Re­ha­bil­i­tated orang­utans freed in Bor­neo as species dwin­dles

Kuwait Times - - HEALTH & SCIENCE -

Ja­mur didn’t hes­i­tate as the door of her tem­po­rary cramped quar­ters slid open. In less than a se­cond, the stocky red-haired orang­utan was sa­vor­ing free­dom for the first time in nearly two decades.

Her 10-year-old daugh­ter J-lo would join her, along with three more of the en­dan­gered great apes.

The long-limbed hir­sute pri­mates were the ninth set of Bornean orang­utans to be re­leased into nat­u­ral habi­tat by the Bor­neo Orang­utan Sur­vival Foun­da­tion after years­long re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion from trauma of­ten in­flicted by peo­ple.

Taken from their sanc­tu­ary, Sam­boja Les­tari, to an even re­moter spot on the is­land of Bor­neo, a jour­ney by road, boat and foot that takes nearly 24 hours, the orang­utans bolted from their hold­ing boxes and scaled the near­est trees with as­ton­ish­ing speed and agility. “Be­cause we love them, we have to let them go, to be free in their habi­tat,” said Ja­martin Si­hite, chief ex­ec­u­tive of the foun­da­tion, after all five orang­utans had climbed into the trop­i­cal for­est canopy.

“They have a right to live in their nat­u­ral state and not with peo­ple as pets.” The re­lease of the five last week marked the 25th an­niver­sary of the foun­da­tion and was done in con­junc­tion with gov­ern­ment con­ser­va­tion of­fi­cials. It is part of a her­culean ef­fort to pre­vent orang­utans from be­ing wiped out.

The species, known for its gen­tle tem­per­a­ment and in­tel­li­gence, lives in the wild only on the In­done­sian is­land of Su­ma­tra and on the is­land of Bor­neo, which is di­vided among In­done­sia, Malaysia and Brunei.

Bornean orang­utans were this year de­clared critically en­dan­gered by the In­ter­na­tional Union for Con­ser­va­tion of Na­ture due to hunt­ing for their meat, which kills 2,000 to 3,000 a year, and de­struc­tion of trop­i­cal forests for plan­ta­tion agri­cul­ture. The only other orang­utan species, the Su­ma­tran orang­utan, is found only on Su­ma­tra and has been critically en­dan­gered since 2008.

The con­ser­va­tion group es­ti­mates the num­ber of Bornean orang­utans has dropped by nearly two-thirds since the early 1970s and will fur­ther de­cline to 47,000 an­i­mals by 2025. Some con­ser­va­tion­ists are even more pes­simistic, pre­dict­ing ex­tinc­tion in the wild within 10 years.

The species is pro­tected in In­done­sia and Malaysia but de­for­esta­tion has dra­mat­i­cally shrunk its habi­tat, with about 40 per­cent of Bor­neo’s forests lost since the early 1970s and an­other huge swath of for­est ex­pected to be con­verted to plan­ta­tion agri­cul­ture in the next decade.

The Bor­neo Orang­utan Sur­vival Foun­da­tion, one of sev­eral groups fo­cused on oran­guatan con­ser­va­tion, has 60-year con­ces­sion rights to about 86,000 hectares (212,000 acres) of for­est in Bor­neo that it bought from the gov­ern­ment in 2011 for 12.9 bil­lion In­done­sian ru­piah ($1.5 mil­lion at the time), though it says only about 20 to 25 per­cent of it is suit­able orang­utan habi­tat.

“We looked for a place to re­lease them that is very far away from peo­ple. We hope that very few peo­ple will come to this area in the next 10 or 15 years,” said Si­hite.

“Nowa­days there is only a few of that kind of area left - far away and re­ally dif­fi­cult to reach.” The foun­da­tion has re­leased 234 orang­utans since 2012. It says 90 per­cent of those re­leases are suc­cess­ful.

It typ­i­cally takes years to re­turn an orang­utan to the wild. Find­ing a suit­able lo­ca­tion is chal­leng­ing, as is re­ha­bil­i­tat­ing orang­utans so they can sur­vive when re­turned to nat­u­ral habi­tat. J-lo was born in cap­tiv­ity in 2006 and had to learn sur­vival skills such as nest build­ing, iden­ti­fy­ing preda­tors and for­ag­ing.

Kent, also re­leased last week, was an or­phaned 2-year-old suf­fer­ing from de­hy­dra­tion and se­vere di­ar­rhea in 1999, when he was res­cued from a field. He spent sev­eral years in for­est school and grad­u­ated to a half­way house, where the apes are less de­pen­dent on hu­mans, in prepa­ra­tion for re­lease into the wild, which hap­pened in 2014. But in­juries from fights with an­other male meant he needed an­other stint in Sam­boja Les­tari. “We don’t have a choice,” said Si­hite. “We have to do this to save the orang­utan.” —AP

SAM­BOJA, EAST KAL­I­MAN­TAN, IN­DONE­SIA: In this Oct. 18, 2016 im­age made from video, work­ers lift a tran­quil­ized orang­utan to be trans­ported to a re­lease site, at Sam­boja Les­tari sanc­tu­ary. —AP KEHJE SEWEN FOR­EST, IN­DONE­SIA:

NEW YORK: In this Feb. 22, 2016 file photo, Bill and Melinda Gates talk to re­porters. —AP

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