A Race to Freedom

We recently received news from the field of a rescue which did not go as planned, but nevertheless resulted in success.

Last week, Orangutan Foundation staff received reports from the local village of Pangkalan Lima of a sun bear trapped in a villager’s well. The smallest of the world’s eight living bear species, the Malayan sun bear is also the least studied, with little known about its biology or range.

Sun bear trapped in the well

The sun bear was trapped in a well.

Our vet first anaesthetised the bear in order for staff to be able to safely remove the bear without injury to either party. A net was used to lift the bear up from the well.

OF staff used a net to lift the bear out of the well

OF staff used a net to lift the bear out of the well.

 

The Foundation vet took blood samples which were taken to test for diseases which may have left the bear vulnerable following release. Test results later showed the bear to be in good health.

When managing the rescue and translocation of wild animals there is always a degree of unpredictability as to how the animal itself will react. The bear was placed within a cage whilst still sedated ready for translocation into the forest nearby.

The bear was placed in a cage until release

The bear was placed in a cage whilst sedated.

But after two hours, staff found the bear had escaped! It took a further two hours to successfully recapture the bear from BKSDA grounds, where it was swiftly moved to a stronger cage until its release.

Later that evening it was further transferred to a safer cage overnight, as staff were still worried he could bite his way through the second cage. The bear was clearly very wild and needed to return to the forest, and staff successfully released it the next day in camp Siswoyo in Lamandau Wildlife Reserve.

OF staff raise the door of the cage at the moment of release

OF staff raise the door of the cage at the moment of release.

Foundation staff are encountering a rise in the number of animals in need of translocation as they come in increasing contact with growing human settlements. Make a donation to ensure the Foundation can continue to keep the surrounding protected areas free from human development so that animals we rescue such as this sun bear have forest to return to.

The sun bear disappeared into the forest immediately following release

The sun bear disappeared into the forest immediately following release.

Herni – another orangutan rescued and released.

We have just received a report from our reintroduction manager, Azhari, about a recently rescued orangutan.

Herni

Herni is a young female orangutan with a tremendous wild spirit. She was handed over to the Indonesian authorities by a local community, near Sampit (Indonesian Borneo), at the end of June.  Herni was taken to the Lamandau Wildlife Reserve, an area which the Orangutan Foundation actively protect with guard posts and patrols.  For three weeks Herni was looked after at Camp Siswoyo, one of six orangutan release camps, in the Reserve.

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Camp staff report that she doesn’t make the tidiest nests to sleep in and sometimes she adds branches to old nests to fix them and make them stronger. As you would expect from an orangutan, she travels well through the trees rarely descending to the forest floor. On the 26th August, the Orangutan Foundation staff decided that Herni was ready for soft release. This means being monitored and followed by the camp staff from dawn to dusk for 20 days.  Not as easy as it sounds!

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Reports so far show that Herni is doing really well, eating the correct foods and following adult females to learn from them what foods to eat. The daily ranging that Herni is doing is between 600m and 1km. The good news is while Herni follows the other orangutans, she rarely goes down to the ground. Sometimes, the staff lost her because she likes to move in the forest canopy, just like an orangutan should, whilst the staff are having to climb over tree roots and wade through swamps. Our staff are experts in the forests and so she doesn’t get lost for long.

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Please consider making a donation to support our ongoing work protecting this important forest reserve and its precious inhabitants.

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Thank you

Orangutan Foundation

Adventures in Borneo

This summer I had the unique opportunity to visit Central Kalimantan to see the area in which the Orangutan Foundation operates. I have been interning with the Foundation for 4 months, and I’m familiar with many of the areas they protect, although by name only. Therefore, it was a pleasure to see these landmarks in the flesh and meet the Indonesian team that work so hard to protect them.

The various camps are most easily reached via Kalimantan’s river systems. As I travelled down river by speedboat, the waterfront houses of Pangkalan Bun quickly turned into dense forest. Noteworthy sightswere various indicators of habitat loss, such as logs being transported towards the town. Kingfishers darted in front of the boat so fast that getting a good photo was impossible!

Whizzing down these waterways was the highlight of my trip

Whizzing down these waterways was the highlight of my trip

I first visited the site of the new guard post where this year’s volunteers were making excellent headway into its construction. The volunteers were a hardworking, dedicated bunch from all walks of life! They were all dedicated to the cause and felt genuine, collective concern for the threat of habitat loss, highlighted by the constant stream of reminders around them. They spoke of awaking to the sound of chainsaws, highlighting the need for a guard post in the area.

Myself, some of the Indonesian staff, and our volunteers!

Myself, some of the Indonesian staff, and our volunteers!

Afterward, I got to visit Camp Buluh. This is the current home of Sugih, a 5-year-old female who was rescued by OF, previously kept as a pet. Foundation staff informed me that she had made good progress, she was behaving as a wild orangutan should – encouraging news.

Sugih being helped into the trees to practise nest building

Sugih being helped into the trees to practise nest building

The next day was the volunteer’s day off, and I was lucky enough to join them to visit Camp JL, where Okto and Ketty are currently being cared for, and Camp Gemini. Okto and Ketty were a lively duo to watch, and really quite amusing, with Okto dropping to the ground at one stage and crossing his arms as if to say “I am not doing any more nest-building practice!”. Hopefully in time he’ll exhibit less of this behaviour, as wild orangutans are rarely seen on the forest floor.

Okto swinging around in the trees above us.

Okto swinging around in the trees above us

Camp Gemini’s feeding station was a hive of activity; we saw many mothers with infants who inhabited the forest nearby. They began to crowd around with the promise of fresh fruit! We even saw a wild male, enticed by the fruit – and the females!

Hola Honolulu looking decidedly comfortable in the company of a wild male

Hola Honolulu looking decidedly comfortable in the company of a wild male

On my last day, I was taken to visit Pondok Ambung, the Foundation’s research station situated within Tanjung Puting National Park. There were 15 camera traps placed around this area which provided evidence of a plethora of wildlife who call this National Park home.

Pondok Ambung staff member checking the camera traps for new images

Pondok Ambung staff member checking the camera traps for new images

We then visited the famed Camp Leakey where I saw a gibbon amongst the orangutans visiting the feeding station, which moved too swiftly through the tree tops for a photo! The traffic caused by the tourist’s klotoks was really a sight to behold, displaying how popular this area has become with people from around the world.

The journey back to Kumai was magical, made so by numerous orangutans who had begun to make their nests by the river’s edge.

Orangutan by the river’s edge looking as interested in me as I was in her

Orangutan by the river’s edge looking as interested in me as I was in her

I had a fantastic time visiting this wonderland that so many orangutans call home. I would urge anybody who has not already done so to check out the various trips available to visit for themselves, particularly the Volunteer Programme (http://www.orangutan.org.uk/orangutan-tours). I’ve definitely received a ginger thumbs up from the orangutans in the area, as well as being made to feel very welcome by the excellent Indonesian staff members. Many thanks and hoping I’ll be back soon!

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The Promise of Nature

Dull and grey, those are the two main words used to describe the cities of the world today.

My home is a forest, well it is to me, but to everyone else it’s a colossal, unoxygenated, city of grey. Why they cut down trees I don’t know, probably money. Why is money “so” important to people? I really don’t know? It’s stupid that money is so important to the world, it’s not important, you don’t “need” it to live life happily, all you need is friends and family.

Before they cut it down, the forest was happy and lively. My line of family had lived there for generations and by living off the land they all had happy lives, and I did too until the loggers came…they made me and my friends and family leave the forest and everything I knew and loved.

What happened then I can’t and don’t want to remember, but the one thing that I do remember is that before I left the forest, curse those loggers, I filled a duffle bag full of acorns, just in case.

Turns out I did need them.

When I came back to where I came from, it looked exactly the opposite of how I remember. It was dull and grey, and the only animals were depressed, grey pets, rats and flies, the people were the same as the pets, depressed and grey.

I hated it, the city and the people, but worst of all was the grey. I had to do something then I found it, the duffle bag. Of course, I can plant trees, shrubs and flowers all over the city and maybe, just maybe, all over the world!

I started with my street, planting in every crack in the pavement, in gardens and balconies. Bit by bit, the city began to be more colourful and more importantly, the people were starting to talk and laugh together and be happy. At last my home was happy and lively again. I moved on to another city and did the same and another and another and do on until all the cities of the world were the same as the first one, happy and colourful.

SeedlingsBy Charles Saunders, aged 9

The Cost of Being Cute

SLOW LORISES SUFFER BOOMING ILLEGAL PET TRADE – Spring 2015

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When the Foundation rescues a healthy slow loris, they are released directly into the Lamandau Wildlife Reserve where they can live safely under our protection.

Much like the orangutan, the slow loris, also native to South East Asia, enjoys a moist peat swamp forest habitat. It is nocturnal and perfectly adapted to life in the trees. Despite the increased loss of critical forest, this is not the greatest threat that slow loris populations face. As well as being used in traditional medicine, slow lorises are being taken from the wild in their thousands every year to be sold as pets.

All five loris species are now recognised as either vulnerable or endangered and are listed as species threatened with extinction on Appendix 1 of CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species). Though the trade of slow lorises has been banned both in South East Asia and internationally, the trade system is increasingly active, widespread and being carried out fairly openly, indicating a lack of effective law enforcement. For example, in Japan, slow lorises are advertised publicly for sale, with individual animals fetching between £1000 and £3000.

A recent spate of YouTube videos, presenting slow lorises as cute, cuddly pets, is partly to blame for the demand. There is no denying that the loris’s large bulging eyes, soft furry coat and tiny button nose are pleasing to the eye. But the millions of viewers on YouTube are oblivious to the trauma and suffering of lorises involved in the illegal pet trade.

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Forced to live diurnally, in wire cages that rip at their hands and feet, it comes as little surprise that a large proportion of captured lorises don’t make it to market. Furthermore, according to Anna Nekaris, a loris specialist based at Oxford Brookes University, lorises’ teeth are extracted so that vendors can claim they are infants – the preferred pets.

Interestingly, the slow loris is the only primate in the world that is poisonous, producing a toxin that can be fatal to humans by combining saliva from the mouth with oil from a gland on the upper arm. This defence mechanism is transmitted through a bite, further encouraging the cruel methods by which a loris’s teeth are removed in order to make them desirable pets.

When loris infants are captured and separated from their parents, they are unable to clean themselves – their fur is constantly covered in urine, faeces and oily skin secretions – and between 30 per cent and 90 per cent die in transit.

Towards the end of last year, the Foundation was able to release a single slow loris into a protected forest. It is hoped that new loris populations will eventually be able to grow safely within these protected boundaries.

 

Buttress Roots and Motorbike Bugs

by Sophie Hanson (Intern with the Orangutan Foundation)

I have had the good fortune to have visited several rainforests across the world, but none more memorable than those of Borneo. I was struck by the incredible buttress roots of iconic ‘jungle’ trees, hanging vines and aerial roots! These trees have no boundaries – even in metropolitan cities such as Jakarta you may find them bursting through the concrete in all their glory, leading me to wonder what secrets they may hold up in the canopy. Once among such giants it is suddenly easy to imagine great troops of monkeys swinging their way through to fruiting trees, and whenever I find myself in their midst I can’t help but strain my neck in anticipation of such an event.

Tree Strang Fi StephenB photos 09-04g1Unfortunately, soon after arriving, I realised my curly strawberry-blonde mop of a hairdo appears to many insects as a magnificent flower possessing the most succulent of nectar! I really learned to hold an iron nerve as beetles rumbling like motorbikes skimmed my hairline. By day, the chorus of insects is enough to make any entomophobe flee in terror, with the sounds only occasionally interrupted by the haunting call of birds floating through the trees. As night falls, this chorus changes hands with the great swathes of frogs that inhabit all levels of the rainforest. I remember vividly the sudden bouts of both fear and amazement I experienced whilst walking through this incredible habitat as dusk settled. I was impressed by the military discipline of lines of giant ants passing forest trails, and captivated by giant millipedes scuttling along the forest floor.

During my stay I visited a sanctuary for orangutans, as well as a sanctuary for proboscis monkeys, and found I could have happily watched both species for hours.  Orangutan infants made me giggle with their slow, deliberate movements; their wispy hair giving them the appearance of determined little old men. The dominant male proboscis monkey sitting close-by was less appealing as he honked his swollen nose at females – his massive belly and vibrant appendage on display – while they invited him to mate with hilarious facial expressions. Whilst among the mangroves I saw my first mudskipper fish jumping and gasping in the shallows, and was surprised by their size – nature documentaries had always made them appear much larger!

In short, I was astounded by the richness and variety of biodiversity these rainforests had to offer. Visiting rainforests around the world always leaves me in awe, and I will forever fight to protect them.

What role can technology play in conservation?

We at the Foundation love harnessing new technology to give us a better understanding of the current state of the rainforest habitat we work to protect. Our latest project involves integrating drone technology into our habitat assessments, as well as into our orangutan rescues. Drones are remotely controlled cameras which can be flown over rainforest areas and used to take aerial photos or video of the surrounding landscape. We have now been using drones over the Lamandau Wildlife Reserve for a couple of months, and with impressive results! For example, these images (below) were taken in order to assess the scale of the damage in the reserve caused by the forest fires late last year.

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By viewing aerial footage of the damage, we can best place our efforts to protect remaining forest with the introduction of strategically positioned guard posts and forest restoration projects.

In using these drones during our orangutan rescues, we are also better equipped to assess the surrounding area and determine how the orangutan became displaced. The striking image below gave us a clear and devastating indication of how orangutan habitat had been so greatly fragmented due to the expansion of oil-palm plantations in the area of Sampit (Central Kalimantan).

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We are gaining a great deal of insight from the use of new technology such as this, and we couldn’t be doing so without the backing of our generous supporters. In being able to share these discoveries and insights with you, we feel you are able to better understand our work and the challenges we continue to face.

We love to explore the internet in new ways to gain support and raise awareness of the work we do. Social media is another amazing tool to promote knowledge and effectively ‘spread the word’ about the beauty and wonder of orangutans and their rainforest home, as well as highlighting why we desperately need to protect it. We connect with supporters on Twitter and post announcements on Facebook, whilst using this blog to help individuals to gain a deeper and more personal understanding of what we do in the field.

In light of this acknowledgement, we are excited to announce the launch of the Orangutan Foundation’s Instagram account in honour of Rainforest: Live! Follow our Instagram (orangutan_foundation) to see new images and clips from our Indonesian staff as they experience the true wonders of the Indonesian rainforest!

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Why ‘Rainforest: Live’?

By Rowan Sharp

What’s so special about rainforests? How do they distinguish from other forest types? Why should you care about protecting them?

Rainforests, found in regions close to the equator where temperatures are highest, are thought to contain as much as 75% of the world’s biodiversity!  Countless invaluable species, medicines, food sources, energy resources and much more are found within these dense wet forests, and yet very few of us get the opportunity to see them for ourselves.

I have been fortunate enough to spend time in both the Amazonian rainforest and the wet Indonesian rainforests of Borneo, and doing so has been completely life-changing. Growing up immersed in books and films about primates, I spent my childhood dreaming of life in the rainforest, and I have never been disappointed.

Dense Jungle StephenB photos 09-04

Nothing compares to the feeling of riding in a klotok (a wooden long-boat), coasting the surface of the sheen black rainforest rivers, breaking your way through dense mangroves and buttress roots. Looking up, tall and vibrantly green trees shade you from the sun – the light of which merely sparkles through the leaves, leaving you to feel enclosed within or engulfed by the forest. I spend most of this time watching the ripples in the water, eagerly mistaking small logs for crocodiles. The oil-coloured surface of the water tells no secrets of the mysteries lurking beneath, and you can’t help but feel that we’re only learning half of the story travelling above ground.

On land there are no clear paths; instead the ground is ridden with thick roots forcing you to clamber around and hold on to hanging branches for support (only after quickly confirming that they are indeed branches), which reminds you how very far you are from human civilisation. This distance (both psychological and literal) from my metropolitan lifestyle is perhaps why it’s so easy for me to find comfort in the rainforest. That’s not to say the rainforest is a source of peace and quiet – far from it. Nowhere are the cicadas louder nor the birds more active; every break of a twig hints to some life beyond your line of vision. If you’re lucky you may catch a glimpse of orange in the tree-tops, and argue with your companions over whether it was an orangutan or a maroon langur monkey (or, more often than not, some cruel trickery of the light).

Dr Mark Fellowes

Rainforests are often referred to as the ‘lungs of the planet’ (with their trees producing a large percentage of the world’s oxygen), and I must say…you can feel it. The constant moisture in the air just adds to this undeniable feeling that life is all around you; this is an environment where nature flourishes – where any measure of life can grow and evolve freely.

Of course not all rainforest life is a joy to encounter. As someone whom mosquitos seem to have a certain proclivity for, I can’t pretend the experience is purely luxurious. You’ll sweat off your repellent within minutes and your clothes will never feel properly clean again. However this does nothing to deter me from returning to the rainforest – particularly at a time when the world is undergoing a mass extinction event, with human activities largely to blame.

It’s now more important than ever that people take an active interest in rainforests all over the world and fight for change in the current rate of habitat destruction. That is why I myself and the Orangutan Foundation take part in events like Rainforest: Live, joining wildlife conservation organisations across the world to raise awareness and encourage action in the general public to protect these fragile rainforest ecosystems.

 Join us on social media and be a part of Rainforest: Live.

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Follow the hashtag #rainforestlive all day TOMORROW (June 3rd) to see what we’re all posting LIVE from the rainforests all over the globe!

You can catch the Foundation’s live updates directly by following us on Twitter (@OrangutanFndn/https://twitter.com/OrangutanFndn) or keeping an eye on Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/orangutanfndn/).

Rediscovered – but soon to disappear?

Early this year, the general public received the sad news that one of what is believed to be a population of only 15 Sumatran rhinos inhabiting the West Kutai district of Kalimantan had died. Najaq, a female rhino, had been suffering from an infected wound on her leg, believed to be caused by snares set by poachers. This news highlighted the plight of the remaining relict population of Sumatran rhinos in Borneo. This population (previously thought to be extinct) was rediscovered in 2013 and tracked with the use of camera traps, as Sumatran rhinos are shy solitary animals.

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Sumatran rhinos (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) are listed as critically endangered, with less than 250 thought to exist in isolated wild populations across Sumatra and Borneo, although originally found throughout much of Southeast Asia. These rhinos are the smallest of the five surviving species, and the only type possessing a light covering of long hair, earning the nickname ‘hairy rhinos’! Their biggest threat is from poachers who are after their coveted horn; their horns are sought after as a status symbol and for use in alternative medicine.

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Field workers are hoping to capture the remaining 14 rhinos in Kalimantan and transfer them to a sanctuary which is currently being constructed close to where Najaq was found. Whether this will be enough to save this Bornean subspecies is unclear. With such a small number believed to be left in existence, we may sadly have to bid farewell to this majestic species of megafauna that once roamed the wild forests of Borneo alongside orangutans.

Rainforest Reflections: Day 11

Rainforest Reflections by Rowan Sharp

(This blog has been edited to include more recent events.)

Working for an NGO that primarily focuses on habitat conservation, I normally try to avoid speaking too emotively or sentimentally about the animals we rescue. But when a wounded gibbon is clutching your hand as he fights for his life, it’s really very hard not to see the emotional side of things.

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Photo by Rowan Sharp

This particular gibbon had been kept as a pet by a local villager, and bound by ropes within their home. When the gibbon grew in size, and began to become wilder in nature, he eventually bit the owner. It’s a shame that it took an event of this kind to push the owner to give him up to the local authorities, but it at least landed him in the safe hands of the Orangutan Foundation.

It was clear from the moment we laid eyes on him that something was wrong; a usually very energetic (and potentially aggressive) species, the gibbon instead lay limp and silent on the floor of his cage. As soon as we took a closer look, we could see the deep deep wounds around his waist which had already caused a terrible infection. His body trembled violently and there was no shadow of a doubt that he was in a great deal of pain. Domesticated by years of being kept as a pet, the ape was desperate for human contact and reached out to us to be held…ethics and professionalism were thrown out the window at this point. His death truly felt imminent, and refusing to hold him was to sentence him to die alone in a steel cage.

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OF-UK Director, Ashley Leiman OBE, pictured with the wounded gibbon

This first encounter was heartbreaking for all involved, and it’s really quite difficult to put the range of emotions into words. All I know is that, at the end of the day, the feeling I felt most strongly was anger. Anger at the people who could tie up an innocent animal without a second thought to its well-being (never mind that gibbons are one of the most intelligent species on the planet). Anger that in this day and age, when awareness is so high, people still don’t see a problem with keeping a wild ape as a pet. And anger that we couldn’t have done anything sooner; maybe somehow prevented the infection from getting to this late stage. But there was no one around to direct this anger to. We felt helpless, and there was little to be done but to hold his hands and hope for the best.

For the next few days, the gibbon was held in the Foundation’s office in Pangkalan Bun where he could receive constant care from our staff. He remained weak and his wounds were not visibly healing, but his appetite was building – as was our optimism. Sadly at 1:04am on Friday April 15th, we received word from our night guard that the gibbon had passed away.

We are all devastated by this turn of events and can only hope that his story can serve as a lesson to all.