Last month marked an important moment for eight orangutans at our Nyaru Menteng Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre in Central Kalimantan. They finally entered the pre-release stage of rehabilitation – the last step on their journey to freedom.
Amongst them were three Orangutan Jungle School stars: Cinta, Valentino and Jumbo. All are now on Badak Besar Island in the Salat Island Cluster.
Transporting the eight orangutans to their new home involved two separate transfers. On 7 April, our team took Cinta, Jumbo, Valentino and Hanin. Two days later, they moved Jiga, Petruk, Gonjales and Tharga.
The sedation process required for transporting orangutans can always be a bit stressful for them, but it was extra complicated for this move due to the need for our medical team to wear full PPE. Some of the orangutans reacted with raised hair and kiss-squeaks directed at our team to show their displeasure. However, the use of complete PPE is in accordance with strict health protocols introduced to help curb the spread of COVID-19.
Our orangutan transfer team departed for the island via waterway, using a speedboat. The river journey took about four hours, from the Sei Gohong pier on the Rungan River to the Kahayan River and then all the way to Badak Besar Island.
We used this river route to avoid any unnecessary interactions with local residents, whom we often encounter when travelling in cars over land. All staff members and orangutans involved in the transfer were given a swab test to ensure that they were not carrying COVID-19 and potentially spreading it to a wider area.
The groups arrived at Badak Besar Island at around noon for both trips. The orangutans each had different reactions upon being released to the forest. Valentino looked confused when we opened his cage after spending several months in an individual enclosure with completely different conditions than his new home on the pre-release island.
Jumbo, however, shot out of his cage and snatched some bananas, completely ignoring our team. When Cinta left her cage, she tried to approach members of the team; but luckily, Hanin, who was already sitting high up in a tree, eating forest food, caught her attention.
Two days later, on the second trip, Timpah quickly left her cage searching for forest food. She completely ignored the presence of our team and focused on eating at the feeding platform. Gonjales and Petruk did the same, but they opted for a more comfortable place up in the trees.
Our team decided to open Jiga’s cage last, as the 14-year-old male is known for his aggressive disposition. He upheld his reputation by immediately getting into a fight with Petruk after leaving his cage, with Timpah spectating nearby as she enjoyed a hearty meal.
Excited after his tussle with Petruk, Jiga then turned his attention toward our team members, who quickly retreated to the safety of the boat. Some fell as they scrambled to board the vessel, but everyone boarded safely in the end. As Jiga had made it clear he would not tolerate excessive human observers, the transfer team eventually decided to head home instead, leaving the orangutans in the capable hands of our Salat Island technicians.
The technicians will monitor and evaluate each candidate to make sure they perfect their skills to the level required for a future release to their true home in the Bornean rainforest.
Enjoy your time on the island, everyone!