Journey to freedom

BOS Foundation: 5 March 2015

The BOS Foundation released five orangutans in the Bukit Batikap Conservation Forest, Central Kalimantan, this February. One orangutan, named Maha, was released on February 7 by an advanced-release team, while the other four – Dewi, Mentos, Compost and Jatihan – were released on February 28. This was the first time in which air transport was not used in a Central Kalimantan release.

The transport process began at the BOS Foundation Nyaru Menteng rehabilitation center on February 24, with a brief stop at the Central Kalimantan BKSDA (Agency for Wildlife Conservation) office.

A convoy of four cars travelled overland for 11 hours, bound for Puruk Cahu, in Murung Raya Regency. From Puruk Cahu, the group took a boat trip on the famous Barito River to Batu Ampar. From there, another overland trip was made to Camp B, which is located at Dusun Tabulus; a part of Tumbang Naan village, Seribu Riam subdistrict, in Murung Raya Regency. At Camp B, the team rested for the night and gave the orangutans time to recover from the trip.

The following morning, the group set off on the last leg of the journey bound for the Totat Jalu release camp, located deep in the Bukit Batikap Conservation Forest. The estimated five-hour trip was taken by boat, upstream along the Joloi River.

Due to unexpected engine failure, the trip ended up taking eight hours. Nonetheless, measures were in place to anticipate this type of challenge and the situation did not discourage the team of technicians and veterinarians, and representatives of the Murung Raya government, the BKSDA and the Police.

“We were blessed with good weather and a relatively smooth trip,” said Dr. Jamartin Sihite, CEO of the BOS Foundation and regular participant on release trips. The weather was relatively friendly during the entire 48-hour trip; from the BKSDA office in Palangkaraya to the Bukit Batikap Conservation Forest.

Once the team reached Totat Jalu camp, the orangutans were quickly transferred to acclimatization enclosures located behind the camp where the orangutans were able to stretch out and rest after their long trip inside smaller cages needed for transportation purposes. Here they would undergo an adaptation and recovery process for a period of at least 24 hours so they will be well rested on the day of their release.

When the team arrived at the Totat Jalu release camp at noon on February 26, the four orangutans to be released – Dewi, Mentos, Compost and Jatihan - were in tip-top condition. They were each placed in their own acclimatization enclosure so they could rest after their journey prior to their release, and be monitored by the vet team.

After a day of adaptation and observation the orangutans were considered to be well-rested and ready. The team decided to conduct the release on the following day; Saturday February 28, 2015.

On release day, an advance team was sent out early to prepare the pre-determined release points. The release points are those specific points in the forest where each orangutan would be transported to and then released. The four points were separated 20-30 meters away from each other. The release site was located at the Joloi Bungaran transect area. A transect is a specially-prepared and identifiable measured path for the purpose of recording observational data on reintroduced orangutans during post-release monitoring.

When everything was set up and ready, the advance team radioed the camp. This was the signal for the medics and technicians to start the process of sedation before the orangutans could be transferred back into the transport cages and then safely moved to their release points. The whole process would take an hour to conduct.

A little after 9.30am, the first two orangutans were moved into transport cages and arrived at the release site. They were brought by a local boat, called a “ces”. Due to their limited loading capacity and the number of ces available, it took another hour to prepare all four cages at the site. Each orangutan was monitored by the vet team to ensure they were wide awake and ready for release.

The first cage to be opened - by Dr. Jamartin Sihite – was Dewi’s. Once the door cage was open, Dewi went straight to the nearest tree. Slowly but surely, Dewi climbed up the tree to freedom. A similar process happened for Mentos, Compost and Jatihan. Once the cages were opened by the representatives of Murung Raya government, the BKSDA and the Police respectively, the remaining three orangutans quickly made their way up trees for a first taste of freedom.

For seven days post-release, the PRM (Post Release Monitoring) team will focus on tracking the newly released orangutans’ movements from nest to nest. After a week of follows, the team will review the orangutans progress and decide on a monitoring schedule for the coming months so their progress can be carefully followed.

Enjoy your freedom, dear friends!