Into the wild: rescued orangutans returned to the rainforests

Daily Mail: Kerry Mcqueeney: 27 April 2012

Rescued orangutans returned to the rainforests of Indonesia are the first to be released in a decade. Trio were cared for by Borneo rehabilitation programme

After spending most of their lives in human care, this was the day three orangutans reacquainted themselves with the place they once called home.

Tentatively exploring their new surroundings, the animals’ apprehension was soon replaced with curiosity and a playful first moments of freedom.

Casey, Lesan and Mail were the first orangutans to be returned to the wild in Indonesia for almost a decade after going through a rehabilitation programme in Borneo. 

First moments of freedom: Casey reacquaints herself with the rainforest as she is released into the wilds of Kehje Sewen Forest of Mount Belah, in East Kalimantan, Indonesia.

A swinging time: Eight-year-olds Lesan (left) and Mail (right) play in the trees of the Samboja Lestari Rescue and Reintroduction Centre before their relocation and release in East Kalimantan, Indonesia

First class flight: Casey (pictured), Lesan and Mail were flown by helicopter from the Samboja Lestari Rescue and Reintroduction Centre in East Kalimantan

They were reintroduced to the forests of Kehje Sewen in the south of the island by the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation (BOS Foundation), from its rescue and reintroduction centre in East Kalimantan.

These extraordinary images show how, after spending most of their lives in human care the three orangutans were playing happily in the jungle treetops – as nature intended.

The rare release of one of the world’s most endangered primate species was made possible by funding provided by an international group of fundraising partners, including British charity, Orangutan Protection Foundation.

The now-free trio were airlifted from the Samboja Lestari Rescue and Reintroduction Centre in the east of the island of Borneo to the Kehje Sewen forest to the south.

Release team member, Jacqui Sunderland-Groves, described what it was like to witness the orangutans take their first steps of freedom.

She said: ‘Casey was not sure at first. She spent her first few moments of freedom just climbing and playing around her enclosure.

Jungle trek: The trio were carried through the forest to Mount Belah and finally released into the Kehje Sewen Forest 

Casey (left), now aged eight, almost literally burnt her hand off at the age of four when her owner allowed her to play near electric cables. Lesan (right) arrived in November 2006. At the time of rescue, she weighed 7kg

Safeguarding the survival of the species: The release programme creates a place of safety for semi-wild or rehabilitated orangutans, where they can live in freedom and create new, viable wild populations

‘But soon enough, she realised there were so many trees around her.

‘She headed to a nearest tree and started to climb, before finally settling on one of the branches high above, waiting for her two friends.

‘We moved to the next enclosure where both Lesan and Mail were anxiously waiting. They had seen Casey and realised what was going on.

‘We opened the enclosure and witnessed Lesan and Mail quickly bolted out and climbed a tree together.

‘Not long after, Lesan and Mail joined Casey and the three of them were seen swinging happily in the forest canopy.’

The lucky-three were transported in an Indonesian Air Force helicopter to their new rainforest home.

Remote: A helicopter touches down on the edge of the orangutans’ new home as they begin the last leg of their journey to freedom

Precious cargo: Scientists believe there could be just 45,000 wild orangutans left on the whole island of Borneo – a decline of 50 per cent in the last 60 years

Dr Jamartin Sihite, Director of the BOS Foundation, explained the challenges of moving these amazing – but heavy – creatures from their base camp, on foot, across 700 yards of dense rainforest.

He said: ‘The team had to carry the three transport cages, crossing rivers five times, on foot.

‘It wasn’t easy – each of these orangutans weighs between 50 and 70 pounds.

‘So we had to stop several times to rest and catch our breaths.

‘Finally, we arrived at the release site where we had constructed two spacious enclosures – one for Lesan and Mail – and another one for Casey.

‘We needed to put them in these enclosures for a day or two to give them time to adjust with the new surroundings.

In danger of extinction: Conservationists are working hard to preserve the future of orangutans

Into the wild: A special convoy makes its way through the jungle, leading the orangutans to their new home

‘This would also give us time to observe them and ensure that they were ready to be released.’

Scientists believe there could be just 45,000 wild orangutans left on the whole island of Borneo – a decline of 50-percent in the last 60 years.

The main threat to their lives is the destruction of their habitat, the rainforest, by logging companies and the establishment of oil palm plantations.

The historic release was made possible by the Indonesian Ministry of Economic Affairs, the Ministry of Forestry and the Ministry of the Environment.

Other key partners included the regional governments of East Kalimantan, Kutai Kartanegara and East Kutai as well as the Conservation and Natural Resources Authority of East Kalimantan and the people of Kutai Kartanegara and East Kutai.


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