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 orangutan is evacuated from condemned forests
An orangutan is evacuated from condemned forests

The role of rescue and translocation in orangutan conservation

SOS Director Helen Buckland and Programme Manager Dave Dellatore answer some common questions about the value of the evacuation and translocation of orangutans from condemned forests.

1. Is rescue and translocation good for the welfare of individual orangutans, and does this increase those animals' chances of long term survival?

The Sumatran orangutans that are translocated are found on land that is in the process of being cleared - condemned forests. This has been the case for almost 50 orangutans that the Human Orangutan Conflict Response Unit have relocated since January 2012.  In all these cases, the orangutans were taken out of areas isolated from larger forest blocks, that were at direct and immediate risk, or actively in the process, of being cleared. We can confidently state that without such interventions, these orangutans would have had little chance of survival, and those that were not starved or shot would likely have ended up in the illegal pet trade.

Being released into protected forests can certainly be said to increase their short-medium term survival prospects relative to the no-intervention scenario. We are looking into the short-term survival and adaptation of translocated orangutans in a joint research effort with Professor Serge Wich, at one of the government-approved release sites.  As to their subsequent chances of long-term survival, this is a question still to be answered, which will of course require a great deal more time to determine, and perhaps more importantly will depend on the decisions and actions of the Indonesian government, in terms of law enforcement and land management. 


2. Do these actions improve the welfare of any other orangutans that might still be in that particular forest?

The decision to translocate an orangutan is never taken lightly; rescue operations are always a last resort and only undertaken if active clearing is taking place or there is reason to believe that the orangutan is under other extreme and immediate risk (such as a threat that the orangutan will be shot in retaliation for crop-raiding).

The HOCRU team always thoroughly surveys an area of forest from which an orangutan has been translocated, to determine whether any more individuals remain. The same assessment that led to the decision to translocate the first orangutan would be applied to all others in the forest patch - in other words, if there was cause to remove one orangutan due to the perceived extreme and imminent risk to that individual's prospects of survival, then any other orangutans found would also be translocated.

As well as responding to reports from the field of isolated orangutans, the HOCRU programme maintains a list of sites with known populations of isolated orangutans that are monitored on a regular basis - it is not the case that all isolated orangutans are (immediately) translocated.  The team maintains open lines of communication with stakeholders in these areas, and conducts ongoing assessments of the threat level to each known individual or small population. 

It is only when an isolated area is deemed unsafe, either through active clearing, recent clearing resulting in greatly reduced forest area, or direct threats are made against the orangutans, that a rescue operation is carried out.  It is also worth noting that this work is officially government sanctioned - every rescue is conducted with the approval and presence of government conservation authorities. 

According to the latest Toolkit for Identification of High Conservation Values in Indonesia, it is stated under HCV 1.2 that for taxa classified by the IUCN as being Critically Endangered, as is the Sumatran orangutan:

‘each individual is extremely important as a potential founder/progenitor of future generations, and for this reason the persistence of each individual is a shared societal responsibility.'

If we are able to help save even one individual, it is a worthy effort. Fundamentally, these forest fragments are being cleared regardless of our actions, and inaction would see the loss of multiple individuals and small populations of Sumatran orangutans which could be contributing to the survival of their species.


3. Is the welfare of any orangutans that occur anywhere else under threatened conditions improved, now that the understanding is that "the orangutan problem" will be dealt with by the conservation professionals?

This is a very important question.  As forests fall to make way for farmlands and other developments, we are finding more and more orangutans stranded in agricultural landscapes, including smallholder plantations as well as company-managed concessions. We believe that orangutans and humans can and must coexist, but when individuals or small populations are trapped in forest fragments, with poor prospects of survival, translocation offers an opportunity for those orangutans to once again be part of a viable population.

In cases where orangutans are found within legal concessions, and especially where the companies managing those concessions are not part of any organization or pledge to conserve HCV or eliminate deforestation from their operations, the future is bleak for those individuals. As we know, orangutans are not only found within protected forests, and the reality is that these forest fragments will be cleared, whether or not they contain orangutans.

We are the first to acknowledge that translocation is a reactionary safety net in response to the ongoing problem of orangutans being displaced from their shrinking forest homes.  It is extremely important that there be someone in the field monitoring conflict situations and/or isolated forest patches containing orangutans, so that these smaller but still vital populations are not lost.

Of course, working to prevent these situations has to be part of any conservation strategy.

This project is just one element of a conservation strategy that focuses on protecting wild orangutans and their habitat. Indeed, the rescue and translocation of orangutans is just one element of the HOCRU programme, which also seeks to evaluate and address the causes of human-orangutan conflict, provide community training in best-practice mitigation methods, and support government capacity in dealing with this growing problem.

In an ideal world, arrests and prosecutions would follow from the detection of any wildlife or forest crime in Indonesia, and conservation-appropriate spatial planning would be implemented by communities and government. The HOCRU programme has been working at the community level (field interventions and also education and training) and also government level (passage of provincial decrees regarding the prevention and management of human wildlife conflict, helping to have law enforcement cases pursued) to that end. 

Ensuring that we are working towards our vision of a safe, viable and thriving population of Sumatran orangutans, is of paramount importance. We thank everyone who supports this vital project, and all of our programmes and campaigns to keep the orangutans, people and forests of Sumatra safe.

The rescue team are a lifeline for many orangutans
The rescue team are a lifeline for many orangutans
Returning to the wild - a joyous moment
Returning to the wild - a joyous moment
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Young female orangutan, now in safe hands
Young female orangutan, now in safe hands

A few weeks ago we launched an appeal for donations to buy a new truck for Sumatra's only orangutan rescue team: the Human Orangutan Conflict Response Unit (HOCRU). There was an amazing response from our supporters all over the world, and we're very happy to report that the target was reached in just a few days, and a new rescue truck is now on the road!

The team have already been able to save yet another precious life - a young female orangutan was confiscated the illegal pet trade last month, and is now in safe hands.

Thank you to everyone who donated and shared the appeal - with your support, the team will be able to reach even more orangutans in danger and give them a second chance at life in the wild.

The team asked us to share a short video message - see the link below.

Links:

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In safe hands
In safe hands

Please help the rescue team reach more orangutans in danger: We need to buy a new truck so that they can evacuate more orangutans from condemned forests and move them to safety.

As a supporter of this vital project, you know that Sumatran orangutans are Critically Endangered, and that forest destruction for farmlands and roads is happening on a massive scale in Sumatra. As a result, orangutans often become stranded in patches of forest, as the bulldozers clear the trees around them. 

Thanks to your donations, the Human Orangutan Conflict Response Unit (HOCRU) is active on the frontline to evacuate orangutans from condemned forests, and transfer them to safe habitat, giving them a second chance at life in the wild. 

The HOCRU team are desperately in need of a new rescue truck, so that they can respond quickly to reports of orangutans in danger, and transport them safely to protected forests.

The team do an incredible and very difficult job, and have already saved the lives of more than 65 orangutans. They are the only orangutan rescue team in Sumatra, and cover a huge area, and they need your support to reach more orangutans who need their help.

We have already raised 85% of the funds we need to purchase a new vehicle. All donations to this project via GlobalGiving between now and the end of August will go towards our appeal. Please help, every donation gets us closer to our target and is so appreciated.

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The mother orangutan is checked by the vet
The mother orangutan is checked by the vet

On Saturday, a villager from Halaban village called the HOCRU team to report a female orangutan with her young baby roaming in a mixed rubber and oil palm plantation. Soon after arriving at the scene, the team found the orangutans isolated in the farmlands.  After more than 5 hours of following the mother orangutan, waiting for her to move into a safe position, they managed to tranquillise her and bring her and her baby down onto the net safely. After a thorough health check, the orangutans were found healthy and had no injuries. The mother is thought to be around 30 years old, and he4r baby around 2 years old.

Both orangutans were released safely into the Leuser Ecosystem in the early evening on the same day.   
Thank you for enabling this vital work to continue. Thanks to your support, these two orangutans, along with more than 60 others so far this year, have a second chance at life in the wild. 
We are working hard to ensure that the precious forests of the Leuser Ecosystem are kept safe, so that Sumatran orangutans have secure habitat in which to roam.
The baby orangutan clings to her mother
The baby orangutan clings to her mother
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Friday lies in the rescue net
Friday lies in the rescue net

A huge male orangutan was evacuated from farmlands last month by the rescue team in Sumatra, and released back into the Leuser forests at dawn the next morning.  

Photographer Paul Hilton accompanied the Human Orangutan Conflict Response Unit and captured some incredible images of the rescue.

The rescue team had received a call from the government authorities: a local community in Aceh had reported an orangutan trapped in their farmlands. When the team arrived on the scene, they found him in a tiny patch of forest surrounded on all sides by oil palms - plantations spanning the size of 3,000 football fields. There was no way that the orangutan could have survived there for long, nor made it back to safe forests alone.

As it was Good Friday, the orangutan soon became known as Friday by the team. Sedated with a tranquiliser dart, Friday fell 15 metres into the net below.

Having been isolated in such a small patch of trees, he was very underweight, and the vet also found a bullet in his chest, which was removed on the scene. It is likely that Friday would have starved, or been shot again, if he had not been rescued.

Panut Hadisiwoyo, Director of the Orangutan Information Centre, our partner organisation in Sumatra, said, “Over the last 3 years OIC has rescued 64 orangutans stranded just like this one. Adults, juveniles, mothers with babies – they end up in plantations looking for the forest that used to be here, for the fruits they need to survive. Friday’s rescue brought the count for this year to 11 orangutans already. That’s 11 in just 3 months so it’s a real concern”.

At dawn the next morning, Friday was released into the Leuser Ecosystem. As soon as the door of the crate was lifted, he scaled the nearest tree and within seconds was looking down at the rescue team from the forest canopy, shaking branches and vocalising.

These rescues are vital - with so few Sumatran orangutans left in the wild, every life is precious. 

Thank you for your support

A bulldozer inside the protected Leuser Ecosystem
A bulldozer inside the protected Leuser Ecosystem
Member of rescue team aims the tranquiliser dart
Member of rescue team aims the tranquiliser dart
Friday is released into safe forests
Friday is released into safe forests
The vet conducts a medical check up
The vet conducts a medical check up
Friday in the forest canopy
Friday in the forest canopy
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Organization Information

Sumatran Orangutan Society

Location: Abingdon, Oxon - United Kingdom
Website:
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Twitter: @orangutansSOS
Project Leader:
Lucy Radford
Abingdon, Oxon United Kingdom
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