Lone Dröscher-Nielsen goes back to where it all began

Orangutan Protection Foundation: 12 October 2012

Lone & Leonora get reacquainted

After a two-year break Lone Dröscher Nielsen returns to Borneo to meet the orangutans and the centre she founded 13 years ago. The time we have all waited for has come, to release the centres very first forest students into the rainforest. Here, Lone herself tells about the joyful reunion and about the capture of the orangutans – the first step in a long release process.

Two years ago my doctor told me to move back to Europe. My health could not keep up with life in the rainforest anymore, and I got an infection which turned out to be life threatening. In the spring I finally received green light to return home to my wonderful red friends at Nyaru Menteng. Though at first only for a trial period to see if my health could keep up. Luckily my health kept up fine with my Borneo visit and my three weeks in the forest passed without problems.

Tears of joy and quarantine agony


Returning after almost two years of absence worried me, but I was mainly filled with excitement and happiness to see all my red friends and the staff again. I could not hold back the tears of joy. Even though what I needed the most was a hug from an orangutan, I initially had to restrict myself to hugs from my staff. As everybody else visiting the centre from abroad, I was in quarantine and could not be near the orangutans. I could only sit at the office and watch them return from forest school. It was hard. I was ready to run out and hug them all, but I know that it is for their sake that the quarantine rules exist.

Release at last


I had chosen to return in August because we have finally reached the most important milestone in the history of the project: The location of a suitable area for the release of the oldest orangutans from the forest school, and after long negotiations with the Indonesian government, the permission to use it. It means that our very first forest students can now return home.

The orangutans that are first on the waiting list for life in the rainforest are those who have lived at the centre’s first protected island, Kaja. Most of them have been on the island for more than 10 years. All 42 orangutans are fully grown and all the females have had babies. They were not supposed to be on the island for this long but the lack of a safe and suitable place to release them into, and the continued clearing of rainforest, has delayed the process. They will be released in small groups, so many of them still have to wait a little.

Lone and Anton, the current manager of Nyaru Menteng do a little exploring

Wild babies


It was amazing to be able to return and help capture the orangutans knowing that in a couple of months they will finally return home. I met my old friends, female orangutans Leonora and Jane, and they were the only ones brave enough to come say hello before they, with their babies at their backs, retreated to the treetops. It is so funny to watch their babies. They are a couple of years old and they behave completely like wild orangutans. They make their kissing noises to threaten us humans and break off twigs that they persistently throw after us from their hiding places in the treetops. Even if their mother comes closer to the ground to see what is going on, the small ones will stay in the top of the tree, cross over their mother’s courage. Their mothers have been completely dependent on humans in their first years in the forest school and it is a good sign that the babies do not need us.

Hanging around, Orangutans-in-waiting

The capture


We had a list of orangutans (five females with babies and two males) from the island Kaja that, based on different criteria, were chosen as the first group to be released.

The first day we were lucky. Four of the orangutans that were on our list, were eating at the same feeding platform, and we had them all captured within 2.5 hours. After the many years on the islands the rehabilitated grown-ups are luckily almost wild again, so we could not just grab their hand and put them in a transport cage. For that reason it was necessary to anaesthetise them.

The capture can take place in many ways, but in this case we were lucky that two of the females came close enough to say hello so that we could anaesthetise them using blowpipes and did not need to use guns. We had predicted that their babies would get angry and frightened but still it surprised us how strong such small babies can be. One of the centres veterinarians and I fought persistently to hold onto Leonora’s small baby, Lamar. At last we succeeded in getting the babies into the cages with their mothers.

Later that day, after three hours, we at last got Gadis and her baby in a transport cage too. It took so long because Gadis baby, Garu, decided to run far away from her mother as she fell over from the anesthetic. Even though we placed Gadis beneath the tree where Garu sat and threw twigs, she did not come down. We had to wait until Gadis woke up again and climbed a few metres into a tree before Garu came down to her.

All the orangutans were quickly transported back to the centre. The next day we captured the last two. It was incredibly dramatically to capture the male orangutan Jamiat, because he would not come down from the treetops. In the end we had to anaesthetise him with a gun nearly 20 metres up in the treetops and stand with a safety net below the tree to catch him in the fall. We captured Sif and her baby, Sipa, because Sif thought we had food in the boat and was too curious to stay away.

Quarantine before freedom


The orangutans now have to remain in quarantine for two months. During the quarantine they will be checked for diseases such as tuberculosis and hepatitis and they will have a small transmitter implanted, so that we can follow them when they are released into the wild. Hopefully, the two months in a cage is a small price to pay for a future in the wild.

It was so nice to see all my old students again and know that the first of them can now finally return to the real orangutan world where they belong.

- Lone Dröscher Nielsen