After a long arduous journey by truck and boat in the oppressive heat of the tropics, six hirsute orangutans were finally released from their cages and allowed to taste freedom for the first time in a long while, swinging from branch to branch in a forested island in Central Kalimantan.
For Moncos, Yasmin, Manis, Caesar, Pepsi, and Mama Lasa – six aging orangutans – Salat island in Central Kalimantan’s Pulang Pisau district would be the closest thing to freedom they would have ever experienced after so many years in captivity, and the island in the confluence of the Kahayan and Nusa rivers would also most likely become their permanent home.
The six members of the endangered species had been rescued by Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation (BOSF) but because of their long captivity, they had become too dependent on humans and have thus lost the appropriate skills needed to be able to survive in the wilderness by themselves. In conservation terms, the six came under the category of unreleasable.
“A lot of people find baby orangutans cute and so they take and turn them into their pet, without giving an inch of consideration to the fact that they are not pets…after all, there is a reason why God created them in forests,” BOSF CEO Jamartin Sihite said.
Sihite said that in the wild, orangutans would learn their survival skills from their mothers. They would be able to fend for themselves after seven years. If they were taken away from their mother while still babies, however, they would not go through that natural learning process and would be helpless in the wild on their own.
“BOSF needs to put them into a rehabilitation program where they will slowly get their sense of the wilderness back. Otherwise, they will not survive in the wild alone” he said.
Unlike other orangutans rescued from captivity, Moncos and the five others could no longer be put through a lengthy rehabilitation process because they were already too old when rescued. Releasing them into the wilderness was clearly not an option because of their inability to survive on their own and therefore they could only be released in a closely monitored forest environment instead.
Moncos, for example, was dehydrated, weak and malnourished when BOSF found him chained to a tree. He was already 17 years old when rescued. Orangutan has a lifespan of 35-45 years.
Salat Island allows them to live freely in an easily monitored restricted area and this was made possible by a partnership between BOSF and PT Sawit Sumbermas Sarana (SSMS), a palm oil producing company group with which it shares the belief that a strong commitment and sense of responsibility were needed for the conservation of orangutans.
In total, Salat Island covers 3,419 hectares and through a partnership with SSMS, the area managed by BOSF has been extended to more than 2,000 hectares and is now able to accommodate 100-200 orangutans. The place is perfect for a pre-release forest area that can support the final important process of rehabilitation since it has a suitable intact natural forest, isolated from the mainland all-year round, has no wild orangutan populations, and supports sufficient orangutan foods. These areas have as well the potential to become a long-term sanctuary for orangutans, like Moncos and his five companions which are unreleasable yet deserve to live freely in an area which can be easily monitored.
SSMS Head of Sustainability Directorate, Deuxiemi (Desi) Kusumadewi said that SSMS is committed to participating in efforts to sustain the lives of orangutan which are native to Kalimantan. “We realize the importance of habitat and ecosystem conservation efforts and, therefore, we have a mission to realize the full potential of palm oil by using the profits gathered from our business, for global sustainable development that includes, among others, orangutan conservation. We do this by providing the thousands of hectares of land, as well as conservation infrastructure such as platforms, buildings, and the canals needed that separate the island.”
The unlikely partnership, between a private company and an environment NGO, emphasized the fact that orangutan rehabilitation remains a top priority for many, as well as how such complicated and costly effort should not be borne by a single individual or organization alone. A joint effort is the only way to create values for years to come.
Indonesia has the highest number of endangered or threatened species, according to orangutan.org, and the orangutan is only one of the many species in the forests of Indonesia which are at risk of extinction. Orangutanssp.org estimates that the population of Bornean orangutans in the wild is at least 78,500.
The data also shows a projected decline in the population of more than 55 percent by 2025. The World Conservation Union (IUNC) has even listed the orangutans as critically endangered and put them in the list of the 25 most endangered primate species. In addition, the fact that BOSF in Nyaru Menteng has already carried around 385 orphaned or displaced orangutans from confiscations and rescues working together with the Central Kalimantan Natural Resources Conservation Agency (BKSDA) captures just how fragile the lives of orangutans are.
More and more people need to understand that although the great apes of high cognitive abilities may once come across as adorable little babies, they are not for us to own and chain. They are to live in the wild as orangutans are born to be.