Below we are thrilled to share an exciting update from Dr. Galdikas in the field: We released 5 orangutans back into the forest!
At the end of March 2022, five ex-captive wild born orangutans from the Orangutan Care Center and Quarantine (OCCQ) were released back into the forests of Borneo. Orangutan “Enon” and her juvenile son Ernie were the first to be released on that day. It was a second release for the mother-offspring pair. Wild born Enon had been released from the Care Center years earlier and had given birth to Ernie in the forest. However, we were forced to bring them into the Care Center after we discovered that infant Ernie had been slashed with a machete by unknown persons. Now in our first post-pandemic release, it was time for them to return to the forest. Ernie had recovered with barely a scar and was his usual feisty self. In the depths of the National Park, there should be no interlopers. OFI and National Park rangers have increased patrol frequency so that little Ernie, now not so little, should have nothing to fear. We hope! This successful release happened thanks to the close partnership between Orangutan Foundation International (OFI) and the Indonesian Forestry Ministry agency BKSDA with Tanjung Puting National Park
There were two transport cages on the platform when we released mother Enon and son Ernie. The orangutan in the other transport cage was young adult orangutan male Maxi. We received Maxi from a facility in Bogor near Jakarta some years ago as a large-bodied juvenile. He was already too large to be released on a daily basis into our Learning Forest so we had no choice but to keep him in Quarantine. We were going to release him but Covid struck so we could not release him for another two years. In the meantime he matured, becoming much larger and growing cheekpads. We released him at the first opportunity we had “post-pandemic” along with Enon and Ernie at the end of March 2022. As is typical of adult male orangutans who are released, they throw the transport cage off the platform! Maxi was no different. Then rather than going up into the canopy Maxi briefly sought shelter under the platform and soon afterward moved into the peat swamp forest behind the platform. We are thrilled that Maxi who waited so long to make the journey from Jakarta to Kalimantan has finally made it back to the forest to which he was born.
On the same day as Enon, Ernie, and Maxi, but not in the exact same location, we also released another male “Zatarra.” He had been released earlier some time ago but broke his leg in a fight with another male in the wild. He is approximately 19 years of age but does not yet have cheekpads. Perhaps once he returns to the wild a second time he will have a better experience and soon develop flanges. At the Care Center during the pandemic, his leg recovered but we could not release him until we received permission as the pandemic abated.
Male orangutans in Borneo have a more complicated life than females. Flanged males become intolerant of other males, usually even of subadult males. Adolescent and subadult males often have to learn from sad experiences to flee on sight from cheekpadded males. We have seen incidents where wild subadult males ignored the appearance of flanged adult males and paid the price for their lack of caution. We were pleased to see how, upon release, Zatarra left the transport cage and climbed into the canopy with no hesitation whatsoever. We wish him the best on his return home into the forest. The last wild born ex-captive orangutan released on this momentous day was Sembuluh. Since adult males are intolerant of each other, we release males separately at feeding platforms in different locations so immediate conflict is avoided. Sembuluh has an interesting history. He came many years ago to OFI’s Care Center in Central Borneo (Kalimantan Tengah) as a tiny infant. He thrived. In time when he grew into subadulthood, he was released into the wild. He seemed to be doing well and soon disappeared into the forest. He stopped coming to the feeding platform where he had been released. We didn’t see him for many months, then one day I went to the feeding platform and he abruptly appeared. He stared at me as though he wanted something but didn’t accept food. I knew something was wrong. He looked famished like a victim of starvation! We captured him easily the next morning. It was almost as though he was trying to tell us something because he did not flee. We brought him back to the Care Center where over months he recovered from this mysterious malnutrition, gained fat and muscle, and last year developed cheekpads. He is now a magnificent adult male with lush, vibrantly colored hair and a robust body. He has a sweet temperament. We released him at a time when flowers are blooming on the river banks, providing food not only for wild orangutans but also for many other species of wildlife in the forest.
A typical adult male orangutan, Sembuluh has radar for locating attractive middle-aged females. Unlike some human males, orangutan males prefer middle-aged females with proven reproductive prowess, not pesky adolescents or young adult females whose fertility is still in doubt. Soon after release, there he was! Holding Ola’s hand with an iron grip. Ola, rescued as an adult, was also recently released nearby. They mated. Ola seemed indifferent. Olaf, Ola’s large infant moved a few feet away. It was a casual orangutan mating. They may meet again; they may not. Just another random male in Ola’s life. Had he been a subadult, she may have protested. But Sembuluh is big and robust with nice hair and large, full cheekpads. As we monitor Sembuluh post-release, it is evident that he is familiar with the forest and basically uninterested in humans. As long as the primary rain forests of Borneo exist in their intact glory, Sembuluh and his wild orange kin will survive and thrive.
ANOTHER HAPPY TALE FROM THE JUNGLE!
Two years ago OFI released eighteen year old wild born ex-captive orangutan female Cantik (meaning beautiful in the Indonesian language) into the wild from our rehabilitation program where she had been raised since she was an infant. She and her friend Natalie, with whom she had grown up at OFI’s Care Center, were released together into the wild. Cantik and Natalie remained, more or less, together during the two years in the wild since their release and were often spotted foraging and traveling together. A few days ago Cantik appeared at the feeding station with a newborn infant! We don’t know whether the yet unnamed infant is male or female. When we confirm the gender we will name him or her. We have no idea who the father is! Since Cantik and Natalie are both approximately the same age, we will not be surprised to see Natalie showing up soon with her own baby! In this photo taken with a cellphone, Cantik’s infant clings for dear life to Cantik’s chest with a supporting knee from Mom. Congratulations Cantik! You are proof that wild born ex-captive female orangutans raised from infancy with human help and orangutan peers can successfully return to the wild if rehabilitated in forest habitats as both Cantik and Natalie were. We are so pleased to say that we have more releases planned for the very near future and we are working hard to secure new safe release locations.
Fortunately, we were able to release these orangutans into a protected area, a National Park, but most wild orangutan populations are not in protected areas. More and more forests in Borneo are becoming smaller and fragmented. The future is dire for wild orangutans within these remnant forests.
We need to protect Borneo’s rain forests so wild orangutan populations (and returnees such as Enon, Ernie, Maxi, Sembuluh, Zatarra, Ola and Olaf, Natalie, and Cantik) can survive. We thank you for your continued support of the deep conservation of OFI and OFI Canada!
Dr. Biruté Mary Galdikas
Orangutan Foundation International Canada