Orangutans running out of jungle

Jakarta Globe: Fidelis E. Satriastanti: 9 September 2010

Nearly 150 orangutans remain at the Nyaru Menteng rehabilitation center in Palangkaraya,  Central Kalimantan, despite being deemed ready for release back into the wild.

The 141 orangutans are among 611 being housed in cages measuring 2-by-2 meters at Nyaru Menteng, which was founded by the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation in 1999.

The BOS Foundation has already released 300 orangutans from its different rehabilitation centers in Kalimantan, but says it is running out of suitable habitat.

To qualify for release, orangutans must first enter a quarantine phase, in which they are given a health check and tested for a variety of human diseases that the species is vulnerable to,
including hepatitis, tuberculosis and HIV.

Next, the animals enter a reorientation stage, where they are taught how to survive in the forest, build nests, find their own food and recognize predators and other threats.

Orangutans younger than three years old spend their days in the forest under the supervision of baby sitters.

The final stage is meant to be the release, in which the orangutans are introduced into habitats where there is no wild population of the animal.

Jhon Leo, head caretaker at Nyaru Menteng, says the 141 orangutans were unable to complete the final phase because there was nowhere to release them.

“The orangutans are already wild, but we have to keep them in cages because we don’t have anywhere suitable in which to release them,” he said.

During a visit to the center on Monday, Forestry Minister Zulkifli Hasan said there were up to 162,000 hectares of suitable forest in Central Kalimantan in which to release the
animals.

Of that figure, 94,000 hectares are managed by Akhates Plywood and the rest are managed by Tunggul Pemenang, both logging companies.

The ministry has issued permits for orangutan release areas to Restorasi Habitat Orangutan Indonesia, a company set up by BOS to manage 86,450 hectares of forest previously logged by Mugitriman in East Kutai.

It allocated another 20,000 hectares in the same district previously logged by Narkata Rimba.

BOS chairman Togu Manurung says the foundation will start releasing the orangutans into the new areas later this year.

“We have around 800 orangutans in two rehabilitation centers,” he said. “We have around 200 at our Samboja Lestari center, about an hour’s drive from Balikpapan [East Kalimantan], and around 600 at Nyaru Menteng.

“They will be released gradually starting in November, but not all of them are deemed ready for this stage because of the physical condition that they’re in.” Some are sick and will be
separated from the others.

The first animals to be released will be a batch of 24 from Nyaru Menteng, Togu said.

“In East Kalimantan, we plan to release five orangutans in April 2011, and continue releasing more up until 2015,” he said.

The 2015 deadline to release all orangutans at rehabilitation centers back into the wild is stipulated in the Orangutan National Action of Plan, drafted in 2007.

Togu said this would be the BOS Foundation’s first string of releases since 2002.