OC/OVAG Veterinary Workshop Brings Together Those Working to Save the Orangutan

The 2011 Orangutan Conservancy/Orangutan Veterinary Advisory Group (OC/OVAG) Workshop convened this year in the south central region of the island of Java. A sense of urgency was in the air as Indonesian rehabilitation centers have been given the time frame of 2015-2017 to release all captive orangutans back into the wild.

Whether this ambitious governmental mandate is feasible or practical remains to be seen, but the business at hand for the nearly 40 delegates in attendance at the workshop was how to best care for the orangutans in their facilities, while preparing those that can be released for what lies ahead in their wild future.

At this third annual event, information, strategies and research statistics were shared and compared. An international array of professionals including veterinarians, vet school instructors, healthcare workers, researchers, a parasitologist and a nutrition expert tackled an impressive number of subjects during the 5-day symposium. And that is the exact reason for this and previous workshops that OC has organized: bring together those doing the good work in the field to hear from and learn from each other. That sense of camaraderie truly benefits Asia’s sole great ape.

More than 1,600 orphaned orangutans reside in rehabilitation centers across Borneo and Sumatra, and OC/OVAG’s workshop mission is to continue to unite the people that are helping orangutans to survive. Vets and healthcare workers are on the front lines each and every day. Having them together even for a short period of time to share ideas is immeasurable in its value.

On July 4th, Dr. Steve Unwin of Chester Zoo, OC Board Member Dr. Raffaella Commitante and Professor Doctor drh Sumiarto, Dean of the Gadah Mada University Veterinary School welcomed the delegates to the LPP Convention Hotel and the work commenced. Sessions over the next week included Disease Risk Analysis for Primate Reintroduction, Contingency Planning for Disease Risk Outbreaks, Nutrition and Malnutrition, Hepatitis B, Welfare issues, and numerous case studies.

Two of those days were spent at Gajah Mada University where vets did practical sessions covering anesthetic darting practice, parasitology, radiographic imaging and blood gas analysis.  According to Dr. Commitante, “The theme was diseases as they relate to imminent captive orangutan releases as well as nutrition and health issues. The talks revealed that some diseases are more complex than others and need more attention paid to the risk of releasing ill orangutans.”

Dr. Commitante added, “The tuberculosis (TB) testing program showed that one possible test for primate TB was not as effective for great apes as it had been for monkeys. Several testing methods need to be employed until a single test method can be developed.”

By utilizing disease risk analysis tools, and IUCN guidelines concentrating on a particular issue (i.e., tuberculosis) workshop delegates could reveal where management efforts could be maximized, without wasting resources.

Chester Zoo’s, Dr. Unwin explained that, “Learning was assisted by giving the delegates disease scenarios based on real life situations and seeing how they handled contingency planning and outbreak disease management. There was a real willingness to get involved and this really helped the learning process. That process helped delegates to draw up contingency plans for their own centers, for disease issues in day-to-day operations, or as part of a release plan.”

With the impending release deadline creeping closer, and the seemingly never-ending number of orphaned primates forced out of the wild due to oil palm plantations, rampant deforestation and the illegal pet trade, the overcrowding of rehabilitation centers was also a buzz topic.

The number of orphaned primates are increasing dramatically, forcing some centers to stop accepting orangutans due to lack of space, insufficient funding or need for larger staffs. As Dr. Commitante notes, “Other centers are in the works if monies can be found as well as adding a sanctuary component, as there will always be individuals that cannot be released”

But what does the future hold for those amazing animals that will be released back into the wild? Even if release is achieved as the government insists, what will be the fate of these orangutans if the land is not protected for them? The problem not being addressed is that in the wake of releases, orangutans continue to be compromised in their natural habitat.

The day to day care of these primates today was the pressing present issue, though, and there was plenty to discuss. Open discussions brought lively banter on topics ranging from current dietary situations in rehabilitation centers to the future in a session titled Where Are We and Where Do We Need To Be? Some of the attendees even had the opportunity to fine tune their blow piping and darting techniques.

When work was done there was a small amount of time left over for attendees to explore the beautiful city of Jogikarta – the center of classical Javanese fine art and culture, and former Indonesian capital.

With the delegates now back at their forest centers, planning is already afoot at Orangutan Conservancy as we begin the process of organizing the fourth annual workshop for 2012. If this year’s level of enthusiasm and participation is any gauge, next year’s event can’t come soon enough for the delegates.

Dr. Unwin also explains the importance of the workshops, even after the final goodbyes close each event. “There is a willingness to share and gain knowledge from each other, not only during the workshop but it provides a touchstone for those collaborations to continue through the year.”

The 2011 Workshop was funded by the Birmingham (U.S.) chapter of the American Association of Zoo Keepers (AAZK), the International Primatological Society (IPS), Chembio Diagnostics, Inc., and OC. Support is also provided by the Chester Zoo, the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, and ABAXIS Europe.

The Orangutan Conservancy was established in 1999 to support projects that focus on wild orangutan protection; reintroduction; education; and research. In addition, the Orangutan Conservancy Scholarship funds Indonesian and Malaysian students dedicated to biodiversity education programs.

The Orangutan Conservancy is a partner of the Great Apes Survival Project (GRASP). For more information, please visit the OC website, Facebook page, or contact [email protected]

Tom Mills August 2011

Our 2012 OC/OVAG Veterinary Worskhop has just been announced for Kuala Lampur, Malaysia on June 9-13, 2012.  Please help to support this year’s workshop.

Video shot at the 2011 event

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Last year, The Orangutan Conservancy provided funding for Sintang Orangutan Center (SOC) to purchase an X-ray machine for their clinic and rehabilitation center in West Kalimantan.
Last year, The Orangutan Conservancy provided funding for Sintang Orangutan Center (SOC) to purchase an X-ray machine for their clinic and rehabilitation center in West Kalimantan.

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