Early this month, Aschta, the Program Manager of Samboja Lestari, was accompanied by veterinarian Citra to a helicopter rental provider in Balikpapan, East Kalimantan to check the capacity of the helicopter which we will use to transport the orangutans to the forest.
After a long discussion with the provider, Aschta and Citra decided that helicopters type BK117 and DOLPHIN were the most suitable for our purposes. Afterwards, the provider took the seats out of the two helicopters to show how much room we would get on each type, enabling us to measure the space and decide how many transport cages could be fitted in.
Based on those measurements, the BK117 can fit two transport cages and DOLPHIN can fit in four cages, provided that one of the cages could be slightly modified. The Release Team at the BOS Foundation is now discussing this matter further before making a final decision, hopefully early next month. We are also looking into other options – including other helicopter providers – as well as the financial support that we desperately need to be able to hire the most appropriate helicopters for our orangutans.
Last but certainly not least, we have Hamzah. Hamzah has more forest skills that any other orangutan in this programme. He was 4 years old when he arrived in Samboja in April 2007, and was a heavy 13 kg.
We think that he came almost directly from forest where he must have spent his life with his mother up until then. He was so wild that no one wanted to risk loosing him from Forest School. So he was placed directly onto one of the islands where he was later joined by Mail, Berlian, and Abbie (and another orangutan, Muhadi).
Hamzah is now 8 years old, like Mail, and even though he has only been able to benefit from his mother’s presence for half his life, it is clear how much survival advantage those four years gave him. Hamzah feels worldly wise and so much more at home in the forest. Hamzah is good at orientation, builds strong and sturdy nests and is able to find the best foods. Above all, Hamzah is self-sufficient and is not dependent on others. It is clear that no matter how hard we try to be good foster mums we can never do as good a job as a real orangutan mother.
Hamzah finds forest foods that even few of our really experienced keepers know. He also seems to forage really efficiently. This leaves him time to be lazy and act like a typical adolscent: he sleeps in. Most days he does not leave his nest before 10 o’clock! Normally, orangutans get up shortly after sun-rise. Not so Hamzah. But he also goes to bed late, instead of around 18:00 with sunset, he roams and bustles long into the night. Our poor keepers: they need to stay until he finally settles but next morning they have to be at his nest at 5 – because, who knows, maybe he is going to get up early that day.
Hamzah is also on Group 2, scheduled to be reintroduced into the Kehje Sewen Forest on May 1, 2012 with Abbie and Berlian. The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned. And Hamzah will not be questioned ever again. He will be able to go as he is. He is going home.
Abbie is a 12 year-old female teenager. She is now 35 kg, and looks well-fed. She is the oldest orangutan of the six.
She arrived in Samboja in March 2006, at an estimated age of 7 years, very chubby and weighing 26 kg. Before she came to Samboja, she lived in the Botanical Garden of Samarinda. We have no information how she got there and how long she lived there, but it cannot have been very long because she is really not interested in performing for humans or otherwise attracting their attention, and she certainly does not rely on humans to care.
For the past two years, Abbie has lived on an island, together with Hamzah, Casey, Berlian and Mail. As a 12 year-old teenager, Abbie is only 2 years away from full maturity and she clearly has no interest anymore in other females: she often chases the younger girls Berlian and Casey away.
On the other hand, she has always been really friendly with Mail. Itdoes not look as if she sees Mail as a potential mate, she is more like an older sister to him. And it is expected that they will remain friends and that Abbie will continue to be supportive of Mail. Later on, in the wild and as they get older they are unlikely to stick together. Orangutans are for the most part solitary animals and they do not normally form monogamous relationships, and females cannot easily afford the feeding competition from other orangutans.
Because Abbie is considered as one of the strongest orangutans, we have grouped her together with Hamzah and Berlian on Group 2. We plan to release Group 2 on May 1, 2012, about one week after we release Group 1. This will give the weaker orangutans extra time to explore and adjust to their new home before finally meeting up with the older and stronger orangutans like Abbie.
Just like Lesan, Berlian also arrived in Samboja in November 2006. She came from Samarinda and was estimated 4 years old, weighing 9 kg. Although they were rescued from different places, but from the start they became friends, and for a while, were virtually inseparable.
Last December, Berlian joined Forest School 3 and was taken there by two technicians, Yadi and Dirman. They simply walked her in and let her go on track 9 where she almost immediately met up with Mail. Mail wanted to play and Berlian needed to stretch her limbs after spending all that time in her recuperation cage.
After playing for a while, Berlian went off toward track 6 looking for forest food. She had a brief encounter with Hamzah and then made her nest in track 6. It is of course testimony to her advanced forest skills that Berlian always wanted to sleep outside in the trees like proper orangutans. So it was no wonder that she looked well set up after her first day.
Being so independent in spirit made Berlian an obvious candidate for release into the Kehje Sewen Forest. Berlian is now 9 years old and currently weighs 28 kg. She will join Group 2 with Hamzah and Abbie, scheduled to be released on May 1, 2012.
Mail is pronounced Ma (as in Mamma) eel (as in feel) – Ma-eel
Mail was 3 years old when he was rescued from Petung, weighing 10 kg. He is now 8 years old and weighs 24 kg. He has always been a bit shy and, for a while, was very dependent on the babysitters. This is a characteristic we often see in our orphans: once they overcome the trauma of seeing their mother slaughtered and realise that possibly some humans are nice, they can become almost desperate for care and attention.
In the wild an orangutan child lives 24/7 with its mother as a single child for 5-7 years, because in this period his mother will not have any more babies. The mother therefore gives the child undivided attention, and apparently inexhaustable patience. Only when the child is getting more independent will she conceive another. When we rescue orangutan orphans, we have one babysitter for 2-4 kids, and that is only during the day. So the kids have to form bonds amongst each other. These bonds are important. They enable the orangutans to remain more orangutan and to stay less humanised.
When Mail was made a candidate for release and joined Forest School 3, he was forced to re-focus on orangutans. While he kept his old friends, he was obviously happy to meet Abbie and find in her something like an older sister who willingly tolerates his juvenile attachment needs. For a while, he stayed around Abbie, eating the same food, and sleeping in a nest made in the same tree. Occasionally Abbie even tolerated him to come into her nest in the morning to wake up together and start the day as a team. In this way Abbie was like Mail’s mother would have been: a teacher and source of comfort and securtiy. It is so much easier to be curious when you are feeling safe!
However, Mail has now become good friends with Casey and Lesan, too. The three are roughly the same age. After observing them for a while, we have now decided that Mail should be released with Casey and Lesan, instead of with Abbie. And so he joins them on Group 1, getting ready for April-22 release. Time to go home!
Lesan arrived in Samboja in November 2006. The little female orangutan came from Berau area and, at the time of rescue, was estimated 3 years old, weighing 7 kg. She attended Forest School as soon as she had passed Quarantine. And she quickly became good friends with Berlian.
Together with Berlian, she was very little interested in human foster mothers, probably because they could give each other emotional support, and they accompanied each other during the days high up in the canopy, foraging like proper wild orangutan kids. They did play with other Forest School oranutans, but their main interest was to be in the trees so they mainly socialised with other “smarter” orangutan orphans.
The babysitters said that both Lesan and Berlian used to give them so much trouble every afternoon, because they simply did not want to return “home” to the night cages. Instead, they tried to stay outside in the forest and kept quiet, they did not come when called and when the other orangutans moved homewards, together with the babysitters. To catch Berlian the babysitters would often try to “bribe” Lesan with food. If Lesan came down to get the food she could be caught and marched home to the safety of the night cages. If that happened it was likely that Berlian would give up on her roaming and voluntarily join Lesan for the night.
Lesan is now 8 years old and has caught up weight-wise: she is 31 kg at the moment. While preparing for release at Forest School 3 (equivalent to “a university”), she and Berlian have drifted apart. Although the two still have their occasional get-together, Lesan now enjoys hanging out with orangutans her age such as Casey and Mail, which is why we put Lesan on the first group with Casey and Mail. The three of them will be released first on April 22, 2012 in the beautiful Kehje Sewen Forest.
Talking about moving elegantly in the forest – this can also be said about Casey. However, this is to say something rather extraordinary, because at age 4, Casey literally burnt her hand off.
Only the little finger and the thumb could be saved. Remarkably, in the long term this has proven no handicap to her. She still uses what is left of the hand to swing and grasp and manipulate, and her grip is enormously strong and dextrous. Her single finger is much stronger and sturdier than any single finger normally is, because it fulfills the function of all four fingers together. This last remaining finger has grown into a mitten-like pad, four or five centimetres wide. She uses it in conjunction with her thumb when she is up in the canopy. We cannot see any difference in the way she uses her damaged right hand and her healthy left one.
Cassey is the perfect example of the creulty of the orangutan baby pet trade. She arrived in Samboja aged 4, weighing 16kg. Casey’s owners let her play near electric cables and her fingers were burnt off.
Casey is now 8 years old and has also doubled her weight to 30 kg. She’s good at foraging forest food, building nests and finding her way in the forest unfazed. Casey is only a few weeks away from her true freedom. Together with Lesan and Mail, she is on the first group to return to the forest on April 22, 2012. Going home, at last.
The East Kalimantan Orangutan Reintroduction Project at Samboja Lestari is preparing the final stage for the release of 6 orangutans from the rehabilitation center to Kehje Sewen (read: KJ7) Forest.
Located in the Regency of Kutai Timur, East Kalimantan Province, Kehje Sewen Forest represents 86,450 hectares of pristine rainforest under the Ecosystem Restoration Concession (ERC) permit, owned by PT Restorasi Habitat Orangutan Indonesia (RHOI). Under the Indonesian law, an NGO cannot apply for such permit. Therefore, the BOS Foundation established RHOI for the sole purpose of obtaining ERC, giving it the right to manage the area for the next 60 years with the option to extend for another 35 years.
The orangutan candidates will be divided into 2 groups. Group 1, consisting of Casey, Lesan and Mail, is planned to be released on April 22, 2012 in conjunction with the Earth Day, as our way of showing our love and gratitude to Mother Earth. And the Group 2, consisting Hamzah, Abbie and Berlian, is planned to be released on May 1, 2012.
Read the release candidates’ profiles here and follow their journey home, every step of the way!
-BORNEO ORANGUTAN SURVIVAL FOUNDATION-