaded from the airplane and loaded unto the truck was Cici. The whole process took less than 10 minutes.

By 5 pm, we reached Nyaru Menteng 2 enclosure complex, where Karen, Cici, Roma, Donna, and Marwoto will stay temporarily before being moved to one of the pre-release islands in Nyaru Menteng. The orangutans were calm and patient despite the journey and they were willing to cooperate and enter their enclosure. We called it a day without any incident at just around 5.30 pm.

CEO Jamartin Sihite unloading Cici

However, Marwoto, Cici and the gang were not the only ones affectionately welcomed back in their homeland. Agus Irwanto was also very happy to be back in Nyaru Menteng where he spent the first few years of his veterinary career at the BOS Foundation. He received a warm welcome by many of his old friends at Nyaru Menteng. Welcome back in Central Kalimantan, guys!

Today and the next three days are exceptional and incredibly challenging for our teams.  We are conducting two orangutan cross province transfers and two back-to-back orangutan reintroductions into Central and East Kalimantan. This is a huge logistical operation with numerous staff members involved. Much will depend on the weather.

Keep watching this space for a lot more orangutan release and cross-province release activities in the next few days!

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Orangutan release activities – especially cross-province activities – are very costly. Help us send more orangutans home by donating at http://orangutan.or.id/donate.

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Text by: Rini Sucahyo (BOSF Communications Advisor for the CEO) & Media Romadona (BOSF Communications Officer).

Photos by: Rini Sucahyo, Media Romadona, Suwardy, Wiwik Astutik.

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