Update on our reintroduction programs - Challenges in the field

BOS Foundation: October 2014

The success of the BOS Foundation’s orangutan reintroduction programs, which recommenced in February 2012, has been an amazing journey for all of us. This is the first time that orangutan reintroductions in Borneo have been so thoroughly prepared for and monitored post-release and after 30 months of intensive post-release monitoring, we can confirm that the large majority of our orangutans have adapted well. We are continually learning so we can improve all of our processes from pre-release, release and post-release. We aim for high rates of success and our post-release monitoring enables intervention if and when needed, but in common with all previous orangutan reintroduction projects, we knew a 100% success rate was impossible. Our goal is to help as many as we can adapt to a life of freedom, but this is the hardest thing any of these orphans has had to do.

Natural mortality rates for wild orangutans are estimated to vary from 2-8% depending on age, with higher mortality rates occurring their first year, after independence from their mother, and after maturation for adult males. This means for every 100 orangutans we release, we would expect between 2 to 8 orangutans to die every year from natural causes. Obviously a reintroduction program should expect higher rates of mortality because of the historical backgrounds of our orangutans. The survival rate for rehabilitated orangutans released during their juvenile-adolescence years has been reportedly varied between 20-80% (Russon et al, 2009); significantly different to what we would expect within wild populations.

In the last few months, several of our reintroduced orangutans have died in both Central Kalimantan and East Kalimantan either through natural causes or undetermined causes. In East Kalimantan, the remains of one orangutan were found on September 9, 2014 in the Kehje Sewen Forest. In Central Kalimantan, four recent deaths were reported in the Bukit Batikap Conservation Forest between the month of May and September 2014. Whilst most are believed to have died of natural causes, two orangutan deaths in Batikap were regarded as suspicious and postmortem results revealed that gunshot pellets were found in the body of one of those orangutans. This is a stark reminder that threats to orangutan survival exist all over the island of Borneo and few places are truly safe. Orangutans are shot and killed daily across their range as the clearance of their forest habitat pushes them into ever closer conflict with people, farmers and plantation owners. The BOS Foundation works tirelessly to protect orangutans and their habitat, but increased effort from all stakeholders is needed to protect their habitat, prevent conflict and raise awareness on their conservation.

The safety of our orangutans is the highest importance to both the BOS Foundation and the Government of Indonesia and together with the relevant government departments responsible for wildlife protection (SPORC and BKSDA) a full investigation has recently taken place. Whilst we cannot be completely sure, we are aware of new people who entered the Bukit Batikap Forest to collect NTFP’s during the last few months from different provinces.

To abate any further potential threats, we have significantly increased joint government protection patrols and outreach education and community development to those communities at larger distances from the release site. These will continue into the foreseeable future as our ongoing commitment to ensuring the protection of reintroduced orangutans.

In spite of these recent sad events our orangutan reintroduction programs still remain the most successful to date within Borneo. Our intensive daily radio tracking focuses on locating the reintroduced orangutans and this has enabled us to intervene in a number of cases where orangutans were taking longer to adapt than expected. Thanks to the dedication and hard work of our fulltime field teams we have been able to quickly react and provide additional support to several orangutans who have subsequently improved their skills and who are now thriving. Without this state-of-art technology we would have likely not been able to locate these individuals and support their adaptation; some of these may have significantly struggled without this extra support.

Our dedicated teams will continue to monitor the adaptation and progress of all of our reintroduced orangutans and we are committed to sharing our progress and experience to the wider conservation community to ensure that great ape reintroduction programs across Asia and Africa can continually grow in knowledge and improved practices. Without successful reintroduction programs, there are no other options for these orphaned apes other than long-term captivity.