Orangutan Reintroduction: Why it’s needed and how it’s done.
WHEN ORANGUTANS ARE MADE HOMELESS, THE FOUNDATION PUTS THEM BACK INTO THE WILD.
As threats to orangutans increase, so does the work of the Orangutan Foundation. In addition to preserving vast areas of habitat, orangutan rescue and reintroduction is a cornerstone of the Foundation’s efforts. As orangutans are displaced by deforestation, they are often found injured or taken captive. In collaboration with the local government and communities, the Foundation rescues these animals and prepares them for release back into the wild.
When the Foundation gets the call to rescue an orangutan, the first thing our vet does is check its health and, if necessary, provides immediate medical treatment. The orangutan is then taken to one of our six camps in the Lamandau Wildlife Reserve – one of the few safe places in Indonesia where rescued orangutans can be released without impacting on wild populations.
What happens next depends on the orangutan’s age and overall health.
If the individual is old enough and well enough to survive in the wild, we release it immediately at one of our camps, often within 24 hours of its rescue, and monitor its progress.
If an orangutan is too young or needs further veterinary treatment, we care for it at Camp Gemini in Lamandau and then provide it with a soft-release programme. We take these individuals out into the forest each day, to taste wild fruit and to practise climbing. Once they are seen to have mastered basic survival skills, we release them fully into the wild.
To help monitor their development, and to make up for any food shortages in the forest, released orangutans are offered food twice a week at designated feeding stations. Many of them adapt fully to independent life and are rarely seen at feeding times and seldom return to the camps.
This system of translocation and release has other benefits. It helps local people to learn about orangutans and to support forest protection, especially as the wider community is often involved in a rescue. Also, the orangutans that we reintroduce typically go on to have their own healthy offspring.
Over the past 10 years, the Foundation has recorded more than 40 births to reintroduced orangutans in the Lamandau Wildlife Reserve – a new generation, and one that is safe in a protected forest.
While we are proud of these efforts, the need to rescue and reintroduce orangutans reflects increasing deforestation. If forests were protected, orangutans would not need this kind of intervention.
Consequently, the core of the Foundation’s work remains habitat protection.
While preserving land, such as the Lamandau Wildlife Reserve, we work to promote community awareness, sustainable livelihood initiatives, reforestation and protection with guard posts, and regular patrols. This comprehensive programme is at the heart of our efforts to ensure a viable future for orangutans, forests and people.
Conservation or Welfare?
A common perception is that orangutan reintroduction and orangutan conservation are one in the same. This is only partly true. The fundamental basis of orangutan conservation is habitat protection, and the number of orangutans being brought into care is only a reflection of the rate of habitat loss. While the plight of orphaned orangutans is a welfare crisis, the fact is reintroduced orangutans will not replace a wild population.
Originally reintroduction was seen as a means of law enforcement, and thus as a form of conservation, as it allowed the authorities to confiscate illegally held animals. However, after more than 40 years of orangutan reintroduction, the number of orangutans in care is increasing, not decreasing, causing some people to question the efficiency of reintroduction and whether it is actually helping save the species.
Of course, the issue that underlies reintroduction is that wild orangutans need to be better protected. Until they are, however, orangutans will continue to be killed and orphans will need to be rescued, so there remains the question of what to do with these animals? They need to be taken into care – that is welfare. But reintroduction can potentially lead to direct conservation gains. Release sites need to be large and secure. Some reserves have been established especially for this purpose, thereby increasing the overall size of the protected area network.
More information about orangutans