10 January 2022 – The Indonesian government has given the green light to the use of a vast area of protected rain forest in East Kalimantan, Borneo for the re-introduction of orangutans into natural habitat. The re-introduction programme is led by Yayasan Jejak Pulang (YJP), an Indonesian foundation working in cooperation with global animal welfare organisation FOUR PAWS. This decision completes a restorative conservation programme that has started in 2017 with the ORANGUTAN FOREST SCHOOL for confiscated orangutan orphans.
In preparation for their later release, young orphans learn skills essential for their survival, such as moving about in the canopy, finding and extracting food, and building sleeping nests in treetops. After attending the programme for five years, Amalia and Eska will be the first orphans to graduate and move to the release site in late 2022.
With the rehabilitation project, FOUR PAWS contributes to conservation efforts of the critically endangered Bornean orangutans.
Eight-year-old Eska and ten-year-old Amalia were among the first residents of the ORANGUTAN FOREST SCHOOL, entrusted to YJP when the Indonesian authorities closed a private zoo in 2017. Ever since, they have been trained and cared for by primatologist Dr Signe Preuschoft and her Indonesian team so that they can return to their natural habitat once they are old enough to live independently.
“So far, we have prepared Amalia and Eska by guiding them back towards life in the forest and forgetting about the traumatic experiences of captivity. When we took them in, Amalia was self-reliant and withdrawn, whereas Eska was malnourished, desperately lonely and timid. Because they were still children, they needed human surrogate mothers to show them how to manage an orangutan lifestyle. Over the last four years we have witnessed their amazing development towards autonomy and competence. Now we are happy to accompany them on the last stretch of their journey towards independence,”
Dr Preuschoft, Primatologist at the ORANGUTAN FOREST SCHOOL
Species, environment, and climate protection combined
The release site and re-introduction area is a primary protected forest, with abundant food options for orangutans, and space for Amalia und Eska to build a forever home in species-appropriate and safe surroundings.
“Orangutans can live up to over 50 years and have a very low natural death rate. We need to make sure the release area is safe for them in every aspect. Together with the Indonesian government, we are working on forest protection with orangutans as the umbrella species. This means protecting the orangutans indirectly also contributes to the protection of other species and helps balance the ecosystem. We will be combining species, environment and climate protection all at once,” says Dr Preuschoft.
In the beginning after the re-introduction, Dr Preuschoft and her team will monitor Amalia and Eska daily to make sure they are adapting well. Once they become increasingly independent and roam around further away, the team will withdraw. While Eska and Amalia will be able to live freely and have the opportunity to reproduce and rear offspring in a secure environment, the team will always keep an eye on them from a distance to make sure they are safe.
The sad fate of the orangutans
In the last four decades, the Borneo rainforest has been destroyed on a huge scale. Thousands and thousands of orangutans have fallen victim to the palm oil, tropical wood, and coal industries. Every year two to three thousand orangutans are killed in conflicts with humans, because their habitat is destroyed, or as harvest predators in oil palm plantations. Animal traders illegally sell defenseless orphans, whose mothers were deliberately killed, as pets.
Borneo orangutans are among the most critically endangered species. FOUR PAWS has been working for the rehabilitation of traumatised orangutan orphans on Borneo for over twelve years.
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FOUR PAWS is the global animal welfare organisation for animals under direct human influence, which reveals suffering, rescues animals in need and protects them. Founded in 1988 in Vienna by Heli Dungler and friends, the organisation advocates for a world where humans treat animals with respect, empathy and understanding. The sustainable campaigns and projects of FOUR PAWS focus on companion animals including stray dogs and cats, farm animals and wild animals – such as bears, big cats and orangutans – kept in inappropriate conditions as well as in disaster and conflict zones. With offices in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Kosovo, the Netherlands, Switzerland, South Africa, Thailand, Ukraine, the UK, the USA and Vietnam as well as sanctuaries for rescued animals in eleven countries, FOUR PAWS provides rapid help and long-term solutions. www.four-paws.org