Orangutan Release Day-1: Fighting the Weather

Finally the joyful moment arrived.  After experiencing several delays due to various logistical issues beyond our control, 18 rehabilitated orangutans from Nyaru Menteng were going to be released.  We are so relieved that today, the 16th of August, arrived uneventfully (or so we thought) and we could start the release process smoothly.  Just one day before the Indonesian Independence Day which takes place  tomorrow on the 17th, we were giving orangutans their freedom and independence, too.  An independence day for orangutans!

Truck cleaned and fitted with banner in preparation of the release activity [photo by: Media Romadona]

Truck cleaned and fitted with banner in preparation of the release activity [photo by: Media Romadona]

Today, the first day of our orangutan release event began with veterinary preparation. At 4.30 AM, the Medical Team and several technicians were already on standby at the Nyaru Menteng clinic. Together they headed to our still very new quarantine enclosures.  It was still dark so they had to use headlamps to prepare the sedation doses and all necessary equipment. Today, nine orangutans were scheduled to be reintroduced in the Bukit Batikap Conservation Forest. Mama Mozzy and her daughter Myzo, Bule, Tehang, Arun, Lulu, Ubai, Bonet and Monmon just had to wait a few more hours to taste a true freedom.

The day gradually got brighter as veterinary preparation was underway [photo by: Indrayana]

The day gradually got brighter as veterinary preparation was underway [photo by: Indrayana]

Sedating Release Candidates

Bule was first to be sedated. The sedation worked very slowly on this 73-kg male orangutan. After more than 10 minutes, Bule finally fell asleep and was able to be transferred into his travel cage.

Technician Nono sedating an orangutan using a blowpipe [photo by: Indrayana]

Technician Nono sedating an orangutan using a blowpipe [photo by: Indrayana]

Meanwhile, we had no problem moving Mama Mozzy into her travel cage although her daughter Myzo was a little scared when she was separated from her sleeping mother. Myzo was gently carried to receive a final deworming medicine and the technicians and vets calmed the 2 year-old before giving her the medication. Once she was returned to her mother who was already fast asleep in the travel cage, Myzo hugged her tightly and settled down at last.

Staying with Lulu until she fell asleep [photo by: Indrayana]

Staying with Lulu until she fell asleep [photo by: Indrayana]

Transferring Lulu into her travel cage [photo by: Indrayana]

Transferring Lulu into her travel cage [photo by: Indrayana]

In the meantime, the other orangutans had also started to feel the effects of sedation. Bonet seemed to be already sleeping when technicians took him out of his quarantine enclosure but apparently he was not! He suddenly woke up startling the technicians who were carrying him. He crawled out of his travel cage, then just sat there in silence for a few moments.

Apparently, Bonet was not asleep yet! [photo by: Indrayana]

Apparently, Bonet was not asleep yet! [photo by: Indrayana]

The vets decided that Bonet did not need more sedation. We just had to be patient and waited until he fell asleep.

 

Still not asleep yet... [photo by: Indrayana]

Still not asleep yet… [photo by: Indrayana]

At long last, Bonet leaned on his travel cage and went to sleep [photo by: Indrayana]

At long last, Bonet leaned on his travel cage and went to sleep [photo by: Indrayana]

Heavy Rain in Puruk Cahu & Batikap

By 6.45 AM, all nine orangutans were ready in their travel cages. Using a big truck and a double-cabin four-wheeler, they were transported to the Tjilik Riwut Airport in Palangka Raya to be flown on a Pelita Air fixed-wing aircraft to Dirung Airport in Puruk Cahu. From there, they would be transferred onto a sling load and flown again by a helicopter to their release sites in Bukit Batikap Conservation Forest.

But what we thought was going to be a smooth and uneventful day didn’t go exactly as planned. Rain poured down heavily on both Puruk Cahu and Bukit Batikap.

Loading orangutans onto a double-cabin four-wheeled drive [photo by: Indrayana]

Loading orangutans onto a double-cabin four-wheeled drive [photo by: Indrayana]

On the truck on the way to Tjilik Riwut Airport [photo by: Indrayana]

On the truck on the way to Tjilik Riwut Airport [photo by: Indrayana]

Loading onto the airplane [photo by: Indrayana]

Loading onto the airplane [photo by: Indrayana]

After loading the travel cages onto the airplane, we received news that the plane could not take off due to the heavy rain in Puruk Cahu.  The rain had been pouring down since 4 am and had not shown any sign of easing up. Although we had prepared a plan for exactly this condition, which of course would result in another delay, we still waited anxiously praying for the rain to stop. Finally, one hour behind the schedule, the plane was cleared to take off.

More Bad Weather

Fortunately the rain in Puruk Cahu finally stopped.  The Pelita Air flight carrying nine release candidates landed safely at Dirung Airport around 10 AM. Travel cages were unloaded, and four of them belonging to Mama Mozzy and Myzo, Bule, Arun and Lulu were immediately loaded onto the helicopter sling load. While Ubai Bonet, Tehang and Monmon were scheduled to get on the second flight.

Unloading from the airplane and loading onto the sling load [photo by: Monica Devi Krisnasari]

Unloading from the airplane and loading onto the sling load [photo by: Monica Devi Krisnasari]

But the ‘fight’ with the weather was not over.  Even though the sky in Puruk Cahu had cleared up, in Batikap rain had not stopped! Our patience was really tested today as the satellite phone in Batikap was very difficult to contact. The satellite phone connection was the only way we could find out about the weather condition in Batikap.  So while waiting to get through, the pilot and HLO rechecked the net and the sling load. Vet Barlian monitored the orangutans closely and regularly. And technicians took turns looking after the orangutans, giving them food and drinks as needed. After two hours of not being able to contact Batikap, the Release Team and helicopter pilots started to discuss the worst case scenario; delaying the release until tomorrow in which case the orangutans must stay overnight in Puruk Cahu.

Vet Barlian checking the orangutans [photo by: Monica Devi Krisnasari]

Vet Barlian checking the orangutans [photo by: Monica Devi Krisnasari]

Technician Wawan guarding the travel cages and looking after the orangutans while waiting for news from Batikap [photo by: Monica Devi Krisnasari]

Technician Wawan guarding the travel cages and looking after the orangutans while waiting for news from Batikap [photo by: Monica Devi Krisnasari]

Good news finally arrived from Batikap! The weather began to clear in Batikap and the helicopter could fly! At 1 PM, the first group of orangutans departed, heading to Batikap.

Helicopter heading to Batikap bringing the first group of orangutans [photo by: Monica Devi Krisnasari]

Helicopter heading to Batikap bringing the first group of orangutans [photo by: Monica Devi Krisnasari]

Second Flight Delayed

However, by the time the helicopter returned to Puruk Cahu, the pilot reported that the weather in Batikap had worsened again.  We had no choice but to postpone the second flight. Ubai, Bonet, Tehang and Monmon must to spend the night in Puruk Cahu.  Let’s hope tomorrow is a better day and the weather is on our side so the orangutans may soon feel the air of freedom in the forest. Wish us luck!

Text by: Media Romadona & Rini Sucahyo

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