It was February 3, 2013, my very first time in Kehje Sewen Forest. And for the very first time as well, I was allowed to join the Post Release Monitoring (PRM) Team, to follow one of the orangutans who have lived here since April 24, 2012. It was not a nest-to-nest monitoring, but it was just a regular daily patrol. Unlike nest-to-nest method which begins before the break of dawn and ends at dusk, daily patrol is conducted for only two hours per day per orangutan. Everything about a specific orangutan whom they follow must be recorded every two minutes. Then after two hours, the team will find another orangutan and repeat the process once again.
We left Camp 103, our ‘headquarters’ in Kehje Sewen, at 8 am accompanied by Saeful, one of our technicians. We headed to the place where Casey is often seen. We crossed Gunung Belah River and entered the logging track, about 1.7 km from our main camp. This logging track is called ‘broken car track’. This track is now our main orangutan-monitoring track.
There is a funny story behind its name. One day, a couple of people from Pelangsiran – a small transit community at the border of the Kehje Sewen Forest – left their broken-down car at this point and then they went to look for help. When they came back the next day, they were so shocked when they found one female orangutan messing with the car. The car window was smashed and almost all installations on the dashboard were disconnected. All parts of the car seat were in tatters. The female orangutan ran into the forest as the people approached. But her beautiful face that always seems as if she is smiling was easily recognized. It was Casey!
Indeed at the end, RHOI must pay damages suffered by the owner of the car, but that funny event will never be forgotten by those in and around Kehje Sewen. Anyone who drops by at Pelangsiran, will now see a large transport truck with a sticker on the windshield that reads “Love Casey”. The owner of the car deliberately preserves this experience because he liked his experience of meeting Casey and realized that these creatures should live in the forest indeed. As more and more habitats are destroyed, many times orangutans have no choice than to wander into human areas in search of food. Thus it is no wonder that many of them are able to recognize and even have the confidence to approach facilities/human possessions. In the case of Casey, she probably thought it was the same pickup truck that usually came every afternoon to Forest School in Samboja Lestari to drop some snacks!
When things like this happen outside a protected forest, not infrequently they lead to conflict. But luckily, the experience of the ‘ill-fated car’ did not cause anxiety. Instead, it brought a sobering reality to the people of Pelangsiran who had gone through a series of education and socialization since long before we released orangutans. The incident opened their eyes and reminded them of the importance of preserving forests, home to Casey and her friends.
I glanced at some fragments of the windshield that still remained in the soil and hoped to meet the teenage orangutan who caused all this wreckage. So I caught up with the PRM Team and kept tracking. However, Casey’s signal was never detected. After walking around 300 meters into the forest, we found Berlian instead!
“Yesterday Casey was around here. Maybe she ran when she saw Berlian coming,” Saeful explained to me. Berlian and Casey never get along. Berlian always chases Casey away.
Mahang fruits (Macaranga pearsonii) were plentiful so Berlian ate greedily. She totally dominated the tree. She grabbed a handful of fruits, chose only the ripe ones, then dropped the rest, making a greenish mess of Mahang fruits all over the ground. In the two hours that we followed here, she didn’t seem to stop chewing at all, even when she finally left the Mahang tree and swung to other trees. The PRM Team informed me that Berlian loves to eat. Compared to the others, she eats the most! “She can sit there (in a tree) for 5 hours to just eat,” said Saeful. I could help grinning.
I was amazed at the details of the observation. The PRM team records everything. From orangutan’s activity every two minutes, types of food (fruit, young leaves, bark, ants, termites, etc.), even also their defecation (pooping frequency)! They told me that the data is very important to thoroughly analyze the behavior of rehabilitant orangutans after they are released back in their natural habitat.
Unfortunately after we finished following Berlian and tried to look for gorgeous Casey, we didn’t find her. But for a first-timer at PRM activities in Kehje Sewen, I was quite pleased to see Berlian and had goose bumps seeing her enjoying life in her true home. My job, though sometimes challenging, stressful and even frustrating, suddenly made sense. This is what we are striving for. The happy faces of orangutans in the forest. This freedom. This life.
Text by: Monica Devi Krisnasari – BOSF Communications Assistant