We are thrilled to report that we brought another twelve orangutans home. In mid-November, our parent organisation, the BOS Foundation, successfully conducted their 68th orangutan release as a monumental back-to-back airlifting operation.
It was a long-planned endeavour and another milestone towards our ultimate goal, to give each eligible orangutan in our care a chance at freedom in their natural habitat, the Bornean rainforest.
While all releases are unique, the 68th will surely be one of our most spectacular in history. Due to the remote release locations and the number of individuals returning to the wild, we took it up a notch and gave our orangutans, so to speak, a first-class experience. They all flew home via helicopter, making the process more efficient and minimising the stress for our precious apes.
We last used this release strategy in February 2021, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, to return ten orangutans to the wild as safely as possible. However, this time, we increased the number of release candidates and used more remote release spots.
First in line were eight orangutans from our Nyaru Menteng Rehabilitation Centre in Central Kalimantan – Batola, Carlos, Cici, Juki, Melanie, Ochie, Rajawali and Taco – who took off to the Bukit Batikap Protection Forest. The second journey saw the release of four orangutans – Dias, Eliona, Gami and Ozi – from the Samboja Lestari Rehabilitation Centre in East Kalimantan into the Kehje Sewen Forest.
Braving land, air and water
For all twelve, the challenging journey began with a ride on the back of a truck from the rehabilitation centres to the helicopter staging locations. From there, the BOS team carefully loaded the transport boxes with the orangutans onto a sling beneath the helicopter, which flew them to the designated drop points. Finally, the orangutans completed the last stretch of their journey by boat to reach their respective release spots deep in the forest.
Each orangutan we return to the wild has their own unique story and difficult past. Some have even tasted freedom before, just like Juki and Batola. Both had already begun their new life in the Bukit Baka Bukit Raya National Park, Jucki in 2016 and Batola in 2020. Unfortunately, their established home ranges heavily overlapped with human settlements, leading to frequent conflicts with the local communities and putting their safety at risk. Therefore, we had to move them back to Nyaru Menteng. Now, they are off to a new start in the Bukit Batikap Protection Forest region, where we hope this more remote location will allow them to thrive.
Another victim of the human-wildlife conflict is 30-year-old Gami. The Natural Resources Conservation Agency rescued the semi-wild male in 2021 after he entered a working area of a coal mine and got used to interacting with the staff, who frequently fed him. His rescuers brought him to Samboja Lestari, where our dedicated caretakers provided him with proper food and enrichment to help him relearn how to extract natural food sources. After two years of patiently waiting, Gami is exploring his wild home in the Kehje Sewen Forest.
24-year-old Cici had to wait ten years for her second turn. Back in 2013, she was almost set to leave Samboja Lestari and head towards the Kehje Sewen Forest. However, during the pre-release medical evaluation, genetic testing revealed that she belonged to the Central Kalimantan subspecies rather than the East Kalimantan subspecies. It was with a heavy heart that the BOS team had to delay Cici’s release and relocate her to the Nyaru Menteng centre to ensure she could eventually live in her natural habitat. Now, she is exactly where she belongs, roaming freely through the Bukit Batikap Protection Forest.
Never too late for freedom
Among the new wild ones are also two senior residents, Eliona and Dias. Both are 26 years old and have been under our care for 22 years. It’s heartening to see how even orangutans who were illegally kept as pets for many years during their youth can overcome their trauma after a lengthy rehabilitation period.
This 68th release is genuinely inspiring and gives us hope that we can overcome any obstacle if we persevere. With every successful release, we are one step closer to ensuring the thriving existence of our beautiful red cousins. And it is the power of teamwork making the dream come true, or as Dr Jamartin Sihite, BOS Foundation CEO, rightly says, “We are stronger together.”
He states that “without the immense support from many parties, including the Indonesian government, local communities, the commercial sector, Heli SGI, and international partners and supporters, the success of these releases would not have been possible. Our appreciation for their continuous support and participation is without limits.”