To mark International Orangutan Day, international animal welfare organisation FOUR PAWS drew attention to the plight of orangutans, a species threatened with extinction.
While some countries are now discussing whether to extend basic human rights to great apes – since they are psychologically so close to humans – orangutans are being relentlessly exterminated in their home countries. The last four decades have seen Borneo’s rainforest destroyed at twice the rate of any other habitat in the world. Orangutans are victims of the palm oil, tropical timber, and coal industries. Each year, 2000 to 3000 orangutans are killed. On palm oil plantations they are often killed for money, as they are considered to be ‘crop thieves’. The killing of these great animals leaves many vulnerable orangutan orphans exposed in the rainforest, and many end up being illegally sold by animal dealers as pets. Globally, orangutans comprise 60% of all illegally traded great apes.
Since 2007, FOUR PAWS has been working with the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation (BOSF) to give these persecuted orangutans a second chance, and to restore their dignity. In the Samboja Lestari Rescue Station in East Kalimantan/Borneo, confiscated orangutan orphans are nursed back to health and prepared for a life of freedom.
Dr. Signe Preuschoft, Head of the orangutan project at FOUR PAWS said: “Most of our new arrivals are between two and five years old. At first, these orphans are often severely traumatised. Throughout the several years of our rehabilitation programme, we act as mothers to them and ensure their emotional well-being. We then give them training so that when they reach puberty they can be released back into the wild.”
Just like humans, orangutans have to learn a whole range of survival techniques. Their apprenticeship alongside their mothers lasts up to 14 years. In the ‘forest school’, caregivers adopt the role of mother, and teach the orphans how to move about in the trees, how to find food, and how to eat it. The orangutans learn how to get their bearings in the forest, how to build sleeping nests, how to avoid enemies, and also how to relate to other orangutans.
A key feature of the rehabilitation programme is the Orangutan Academy in the re-release area of the forest. Here, the gradual process of a maturing orangutan’s separation from its mother is re-created, as it is vital that the original trauma of separation is not re-awakened at the time of release. At the moment, there are seven orangutans in the Academy, being prepared for freedom. In 2013, FOUR PAWS and BOSF successfully released six orangutans into the protected Kehje Sewen forest.
Dr. Preuschoft: “It’s wonderful to see how the orangutans find their own nature again. After Lesan, a young female, was released, I used her telemetry transmitter to find her again. She had built a day nest near a stream, with a beautiful view, and had then moved on to harvest macaranga seeds. When I found her high up in the branches, it was clear that our roles had reversed: I was now her guest. In her forest. It was a very touching moment.”
This year, the Indonesian action plan for orangutans should see the release into the wild of hundreds of orangutans from different rehabilitation centres. However, safe areas for release are lacking. To be able to ensure the freedom and safety of more orangutans, FOUR PAWS is currently working to potentially secure its own release area.
Further information at http://www.four-paws.org.uk/projects/apes/