A Conservationist’s Dilemma -What to do with Montana?

Before I begin, let me apologise if in my last blog, the photo made it seem Mr (Pak) Sehat was with Montana. The orangutan Pak Sehat was pictured with was Hongky when they had just arrived at Camp Rasak immediately before walking to the feeding site, where final release took place. If a bond between Hongky and Pak Sehat is apparent, well the camera does not lie. Hongky is a boisterous teenager. The mere holding of his hand by Pak Sehat was enough to calm him until he was released and he was free to climb. Montana is different. When I first arrived in Indonesia, Montana was a little bigger than the size of Hongky in the photo. In those days he joined in the "days out" system of the Orangutan Care Centre & Quarantine (OCCQ). It is really only in the last year or so he has not been able to, and not just because of his size. It is also his character. I thank you very much for your offer "Cathy-California” and Sheryl, but in Montana's case it isn't that "the problem is a shortage of money? Would a specific donation intended let's say to hire 1-2 people...." The problem is what happens when Montana is out of his cage. He wants to roam, to explore, to find his own space. We simply can not provide him with what he needs at the OCCQ and in all honesty no number of extra assistants would change that. If Pak Sehat is not confident letting him out, none of us should be.

Unfortunately, neither can we accommodate Montana in Lamandau. The rehabilitation system as it is set up takes orangutans nearing independence-age and releases them into the wild, though with supplementary feeding. Once in the wild, the orangutans have to take their chances in finding food, dispersing and interacting with other/wild orangutans. Of course, veterinary care and assistants are there to help when things don't go according to plan, but essentially the process is 'hands off'.

Montana doesn't fit into that system. There is too great a risk he will fight with other orangutans, and would likely loose because of his disabilities. He may also be a danger to the staff, or the local people who work in and around the Reserve. We want to be hands off with the orangutans but we also want them to be hands-off with us!

So the alternatives are: building him a permanent enclosure at the OCCQ (as you suggest) or finding a more appropriate release site. While the first seems like the best solution it is by far and away the most expensive. Is that justifiable when there are 300+ other orangutans needing care and new releases sites, and not to mention the arguably more important demands of habitat protection for the wild populations? The OCCQ was not designed to be a sanctuary and it is important for us to stay true to that mission. In the complicated politics of Indonesia if we were to start providing life-time care, in the eyes of the Government, it could potentially weaken our argument for more protected areas and release sites; “why, the orangutans are fine where they are.”

The other alternative is finding a more suitable release site – deep in the heart of the forest. The middle of Tanjung Puting National Park would be ideal but currently orangutans are not allowed to be released there. However, we are confident, one day we will find the right spot. In the meantime, we do what we can for him; whether it is giving him banana trees, or the novel feeding toy Jodie and Peter built for him, ropes, swings, car tyres and hammocks.

Hand on my heart, I do not think Montana “suffers’ at the OCCQ. He is alert and active. However, any cage - at some level - compromises a being’s welfare and we recognize that while we do all we can given the dilemmas of limited resources, priorities and the need to balance conservation against welfare, it is not enough. The tragedy, the “wrong” of Montana’s situation is that an orangutan that big has to be in captivity at all. That’s what we are working to change.

I am sorry this blog has become so long and detailed – it was not meant to be, but perhaps the balancing act we have to perform in caring for the individual and protecting the species is not easily explained. There also is one other point that needs to be made.

In starting out on Wildlife Direct we pledged honesty. We sincerely thank you for your offer of support and none of us are about to turn down donations. Similarly, we have all agonised over what to do with Montana. However, investing heavily and solely in him would not be right. I would ask anyone wanting to help Montana to make their donation towards the OCCQ.

I hope you understand.

Many thanks