Four Sumatran orangutans get a second chance in the wild

On the 14th November 2018, our partners in Sumatra at the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme (SOCP) transported four orangutans to their reintroduction centre in Jantho, Aceh Province, for them to begin the process of becoming wild orangutans once again after being confiscated from the illegal pet trade a couple of years ago.

The four infants, Leo, Aruna, Cut Luwes and Ully, are joining 109 other Sumatran orangutans that have already been reintroduced into the Jantho Pine Forest Nature Reserve, where the SOCP are establishing an entirely new wild population of this Critically Endangered ape.

Dr Ian Singleton, Director of the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme, said: “It’s always a very special time when these orangutans graduate from the quarantine centre and move on to the next and final stage in the reintroduction process. When you remember the pitiful condition some of them first arrive in, it's really heartwarming to see them get this far, and even more rewarding when you meet them again later, living free in the forest."

At first, the four orangutans will be given time to acclimatise to their new surroundings, their new caretakers, and a lot of new and unfamiliar foods from the Jantho forests. When fully released in a few months time, they will be closely monitored by the SOCP’s post release monitoring team. All being well, they will adjust to a life in the wild once again and go on to produce infants of their own in a few years, thereby becoming founders of the new population.

Dr Citrakasih, SOCP’s Reintroduction and Quarantine Supervisor said: “Prior to us first starting reintroductions in Jantho, there was no existing wild orangutan population there, even though there was historically. By releasing orangutans like Leo, Aruna, Cut Luwes and Ully, we are gradually creating an entirely new wild population of the species, as a kind of safety net in case anything happens to the remaining truly wild populations further south on the island”.

Testament to the fact that the new population is doing well are the two recent births in 2017, both to orangutans released into the wild in 2012. In September 2017, SOCP staff discovered an adult female, named Marconi, carrying a young male of around 11 months old. And then just a few weeks later in November, Mongki, an adult female was seen with a female infant just a few weeks old.

Sapto Aji Prabowo, Head of the Aceh Conservation Agency (BKSDA) said: “Whilst the new population we’re creating in Jantho is doing extremely well, we still need to deal with the root of the problem - the fact that orangutans like Leo, Aruna, Cut Luwes, Ully and many others like them are still being captured and kept illegally as pets in the first place. It's imperative that people are informed and understand that it is illegal to capture, kill, trade, own or even transport an orangutan in Indonesia, and prosecutions are on the increase. People need to be aware that they face prosecution, large fines and lengthy prison sentences if they are caught engaging in these criminal activities.”

About the orangutans:

LEO, estimated to be 6.5 years old, is the only male in the group. He was confiscated from Aceh Tamiang in 2016 from a villager that kept him illegally at home. When Leo first arrived at SOCP’s Orangutan Quarantine and Rehabilitation Centre, near Medan in North Sumatra, he had a terrible skin disease affecting almost his entire body, but now he is in good health and has fully recovered.

ULLY is a young female, estimated to be around 5 years old. She was one of four young orangutans rescued from the illegal wildlife trade in July 2016, when being smuggled from Aceh to Medan in North Sumatra. After being confiscated, they were taken to the SOCP’s Quarantine and Rehabilitation Centre for medical care and rehabilitation. Ully will be the first of these four orangutans to return to their native habitat in Sumatra’s tropical rainforest. The three other infants confiscated at the same time are still being cared for by SOCP staff until they can join Ully in the forest at a later date.

CUT LUWES is a female orangutan who was handed over voluntarily to the police by her owner in mid-2015. Since then, she has made great progress and passed all medical tests. Despite her time in captivity, she remains a relatively wild little orangutan who is not very interested in people, preferring to keep her distance. Therefore, she is likely to remember her early life in the forest with her mother, and how to survive and thrive in the wild.

ARUNA is a young female who was confiscated in South Aceh in March 2015. At the time, she was extremely malnourished and dehydrated, but has since recovered fully to become a fit and healthy orangutan. At first, Aruna was very accustomed to humans, to the extent that she had to learn to be an orangutan again. However, she is now an integral member of this group reintroduced to the wild, where they have begun their new life as wild orangutans once again.

Photos: SOCP