Orangutans returned to the wild in Borneo

ABC Radio: 16 October 2012

BRENDAN TREMBATH: Animal conservation workers are hoping they’ve made a major breakthrough in the fight to save the endangered Borneo orangutan.

This year, for the first time, they’ve released to the wild 29 of them. They were rescued and rehabilitated by people.

When Ashley Hall spoke to Anton Nurcahyo and Simon Husson of the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation, he asked them about the moment they released the first orangutan.

SIMON HUSSON: I guess it was the culmination of 10 years of work to look after these orangutans and to find a site and it was a wonderful moment to finally open the door and see them go back up into the forest.

ASHLEY HALL: What was their reaction? Could you see a sense of awareness that they were being released?

SIMON HUSSON: Well it would be nice to say you did but I think they were just tired from the journey, they had to get over the anaesthetic. All of them went straight up into the trees. I think their first reaction was to get away from the people and to just get up into the forest.

And then some of them over the next days would just go on and find food and live quite happily. One of two of them seemed quite confused. I mean one of them stayed in a tree for eight days when it seemed he was just waiting probably just waiting for us to come and bring him his daily bananas and it took him a while to work out that wasn’t going to happen and he had to go and look for food himself.

ASHLEY HALL: Anton, tell me about orangutan school, this idea of teaching the orangutan the life skills that they need to cope in the wild.

How do you go about doing that?

ANTON NURCAHYO: Orangutan school is for the orangutan which have a long history with human, being kept in their host home.

So in their thinking, they are not orangutan, they are human. Our job is to make them understand that they are orangutan.

So every single morning, 7am, already the babysitter will tell them, go to the forest to try to learn how to climb the tree, look for the wild food there and to understand the dangers.

So we use a rubber snake to make them afraid that snake is one of their, not enemies, but they have to alert if they see.

ASHLEY HALL: They have to be careful of them. So how do you teach them these skills though? Is it a case of showing them again and again? What’s the skill in tuition?

ANTON NURCAHYO: Orangutan is smart, maybe just like a three or four or five-years-old boy in their skill of thinking. So just imagine if you teach your baby, your boy, your daughter.

ASHLEY HALL: Simon, the big challenge is the loss of habitat for orangutan. You’re involved in identifying sites for their release now. How do you find an optimal site?

SIMON HUSSON: It’s been, yeah it’s been a long time in finding it. As you say there’s been huge forest loss in Borneo over the last, well the last half a century and that’s really been escalating in the last six years with large clearances for oil palm agriculture and many of the sites we’ve identified in the past have since gone.

So, we need to find large areas of rainforest that are going to be protected for the future that don’t have a large wild orangutan population there already and don’t have many people living in them and that’s been quite a tough series of criteria to meet but we’ve found, the BOS Foundation (Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation) has found three sites that are really good.

One is a protection rainforest up in the mountains and another area was an ex-logging concession that we’ve actually bought the lease for. So we now have the rights to manage it for 60 years and hopefully extend after that. And so with the rights to manage that lease we can ensure the forest is protected for the long term.

BRENDAN TREMBATH: Program manager Anton Nurcahyo and senior scientific advisor Simon Husson of the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation speaking to Ashley Hall. Click here for the audio of this interview

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