Almost a month ago, on March 19, 2012, Dr. Jamartin Sihite (the CEO of BOSF Foundation) accompanied by Jacqui Sunderland-Groves (Senior Advisor to the CEO), Signe Preuschoft (Scientific Advisor), Eko Prasetyo (Post-Release Monitoring Coordinator for Rehabilitated Orangutans) and Ajeng Ika Nugraheni (Communications Officer) travelled to Kehje Sewen (KJ7) Forest to check progress and preparations for the upcoming release operation.
The KJ7 Forest is very remote and perfect for orangutan reintroductions, however getting there is a challenge! After flying from Jakarta to Balikpapan, the team continued the road trip to Pelangsiran, which takes a minimum of 22 hours, dependant on road conditions. Pelangsiran is the ‘gateway’ to KJ7 Forest which can be reached by crossing the Telen River using a traditional sling (flying fox).
Finally arriving at 3.00 pm on 20 April, unfortunately the only car available to transport them the last 18 km to Camp 103 had broken down. Using the skills of the local mechanics and drivers, the vehicle was repaired and the team set off at 6.00 pm. The road between Pelangsiran and our Camp 103 is extremely poor; it is a single track dirt road with ravines on one side, and steep hills on the other side – excellent driving skills are needed to navigate this track and reach Camp 103 safe and sound!
Alternatively you can walk but this takes 6 or 7 hours. During this trip and within 10 minutes of leaving Pelangsiran the vehicle became stranded in the middle of a river. The driver walked back to Pelangsiran and returned with a mobile winch and after an hour and with the help from our team, the vehicle was towed back to the river edge and the team were able to continue their journey reaching Camp 103 at almost midnight. The joys of working in remote forests!
Camp 103 is the base camp for RHOI’s monitoring team assigned to manage KJ7 area. The team is led by Gondanisam, as the Camp Manager with Eko Prasetyo and Sidahin Bangun as his Assistants. Over the past months, the field team have been busy putting into place all the logistics and infrastructure needed to receive the orangutans, including establishing transects and collecting phenology data, repairing the camp, preparing the helipad and establishing good relationships with the local communities surrounding the area.
On the 21st and once the team had a few hours sleep, they spent the morning checking the helipad and other infrastructure, before trekking to Gunung Belah to review and decide on the location in the forest for the acclimatization enclosure and forest flying camp (basic camp facility). This smaller camp facility will help us more efficiently monitor the orangutans once released.
Following an evening meeting with all the monitoring and camp staff, our team headed back to Balikpapan on the Saturday morning to coordinate all the forest activities with Aschta Tadjudin, the Program Manager of Samboja Lestari and also check the orangutan transport cages.
Two weeks after the team returned to Jakarta, Gondanisam called in with an update that the acclimatization enclosure had been successfully constructed at the agreed location in the forest. This enclosure is a temporary facility where the orangutans will be able to spend 1-2 days recovering from their journey and begin to familiarize themselves with their new environment before their release. This facility can also be used if any of our orangutans are injured or ill and need veterinary treatment.
Planning and preparations are still underway and several of our teams have already begun their journey to the KJ7 Forest. Next Wednesday, April 18, 2012, the documentation team and some journalists will also depart from Jakarta to cover the release operation.
See you all soon in the beautiful forest where the trees stand up high in the sky and the clear rocky-river flows.