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.

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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.

 

Orangutans Are Not Pets

At the Orangutan Foundation, we experience first-hand the consequences of people keeping orangutans as pets through many of our rescues. Keeping an orangutan as a pet has been illegal since 1931 under Indonesian and international law. Orangutans are also protected by international trading laws (CITES), where they are listed as Appendix I, prohibiting all unlicensed trade.

In Central Kalimantan we are often finding cases where infants are simply being kept as pets after being found near community land with no mother. We don’t see evidence of illegal pet trade in Central Kalimantan, however, as habitat destruction increases, orangutans are more commonly being found in and around villages and towns.

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Orangutan infants are entirely dependent on their mother until 5 years of age, and most commonly stay with them until they are around 8 or 9 years old. This time together is crucial for the mother to teach them where in the forest to find food and shelter. It is important to learn where the fruiting trees are, as well as the best time of year to find them! If an orangutan isn’t given the opportunity to learn these skills, their chances of survival in the forest are slim without the help of our soft-release programme, where they have a chance to practice skills such as climbing and nest building before being released in the wild.

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People keeping orangutans as pets generally do not feed them the right kinds of food, and because of this many orangutans we rescue are severely malnourished. This can lead to serious health problems. Mental health can also be a problem. Primates in particular can suffer emotional and psychological trauma just as we do. For example, many orangutans rescued as pets are said to show signs of depression through lack of appetite. They need the opportunity to learn from their mother, to explore their environment and develop naturally in order to live a fulfilling life.

Of course, it is also important to note that as primates are wild animals (not domesticated, like a dog or a cat), this makes their actions unpredictable. Orangutans are very strong, and have to be, or else they would not be able to move around with such ease high up in the canopy. They can inflict serious damage, and are known to bite to defend themselves.

At the Orangutan Foundation, we believe it is wrong for people to keep orangutans as pets, and hope to future eliminate this issue through improved education and awareness. In Central Kalimantan it is becoming a more and more noticeable problem, which we believe may be related to habitat loss as a result of forest fires. This will continue to be a problem in future unless action is taken. We hope that through publicising our rescues and working closely with local communities, people will better understand the plight of orangutans, and learn that they are best left in the forest.

Show your support!  #PrimatesAreNotPets #PrimatesNotPlaymates

 

 

Rainforest Reflections: Day 2

Rainforest Reflections by Rowan Sharp

It’s only my second day in Pangkalan Bun and we already have six orangutans awaiting their release. I’m initially not sure whether to be thrilled by my good timing, or devastated by the sudden number of wild animals in need of a safe home. Regardless, four wild orangutans were released into the Lamandau Wildlife Reserve today: two females, Menteng and Nurbaya, and their two male infants.

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Despite spending each and every day working to protect our orangutan cousins, these four are the first wild orangutans I have ever laid eyes on! And wild they were… Menteng and Nurbaya greeted us with loud kiss-squeaks (the sound orangutans use to express displeasure) and aggressive rattles of their cages. Though it’s never pleasant to see an animal in a cage, the wild nature the females exhibited is a fantastic sign and bodes well for the success of their release into the wild.

Their immense strength was immediately clear, and it was admittedly a great struggle to transfer them from town to the river, and then by speedboat to the release site in the Lamandau Wildlife Reserve. The sun was extremely strong throughout the day and as time passed the orangutans’ frustration was mounting. When we finally arrived at the release site, Menteng nearly overturned her cage she was shaking it so hard!

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But when the first set of cage doors eventually opened, mother and infant sped up the nearest tree, swung to the next and then rapidly out of sight. Nurbaya’s release was almost identical. We were, however, aware that Menteng remained in the vicinity, because she continued to kiss-squeak at us from the canopies! Evidently she was tired of our company…

Despite the constant worry of causing any stress for the orangutans during their translocation, the actual release was an extremely calm and rather moving moment. Orangutans never seem to hesitate for even a moment before racing to freedom – if you had no interest in great apes, this moment might feel anti-climactic to you because of the speed at which they disappear out of sight – but for me, their scaling of a tall tree has an almost fantastical super-hero quality to it. I myself am extremely grateful to have witnessed these releases in person, and to know that these orangutans are now safe to live out their days in the wild.

But sadly the need for orangutan rescues is never a good sign. These orangutans and their infants were both found within oil-palm plantations in the Kotawaringin Timur district of Central Kalimantan. This area has proved to be an ever-rising problem for the Orangutan Foundation, with more and more orangutans needing rescue here. The Kotawaringin Timur district doesn’t have a single protected conservation area, and after the recent forest fires in 2015, the natural habitat is seriously dwindling. Only oil-palm plantations remain, and because orangutans are constantly on the move and need a variety of food, it’s hardly surprising that they venture out of fragmented forest into plantations and community land.

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What is surprising is that this is the 12th rescue this year from the same area, and it’s only April! For a point of reference, the Foundation rescued 19 orangutans over the duration of a year in 2015, and all were unique cases from different areas of Central Kalimantan. We will continue to discuss these issues with the Indonesian government throughout the week, and merely hope these numbers don’t continue to grow in the meantime.

 

Young orangutan rescued from local village

Last month, a staff member from the BKSDA informed us that someone had come to their office wanting to surrender an orangutan. The man was a local person from the town of Sampit, whose cousin had been keeping an orangutan in his home with the intent to sell him.

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The area in Sampit that the orangutan was rescued from. Lamandau Wildlife Reserve is 3-4 hours away from Sampit, and is partly pictured in the left-hand centre of the map.

When the BKSDA went to the man’s house, they found the infant orangutan in a small wire chicken cage, where he had been living on a generous diet of milk and bananas for several weeks. The man claimed that he had found the young ape in his rubber plant garden a month prior when he heard it crying, seemingly abandoned by his mother.

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Fortunately the BKSDA has now passed the infant orangutan on to the Orangutan Foundation, where he has been given proper health checks and will soon enter our soft-release programme. The orangutan weighed 4kg, and has been named Endut (an Indonesian term for someone with a large stomach) because of his big belly! Endut has been brought to Camp Buluh in the Lamandau Wildlife Reserve, and we are confident with the knowledge that in time he will be healthy enough to live independently in the forest.

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              Endut being offered water by BKSDA staff before transfer to Pangkalan Bun

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                                      Transferring Endut from Sampit to Pangkalan Bun

We are thrilled that Endut is now in the safety of the reserve, but sadly this story points to a larger problem. Endut is the third infant orangutan to be surrendered to the Orangutan Foundation by local villagers this year alone*. It is worrying that in spite of all the outreach and education done in Central Kalimantan, people today are still enamoured with the idea of having an orangutan as a pet. This belief is unfounded and unfair to the wild animal in question – not to mention highly illegal in Indonesia.

On top of this, one question continues to plague our minds: why are these infants being abandoned in the first place? Has their mother ran away or has she been harmed? When an infant is reported to the Foundation, we may never find out what happened to their mothers. Yet with three orphaned infants found in the same area of Central Kalimantan within the space of two months, this situation is very unsettling.

We hope that our supporters will help us to raise awareness for the importance of keeping orangutans in the wild.

*As this blog was being written, another infant orangutan was rescued by the Orangutan Foundation from a local village.