At the very end of last year, we released four more orangutans into the Lamandau Wildlife Reserve. It was a great way to end the year for me, and I hope it was for the orangutans as well. They certainly took to the forest with enthusiasm. For two of the orangutans, it was not their first taste of life in the wild. Boni and Sawit were returned to the Care Centre earlier in the year with medical problems. Boni miscarried and our staff feared there were complications. However, after a period of recuperation she was back to normal and ready for re-release. I don’t go on every release but, as this would be the last release of the year, it seemed auspicious.
As an aside, though my photos of her won’t do her justice, Boni is actually a particularly attractive orangutan. I know some people are uncomfortable with the idea of judging orangutans but we might as well be honest: just like people, there are fat ones, thin ones, light coloured, dark, long-haired types, balding, heavy browed, floppy-lipped orangutans and a whole lot more. I am not pretending to run a beauty competition but I will say Boni is Hollywood’s idea of what an orangutan should look like! And I don’t think I am alone.
Orangutans as they arrive (Boni is the darker orangutan in the middle)
As soon as she was let go, she ran straight up to a sub-adult male who had come in to meet the new arrivals. They noisily disappeared into the trees and did not even come down for the food which was laid out for them.
Andi was one of the first time releases. Normally we release orangutans when they are between six and eight years old, roughly their natural independence age. Andi however is only four. At the Care Centre he had been adopted by Sawit and it was only right that they were released together. Despite the number of orphans at the Care Centre surprisingly few adoptions actually work. Older females will be happy cage-mates with young orangutans but their relationship won’t develop to the extent of sharing food, carrying, protective behaviour or sleeping together all of which a natural mother would do. In Andi and Sawit’s case the relationship was complete. They were in separable, as I learnt to my cost.
Andi at full stretch!
The orangutans were released at Camp Rasak which is where Kath and Jutak were released in November. I am pleased to report that Kath has moved away from the release site into the forest and this is not surprising as she was an older orangutan. Jutak makes the occasional appearance but is not seen every day. The Assistants feel she is still wary of the sub-adult males but she may be seen more frequently as her confidence increases.
Camp Rasak was built by our volunteer teams in 2005 and it is a great camp, incredibly peaceful and, perhaps best of all, it is built on dry ground which is hard to find in swampy Lamandau. It is a refreshing experience to be able to walk normally rather than sloshing through water. I therefore did not mind slinging Sawit on my back for the short walk to the release site.
Short walk? Feeding sites are moved regularly because of the pressure the orangutans exert on the area; they break trees and branches, and often nest nearby. Changing the feeding location stops one particular area being degraded too heavily. Our diligent staff had moved the feeding platform a further 300m away from Camp. And, of course, I wasn’t just carrying Sawit on my back – Andi was on hers!
So in moving the platform the staff were being conscientious which I am sure I would have found pleasing had I not been lugging a combined 57kg of red ape; couldn’t someone have told me?!
Settling in to their new home, the forests of Lamandau.