The successful reintroduction of the first rehabilitated orphans to make the big journey back to the wild.
In February this year we celebrated the one year anniversary of our first reintroductions – Astrid, Monic, Tarzan and Tantri back in the wild and living independently. One year is the milestone we set before we started, that determines if the reintroduction has been a success. If they can live one year in the wild, through the different fruiting seasons without needing any help from us, then we consider them properly reintroduced. These orangutans continue to go from strength-to-strength with the two-year milestone soon approaching – Astrid and Monic have their own babies, most probably fathered by Tarzan, and Tantri is living a quiet life in a valley to the south. But the biggest achievement of the project so far has just been passed; the one-year anniversary of the first rehabilitated orangutans to be released.
Astrid and Astro – Photo by Ike
Back in November 2012, we reintroduced Chanel, Emen, Gadis, Jamiat, Leonora, Menteng, Sif and Terusan, together with five of their babies, into the heart of the Batikap conservation forest. This was a momentous occasion for us, as the first seven of these orangutans were rescued as babies over ten years ago and have been all the way through our rehabilitation process from forest school to river islands and now to the primeval Bornean rainforest. This release was documented by the BBC in the documentary entitled ‘Orangutans: The Great Ape Escape’, where we watched their first explorations of the forest canopy and the early difficulties experienced by Emen and Menteng in particular.
One year on we are still monitoring these orangutans, along with many of their friends who have since made the journey back to the wild. In fact they were doing so well we spent more time monitoring the newcomers! But once the one year anniversary arrived we went out to get a good look at each of them, to confirm that they were indeed healthy and living free and independent of people, and confirm that we had indeed successfully reintroduced ex-captive orphaned orangutans to the wild.
Gadis and Garu – Photo by Ike
We found Gadis first, together with her four-year old daughter Garu. She was always wild at heart, angrily kiss-squeaking at us from the day of her release, and in fact we never monitored her that closely, preferring to let her do her own thing away from annoying people! She usually gets a bit angry every time we find her, but surprisingly this November she was calm and too busy feasting on fruits with exotic local names – Salintik, Dango, Ongis, Nyangau – to be too bothered by the observers. Emen was located soon after, as she never strays too far inland from the rivers. She’s become well known in the local community because her missing fingers make her instantly recognisable, and we’ve received several reports of her from local people passing on the river. She ignores them though, she isn’t fussed by people any more. Her and her son Embong are doing great.
Emen – Photo by Adhy Maruly
A couple of days later, the radio-tracking equipment we employ pinpointed the location of Leonora. We have spent a lot of time with Leonora over the past year to keep check of her and her son Lamar, because our pre-release assessment suggested she might struggle the most. Well it hasn’t turned out that way – even though they do like spending more time on the ground than the others they still find lots of food in the canopy – and we are delighted with her presence. We stayed with them for three days, collecting the usual behaviour data – lots of figs and barks in her diet – and checked her faeces for parasites before leaving her alone once again.
Leonora and Lamar – Photo by Adhy Maruly
We searched for Sif and Sifa in the same general area as Leonora and Emen, because the last time she was seen in October it was around here. But we had no luck in finding her or even recording her signal in November, so we’ll keep looking in the New Year. Sif has been a fantastic orangutan, taking to the forest with ease and giving us no scares whatsoever.
These females are still living near their release point, but to find the males Jamiat and Terusan we had to travel a lot further. Terusan left his release point very early on, and for months we didn’t find him at all until May when his signal was picked up far to the north. We still haven’t observed him, but his signal keeps moving around so we take that as a good sign, and we last recorded him on November 10th by the Ponut rapids at the most northerly point of the release site. Jamiat also took a lot of searching to locate, but locate him we did! We radio-tracked him over the course of two weeks in the Monnu region, and finally laid eyes on him on November 23rd. He is another orangutan who doesn’t like people – who can blame him after his childhood ordeal – and the whole time our observers Arfan and Sangai watched him he broke branches and kiss-squeaked, and his hair stood on end, a sure sign of anger. So they didn’t stay for long, and after they left they could hear the unmistakeable sounds of seeds being cracked by his powerful jaws. Jamiat was released as an adolescent, but one year later his cheekpads are developing – he is maturing into an adult.
Jamiat – Photo by Adhy Maruly
So we found six of the eight independent orangutans alive and well one year after release. It’s been a while since we’ve seen the other two, Chanel (with her son Charlie) and Menteng. Chanel was our top candidate for reintroduction because she lived on the river islands just like a wild orangutan would, hardly ever coming down for the feedings. She moved north straight away after release, giving us just a few days observation before she moved away for good. Since then we have had just occasional records by radio-tracking, the last one in May; although we received an intriguing report by local eaglewood collectors of a female orangutan and baby far up the Tajoi Besar river. This site is 3 days walk for people, probably a little less time swinging for an orangutan, but far nonetheless. If this report is true then it can probably only be Chanel, as she is the only female with an infant that we don’t know the whereabouts of. Menteng, meanwhile, hung around the riverbanks for months before finally moving inland in June. Male orangutans like to wander so we wish him all the best and hope to catch up with him again in the future.
Menteng – Photo by Adhy Maruly
Overall we are delighted with the progress made by all our orangutans to date, and can’t quite believe it has already been one year since these rehabilitated orangutans took their first swings in the forest.
Text by: Simon Husson