Orangutan Rescue: On the frontline in Sumatra

by Sumatran Orangutan Society
Orangutan Rescue: On the frontline in Sumatra
Orangutan Rescue: On the frontline in Sumatra
Orangutan Rescue: On the frontline in Sumatra
Orangutan Rescue: On the frontline in Sumatra
Orangutan Rescue: On the frontline in Sumatra
Orangutan Rescue: On the frontline in Sumatra
Orangutan Rescue: On the frontline in Sumatra
Orangutan Rescue: On the frontline in Sumatra
Orangutan Rescue: On the frontline in Sumatra
Orangutan Rescue: On the frontline in Sumatra
Orangutan Rescue: On the frontline in Sumatra
Orangutan Rescue: On the frontline in Sumatra
An adult male orangutan was trapped in  farmlands
An adult male orangutan was trapped in farmlands

Sumatran lowland rainforests are disappearing at an alarming rate, and unfortunately the Leuser Ecosystem, the last stronghold of the Sumatran orangutan, is not spared from this destruction.

The expansion of farmlands, especially oil palm plantations, continuous forest and national park encroachment by smallholder farmers, the development of roads and other infrastructure, all lead to the disappearance of this beautiful species' home, making it more vulnerable to humans and extinction every day. But thanks to your wonderful support, orangutans have a lifeline: the Human Orangutan Conflict Response Units!

Since the end of July, our HOCRU teams in Aceh and North Sumatra provinces rescued and assisted 8 Sumatran orangutans (3 babies, 1 female and 4 males). The 4 males had been found in community farmland near the shrinking rainforests. The loss of their habitat brings an increasing number of orangutan near human settlements and agricultural land where they are in danger of human attacks, air riffles shots or captivity - the fate of the 2 babies and 1 female our HOCRU teams confiscated from villagers, along with 6 slow lorises, 2 siamangs and 2 gibbons.

Awareness and law enforcement are also key priorities to save the Sumatran orangutan so our HOCRU teams multiplied their interventions among local communities and schools. While conducting orangutan habitat and population surveys in 8 villages, HOCRU members play a vital role in sensitizing villagers, local authorities and students (440 during the past 3 months!) to the role of forests and biodiversity.

Finally, to prepare new orangutan conservationists and veterinarians as part of their apprectinceship programme, the HOCRU teams have selected an internship fellow student and participated in the Orangutan Veterinary Advisory Group (OVAG) 2016 Workshop held in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia.

Thank you for your invaluable support of this vital work. Please consider setting up a monthly donation or sharing this project with your friends and family.

A school visit
A school visit
A baby orangutan confiscated from the pet trade
A baby orangutan confiscated from the pet trade
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The two HOCRU teams
The two HOCRU teams

The Sumatran Orangutan Society is really pleased to introduce you to our new HOCRU team who have been operating in South Aceh since April this year, having been trained by our first HOCRU team based in Medan! The HOCRU programme covers a huge area, across the provinces of Aceh and North Sumatra, and with increasing reports of orangutans in danger, the new team are vital in safeguarding wild orangutans. We would like to extend our gratitude to all our supporters.

In just 3 months, our 2 HOCRU teams have confiscated 4 orangutans from the illegal pet trade and evacuated 5 from conflict situations, with the collaboration of the Nature Conservation Agency (BKSDA), local community members and the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme.

Both teams are also involved in community interviews about human-orangutan conflict, monitoring isolated orangutans, and surveying potential release sites.

In May, a typical case of an illegally kept orangutan rescue reminded us how critically endangered this species is, and what a vital lifeline the rescue teams are. On May 30th, we rescued a very large male orangutan locked in a small cage in an army complex in Kabanjahe, North Sumatra. The orangutan, estimated to be 20 years old and named Krismon by the 'owner', was taken from his mother in 1997 (she would undoubtedly have been killed during his capture) and given to an army commander who then kept Krismon to his home as a pet. 

When Krismon grew into an adult male orangutan, the owner locked him in a small cage. The team has persistently investigated this case since the end of last year and finally found Krismon being kept in terrible conditions. Surprisingly, Krismon was found in good health and has been handed over to the SOCP care centre in North Sumatra. He is now undergoing thorough health checks - it is not known at this stage whether he will be able to return to the forest, after almost 20 years in captivity.

“He has never learnt to make a nest, or to climb high trees to forage, but now he is at the quarantine centre, he may learn quickly, so you never know,” Hadisiswoyo said. “If not, he will be able to go to the new Orangutan Haven being created by the SOCP. It would still be a wonderful life for him compared to what he has suffered so far.”

Thank you for your invaluable support of this vital work. Please consider setting up a monthly donation or sharing this project with your friends and family. 

Tree climbing training
Tree climbing training
Female orangutan near a plantation
Female orangutan near a plantation
Monitoring isolated orangutans
Monitoring isolated orangutans
Krismon in the cage where he was kept for 20 years
Krismon in the cage where he was kept for 20 years
A brighter future for Krismon
A brighter future for Krismon
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The vets prepare Pongky for surgery
The vets prepare Pongky for surgery

Back in February, we shared the fantastic news that Pongky, a Sumatran orangutan who had been kept behind bars for over a decade, was finally on his way to freedom. We wanted to share the latest update about Pongky with our wonderful supporters who have helped him have a second chance at freedom:

Pongky’s first steps on the road to freedom

The orangutan care centre is located in the small village of Batu Mbelin, near Medan in North Sumatra, and is currently caring for just under 50 orangutans, all confiscated former illegal pets. All orangutans arriving at the centre must complete a mandatory initial quarantine period and pass full medical health checks before entering the rehabilitation programme, which prepares them for eventual return to the wild.

Pongky has now had time to adjust to his new surroundings, and has undergone a complete health check. He is free of Tuberculosis and Hepatitis – diseases which captive primates sometimes contract from their human captors and ‘owners’, and which would have prevented Pongky from being released back to the wild due to the risk of infecting other wild orangutans.  Unfortunately, Pongky had sustained severe damage to one of his eyes during his years in captivity. Having consulted with expert ophthalmologists, it was decided that his right eye could not be saved, and given that it was likely causing him chronic pain and discomfort, a few days ago the specialist vets from OIC, SOCP and OVAID joined forces to perform an operation to remove it.

The surgery was a complete success, and Pongky is healing rapidly. Currently, Pongky is on antibiotics and painkillers, in order to prevent infection and keep him comfortable. In order to keep the surgical site as clean as possible, Pongky rotates cages each day, and each unit is fully bleached and scrubbed daily. He is given extra enrichment each day in order to keep him busy, and the care staff report that he is especially enjoying making nests out of blankets while he heals! 

 

What next for Pongky?

Pongky will be given a month to fully heal from the surgery, and an additional month in order to ensure that his vision is normal. During May, the SOCP team will also begin to prepare him for reintroduction, which will include changing his diet, such as by making it more vegetable and less fruit based, and more feedings throughout the day.

Pongky will then be taken to Jantho, a reintroduction site for ex-captive orangutans. There, he will begin the gradual process of being reintroduced to the forest – this process is unique for each orangutan, so it is uncertain at this stage how many days, weeks or months this might take. Pongky will be followed as he gets accustomed to his new surroundings, until he makes his way deep into the forest to find his own territory and live wild and free.

Since 2001 over 260 orangutans have been released at the edge of the Bukit Tigapuluh National Park in Jambi province and in the Jantho Wildlife Reserve in Aceh Province. Not only will Pongky finally be granted his freedom, but he will also have the opportunity to contribute to a new, self-sustaining and genetically viable wild population of this Critically Endangered species.


Please help us send Pongky back to the wild

All donations made to this project will go towards our Pongky Appeal until we hit our target. We need to raise £3,500 (approx $5,000 USD) and at the time of writing, we are 42% of the way there!

Please donate whatever you can towards the costs of Pongky's care, recovery and release - despite the loss of his eye, he still has a chance to return to the wild.

Thank you to all our supporters who are making this possible. 

Pongky is sedated for the operation
Pongky is sedated for the operation
Pongky is healing well
Pongky is healing well

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Pongky in the cage at the police officer's house
Pongky in the cage at the police officer's house

We are delighted to be able to announce that earlier this month, after more than 2 years of campaigning, Pongky the Sumatran orangutan has finally been granted a second chance at freedom!

Pongky's Story

The first we knew of Pongky was when OIC, our partners in Sumatra, found him being kept illegally by a high ranking police official - a ‘Police Grand Commissioner Adjutant' - in Aceh province, Sumatra, in July 2013. We do not know how he came to be there, but from our knowledge of the illegal pet trade it's pretty much certain he was born in the wild and taken from his mother as an infant. She would almost undoubtedly have been killed during his capture.

When Pongky was first discovered he was locked in a small cage with no access to open space, very limited room to move, and only a single rope, on which he swung back and forth obsessively - a common stress and boredom induced behaviour.

The first attempt to rescue Pongky was led by specialist staff of the OIC, who confronted the police commissioner, explained that keeping an orangutan was illegal and that Pongky should immediately be surrendered. The commissioner refused this first approach, however, and the matter subsequently had to be taken up by the Government's conservation authorities. A few weeks later, the Natural Resources Conservation Authority in Aceh Province (BKSDA-Aceh) confiscated Pongky.

Unfortunately, despite the fact that the capture, killing, keeping, transporting and trade in orangutans is illegal in Indonesia (National Law No 5/1990), no case was brought against the police commissioner for keeping Pongky illegally, sadly missing an important opportunity to apply the full force of the national law.

Furthermore, according to Indonesia's National Strategy and Action Plan for Orangutan Conservation 2007-2017, "any orangutans confiscated from the illegal pet trade should enter a rehabilitation programme and be returned to the wild". Pongky, however, was taken to Medan Zoo instead.

He had simply swapped one life behind bars for another.

The Campaign for Pongky

It was at this point, in August 2013, that we began campaigning for Pongky's freedom. The public response was staggering, with almost 10,000 emails sent to the head of BKSDA Aceh and the Director General of Forest Protection and Nature Conservation (PHKA) in Jakarta, urging them to transfer Pongky to the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme's (SOCP) specialist ‘Batu Mbelin Orangutan Quarantine Centre', near Medan, with the aim of eventually returning him back to the wild.

PHKA responded quickly and positively, and in October 2013 the Director General sent an instruction for Pongky to be transferred to the centre to be cared for by the SOCP and begin the process of being returned to the wild. This was a short-lived victory for Pongky, however, as that instruction was sadly not carried out.

We certainly did not give up though, and continued lobbying both the government authorities and the zoo to release Pongky, along with another orangutan who had by then also been confiscated from the illegal pet trade and placed at the zoo.

On 11th April 2015 these efforts finally met with some success. The younger orangutan, a female named Limbat, was transferred to Batu Mbelin to begin the rehabilitation and reintroduction process. Even at this point, though, Pongky was still kept at the zoo, and SOS renewed the campaign to have him transferred to Batu Mbelin as well, for eventual reintroduction to the wild forests of Sumatra.

We wrote to the Minister of Environment and Forestry in May 2015, and within a few weeks she had launched an investigation.It has been a lengthy battle for Pongky, continuously lobbying the various government authorities and the zoo. Now, finally, we are delighted to announce that all this work has paid off and Pongky is now in much better conditions and with much improved care by the SOCP.

What next for Pongky?

The SOCP quarantine station is located in the small illage of Batu Mbelin, near Medan in North Sumatra, and is currently caring for just under 50 orangutans, all confiscated former illegal pets. All orangutans arriving at the centre must complete a mandatory initial quarantine period and pass full medical health checks before entering the rehabilitation programme, which prepares them for eventual return to the wild.

Drh Yenny Saraswati, senior veterinarian at the SOCP stated, "We're so happy to finally get Pongky out of the zoo and provide him a chance to be a free wild orangutan again. The first thing we must do is give him a little time to adjust to his new surroundings. We will then give him a complete health check, looking especially for illnesses such as Tuberculosis and Hepatitis, which captive primates sometimes contract from their human captors and owners. Once we have the results of his tests, we'll then be able to properly assess his future; namely if Pongky can indeed be returned to a life in the wild, or if we will have to find an alternative long-term solution for his care. The health and welfare of all orangutans in Sumatra is always our number one concern, and whatever the outcome, for sure Pongky is now in much better conditions and with much better care than he has been used to these last several years as an illegal pet and at the Medan Zoo. And there's every chance he can be free once again if all goes well."

Since 2001 the SOCP has released over 180 orangutans at the edge of the Bukit Tigapuluh National Park in Jambi province, and over 80 in the Jantho Wildlife Reserve in Aceh Province, gradually establishing two new, self-sustaining and genetically viable wild populations of this Critically Endangered species.

We wish to thank all of our supporters who added their voice to the call for Pongky to be given a second chance.

We will bring you news and updates soon. In the meantime, we are appealing for donations to support Pongky's care and recovery. Please help - donations made to this project on the Global Giving site between now and the end of March will be directed to Pongky's appeal. Please also consider sharing this report with your networks.

Thank you.

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The orangutan was safely sedated
The orangutan was safely sedated

The first orangutan rescue of the year took place yesterday.

The HOCRU team (together with BKSDA government officials) rescued a female orangutan isolated in a rubber plantation in Kedaung village. Local farmers reported that the orangutan had been wandering around their plantation for months, cut off from being able to return to the Leuser Ecosystem.

Yesterday the HOCRU team managed to safely sedate and translocate the orangutan, and released her on the same day into the Leuser forests.

Last year, the rescue team saved 29 orangutans from life threatening situations: 19 were rescued from conflict situations, and 10 from the illegal pet trade.

They are a lifeline for many orangutans in Sumatra. It is extremely important that our team is able to continue to be in the field monitoring conflict situations and/or isolated forest patches containing orangutans, so that these smaller but still vital populations are not lost.

Thank you for your invaluable support of this vital work. Please consider setting up a monthly donation or sharing this project with your friends and family.

Dr Ricko, the team's vet prepares the tranquiliser
Dr Ricko, the team's vet prepares the tranquiliser
The orangutan is carried to safety
The orangutan is carried to safety
The orangutan is released to the Leuser Ecosystem
The orangutan is released to the Leuser Ecosystem
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Organization Information

Sumatran Orangutan Society

Location: Abingdon, Oxon - United Kingdom
Website:
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @orangutansSOS
Project Leader:
Lucy Radford
Abingdon, Oxon United Kingdom
$52,361 raised of $100,000 goal
 
1,099 donations
$47,639 to go
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