OVAG Workshop

Veterinarians at the 2014 OC/OVAG Veterinary Workshop in Indonesia

Collectively, the veterinarians and healthcare staff at rehabilitation centers in Borneo and Sumatra care for the largest captive population of orangutans in the world. Yet they face nearly impossible odds, and often find themselves short of medicine, equipment, money, space, support staff and time.

But those same dedicated men and women do not lack for skill or commitment. And this is why the Orangutan Conservancy created the Orangutan Conservancy’s Orangutan Veterinary Advisory Group (OC/OVAG)  Workshop – an annual seminar that gathers together the veterinary teams that work on front lines of the orangutan conservation crisis. It is a rare and much-needed opportunity for them to join together to hone skills, share the latest orangutan data, discuss issues and ideas, and to meet colleagues that could some day mean the difference between life and death for endangered apes.

The focus of the OC/OVAG Veterinary Workshops remain the practical sessions, presentations, round tables, and break-out groups that make the experience so valuable. At the workshops, OVAG veterinarians who often work alone under extreme duress discover a place to pose questions and tackle hypothetical scenarios that might otherwise get overlooked. They also establish long-lasting friendships and alliances that strengthen the orangutan conservation community as a whole.

The history

The OC/OVAG Veterinary Workshop series was inaugurated in 2009, and the first meeting was held in Central Kalimantan, Borneo.
The OC/OVAG 2010 Veterinary Workshop was staged in Medan, Sumatra.
The OC 2011 Veterinary Workshop was held in Jogjakarta.
The 2012 event was held in Kuala Lumpur.
In June 2013 our growing workshop yet took place in Bogor, Indonesia – Have a look at the photos from the 2013 event. 2013 saw the largest group of orangutan veterinarians yet that shared their field experiences and expertise with each other. After the workshop these front-line heroes returned to their field sites across Indonesia and Malaysia to continue their work of orangutan health care.
2014 was our most ambitious workshop yet and in our new, permanent home in Yogyakarta Indonesia in partnership with Gadjah Mada University.
2015 saw the largest workshop yet, with over 60 attendees. See some highlights here.
The 2016 Workshop was held in Malaysia.
The 2017 workshop was held in Yogyakarta, Indonesia
The 2018 workshop was held in the province of Aceh, Indonesia
The 2019 Workshop was held in Yogyakarta, Indonesia
The 2020 workshop was held virtually due to COVID-19. Thanks to a grant and an invitation from University of Michigan, we were able to build a meeting site with materials on the Canvas platform to facilitate remote online learning. We also held a weeklong “Live Session” that ran from July 6 – 10. 97 people attended the weeklong Zoom sessions – lasting 5 to 6 hours per day.
The 2021 workshop was held virtually due to COVID-19. This year saw our highest turnout yet with 114 participants on the first day! Major areas of focus were COVID-19, respiratory ailments, nutrition, welfare, case studies and a new and very important topic – that of mental health and care giver/conservation worker fatigue.
Finally for our 2022 workshop, 52 individuals were able to meet in-person, while 67 additional participants joined virtually! As promised last year, while returning to an in-person format, we still maintained our virtual presence to continue to reach as many interested members as possible in our growing conservation/one-health community. As has become our normal, multiple topics of shared importance were covered at our workshop. These included continued infectious disease concerns and surveillance, nutrition, enrichment, pain and wound management, rescues and translocations, respiratory issues, dentistry, management of un-releasable orangutans, snake bites and bee stings, emergency and critical care, fluid therapy and of course our own mental health.

The impact

OVAG Workshop participant Yenny and Gavo (OVAG's mascot) work on an assignment during OVAG's workshop in 2019.

The orangutans that are judged fit to return to the wild are reintroduced through a long, complex process, but the overwhelming majority continue to reside in the rehabilitation centers.

And the dedicated vets and healthcare workers that care for these orangutans are the front line heroes that we bring to our workshop each year.

The primary threats to orangutans are illegal logging and habitat destruction, human encroachment, the conversion of rainforests to oil palm plantations, and the pet trade. As a result of such intense pressures, an extremely large number of orphaned orangutans exist in rehabilitation centers across Borneo and Sumatra. These orangutans arrive bearing a host of physical and emotional wounds, and require intense veterinary care to recover.

The Workshops have recently been co-sponsored by the Chester Zoo/ NEZS, United Kingdom ABAXIS, Germany, the International Primate Society and the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo.  This ongoing support combined with individual donations made our supporters is the reason we are able to continue the OC/OVAG workshops. 

At the OC 2009 Veterinary Workshop, the delegates took the bold step of forming the Orangutan Veterinary Advisory Group (OVAG), which quickly became a forum for issues such as contraception, reintroduction, diseases, euthanasia, laboratory politics and other hot-button topics. In this way, the OC/OVAG Veterinary Workshops have helped build a community of veterinary healthcare experts that stands strongest when it stands together.

Photo Gallery

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The first panel for OVAG Day 2 was on ape husbandry and the welfare in both zoo and rehabilitation contexts. The panelists for this session included Drh. Yenny Saraswati, Dr. Jennifer Elston, zookeeper Ida Lewis, Conservation Manager Josephine Vanda, and zookeeper Cindy Cossaboon. The entirety of the panel consisted of topics including medical training, enrichment, and special needs individuals to name a few.
This year’s Orangutan Veterinary Advisory Group (OVAG) Workshop is focusing on ape welfare, which is especially poignant as we are still dealing with the challenges of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The first live session of this year’s conference focused on three very important aspects in conservation organizations; communication, human-primate interaction, and mental health for veterinarians and conservationists.

Help empower conservation efforts through OVAG!