Not every orangutan resident of the BOS Foundation’s rehabilitation centres will have the opportunity to return to a natural forest where they can live wild and free. There are several individuals who, due to various reasons, would be unable to live independently. We call this group of orangutans the ‘unreleasables’. Infectious diseases, physical disabilities, or prolonged captivity that leads to an inability to develop natural behaviours, all decrease an orangutan’s chance of surviving in the wild. These orangutans will likely remain in a rehabilitation centre for the rest of their lives.
At our Samboja Lestari Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre in East Kalimantan, we look after a number of old, unreleasable orangutans. One of them is Papa, a 31-year-old male. He is the second-oldest resident after Romeo.
Papa a beacon of hope, came from Taiwan and arrived at the BOS Foundation on 1 September 1994, at the age of five. Judging from his origins, it is obvious that Papa was a victim of the illegal wildlife trade. Upon his arrival, Papa was suffering from the orangutan strain of Hepatitis B, which is highly contagious and difficult to cure. This meant that we had to house him in an individual enclosure. To see any orangutan end up at our rehabilitation centres is sad enough. But to know that some arrivals have little or no chance of rehabilitation and future release is truly devastating.
However, in 2010, our medical team cured Papa of the disease, which meant he could start mixing with other orangutans. In 2017, we saw an opportunity for Papa to live in open space on newly available Island #4. So, our Samboja Lestari team immediately moved him to the manmade island.
Papa has been living on the island for three years now, where three female orangutans, Vera, Citra, and Isti, accompany him. Papa is known as the ‘gentle giant’, as he has never shown any aggression toward our technicians during food distribution. Unlike some other large males, if Papa sees a stranger watching him from across the island, he will quickly retreat deeper into the island or hide behind the bushes.
Papa is also never aggressive towards his female companions. He actually prefers to ignore them and spend time alone. He seems to be thoroughly enjoying his ‘me time’ on the island.
Perhaps owing to the forest-like sanctuary island on which he lives, Papa’s condition has greatly improved. He has never fallen ill on the island and looks comfortable in his surroundings. Unfortunately, Papa is still unfit for release in a wild forest, as he has yet to perfect his basic survival skills, like brachiating, foraging for natural food sources and nest-building. However, his improved condition provides hope for other unreleasable orangutans to recover from illness and live on one of our islands.
Keep up the good spirits, Papa! We are so excited to watch your progress with each passing day.