Orangutan News Update: Endangered Orangutans Return Home To Sumatra

Two orangutans, who 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 (likely while 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 Sumatra Orangutan Conservation Programme (SOCP). 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.

Under the care of the Australian Orangutan Project (AOP) funded 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.

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 55,000 Bornean orangutans left in the wild and as few as only 6,300 or so Sumatrans. The future for both is therefore already precarious enough.

For the above reasons, Dr Ian Singleton, head of the SOCP in Medan approached the Australian Orangutan Project (AOP), an Australian 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. The AOP, funded the costs of bringing the two orangutans home.

“It is AOP’s vision that all orangutans will one day live in the wild in protected habitat, in viable populations. The transfer of Kevin and Bobby are a small step to make this happen and like all orangutans deserve the chance to be wild. We also hope that the transfer with remind people that it is illegal in Indonesia to keep them as pets.” said Leif Cocks, AOP Founder and President.

On Monday September 19, 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 and were given 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. 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 Lamandau reserve, which has been financially supported from inception by the AOP.

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 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. 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.

Courtesy of Online PR Media

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