Release Preparation: Creatively Working Together

Hamzah, Berlian, Casey, Lesan, Mail and Abbie will soon have new friends in Kehje Sewen. Six rehabilitated orangutans from Orangutan Reintroduction Center at Samboja Lestari will soon join them in the forest, too! Both teams in Samboja Lestari and Kehje Sewen are still busy preparing the upcoming release.

Cleaning up the Release Point

Cleaning up the Release Point

Since March, RHOI Team has been doing some preparation at the release points located around Lembu River. Location for released points was surveyed last November. The team is now building a simple bridge across the Lembu River and a temporary camp (flying camp) for future monitoring team.

Collecting the Sands

The stones and sands needed for bridge and camp construction were taken from the rivers nearby. The process of transporting these materials was challenging due to tough terrain. Several times, the team’s cars had to stop, unable to cross the Lesik River and Lembu River because the rivers were flooded. However these obstacles did not regress the team’s spirit. Working together with drivers, Pelangsiran residents, nest collectors as well as agarwood collectors, the team transported the stones and sands by standing in a relay across the rivers and hauling the materials by hand.

Transporting Materials Manually

Materials such as cement, paint and concrete steel were purchased in Muara Wahau, the nearest sub-regional town from Kehje Sewen. Transporting these to the forest was not an easy task either, given the difficult landscape. Some of the concretes, which had been pre-assembled as a bridge foundation, had to be deconstructed into several pieces to make it easier to bring them into Pelangsiran. Other materials such as the cement were wrapped with plastic bags so they would not get wet. Wrapped materials were then transported to site manually since the Lembu River was still heavily flooded. Creativity is often needed here. The team must not run out of ideas and cannot quickly despair. So they used a big tire to float them across the river. Very creative, indeed!

Digging  a Hole to Lodge the Foundation

Digging a Hole to Lodge the Foundation

Thankfully, all materials arrived on sites in good condition. The workers started reassembling the concretes right away for the bridge foundation, while the technicians helped by digging the soil to lodge the foundation. Bridge construction still continues to this day. The flying camp is 80% completed and just requires a few finishing touches to make it perfect.

Building the Flying Camp

By creatively working together, the team has overcome many difficult challenges. Hopefully all facilities needed for the upcoming release will soon be completely functional and the orangutan release activity can be conducted smoothly.

A Memorable Journey to The Home of Orangutan

Waiting for ‘Them’

To reach Kehje Sewen, we had to go by road (very bumpy road) for about three days from Jabdan Village, Muara Wahau District, East Kutai Regency. Early in the morning, we arrived in Jabdan to have a short break and decided to go straight to Pelangsiran – a small transit community at the border of the Kehje Sewen Forest – when sun rose. We had a rest for a while at the house of a warm family who has had a long relationship with RHOI’s team. Mr. Giman, the head of the family is the owner of a guesthouse in Pelangsiran, who is very well respected by the people. The family was very kind to us; they provided us a resting place and very good food that made us feel at home.

However we couldn’t continue our journey right away. As the first timer to the forest, I was a bit anxious. People said that we couldn’t go through, they said we had to wait for “them”. Who are ‘them’ they referred to?

A Symbiosis

As it turned out, ‘them’ refers to the people who live in Pelangsiran. They are called ‘pelangsir’, which is the origin of the name “Pelangsiran”. We finally left in the afternoon when these people had gathered and were ready to go. I did not count how many of us on the way, but I was sure there were more than 20.

They came from different provinces. Most of them are from Java and they have been coexisting with the Dayak people who live in the Kehje Sewen Forest for a long time. They make a living by collecting agarwood (gaharu) and bird nest, as well as becoming porters. We were amazed on how those tiny little bodies are able to carry hundreds of kilos of goods on their back. The goods transported could vary from food to car components. With such heavy weight on their back, they walk on extremely steep trail to get to Pelangsiran. They have to go up and down the hill and cross the river with a sling.

We had to depart altogether, because in such rugged terrain in Kalimantan, going together is so much better than going solo. We would never know what is going to happen during the trip. It could be any scenario; stuck in the mud, blocked by broken trees or a landslide, and so on. We have to anticipate such conditions in advance to get through. Bad things are very likely to happen and therefore going alone is an absurdity.

And it was proven true. The journey to Pelangsiran in favorable condition usually only takes eight hours. But we reached it in fourteen hours. Our car was stuck in the mud and we had to pull it manually with a rope. It was not just that, we also faced a landslide and we had to pass a broken bridge. But we overcame the obstacles together, hand in hand with everyone who went to Pelangsiran.

The pelangsirs are very experienced and physically strong. They are skilled at driving in treacherous terrains and have amazing mechanical skills essential to overcome various break-downs during the trip, they are also very experienced in choosing woods to fix broken bridge to prolong its life. In addition to that fact, they are also a very solid team. When one car is broken, the entire group will stop and fix the broken car before they continue the journey. No one gets left behind.

As a mutually beneficial symbiosis, the relationship between RHOI and the pelangsirs is well maintained. Living at the border of Kehje Sewen, they get full ecological benefits of the services supplied by a preserved forest, especially the availability of clean water. On the other hand, their presence is essentials to our mission. They become our porters, our drivers, our cooks, but most importantly, our friends. They are our family in the forest.

Good Morning, Pelangsiran!

By midnight we arrived at Pelangsiran, one step closer to Kehje Sewen Forest. The trip into Kehje Sewen would start the next day because we were so exhausted. That night, we slept at the guesthouse belonging to Mr. Giman, the owner of the house we met the day before.

Good morning, Pelangsiran!

In the morning when we opened our eyes, we were greeted by the simple lifestyle in Pelangsiran – sleeping in a wooden house, lying on wooden floor, even showering in a doorless bathroom! For some people this kind of condition is not “living life”, but they live their life without fear. This experience was very impressive. And we all hope we can mutually support one another to preserve our forest, to preserve our future.

The Journey to Camp 103

At around 10 AM we departed from Pelangsiran to Camp 103. Usually the trip could take up to four to five hours. Only three of us sat in the front seat, the rest were on the rear seat along with the logistics and supplies for the camp. As well as the trip from Jabdan to Pelangsiran, we also faced numbers of challenges such as landslides and the fallen tree during the journey. In the last bridge right before the entrance of the Camp 103 area, we had to stop because of a deep landslide. Some of us had to go to the camp where is located around two kilometers from the location to ask for help. Albeit our body was craving for a good rest, we still had to walk to reach the camp, however it was fun walking through the forest, it made us feel the real atmosphere of the true forest. Welcome to Kehje Sewen!

Text and photos by: Monica Devi Krisnasari – BOSF Communications Assistant

Release Point, Where the New Life Begins

While Monica, my fellow communications staff, went with the post-release monitoring (PRM) team for daily patrol, I went with another team to visit the release points for our upcoming orangutan release in April 2013. Together with the BOS Foundation CEO Jamartin, RHOI Director Aldrianto, camp members Wulan, Yoshua, and Awal, we went to the bank of Lembu River where two release points have been pre-selected for the upcoming release in April.

Earlier in mid-January, the team from Camp 103 spent three days in Kehje Sewen Forest searching suitable release points. They started the search by assessing the area along Lembu River. It was not an easy task to find a suitable area to release the orangutans. The landscape in the lush forest of Kehje Sewen is dominated by steep and slippery hills which means transporting the travel cages to release points can be difficult. However, the harder the access means the lower the threats from humans – both from industry and from local communities. There should also be natural barriers such as wide and deep rivers or rivers with rapid waters so orangutans can’t easily venture out of it.

There are several criteria to meet in determining a release point. First and foremost are accessibility and availability of orangutan food supply. The point must be accessible by the technicians to carry orangutan travel cages. Food supply should also be abundant for the orangutans, hence the area must be thoroughly surveyed through phenology to determine food availability for orangutans. Phenology survey doesn’t only record fruit trees, but also other food sources such as barks, leaves, insects, etc. Phenology survey also records fruiting season of each fruit tree species to ensure that orangutans will never run out of food. Based on this survey results, we decide release points, the best locations to release orangutans.

Gmelina Arborea
Photo by: Media Romadona

Macaranga Fruit
Photo by: Jamartin Sihite

There are two release points which will be used in April, they are situated at around 30 and 45 minutes travel by car from Camp 103. The journey started by crossing Lesik River just behind the camp.

Crossing Lesik River
Photo by: Media Romadona

The road was, like any other roads in Kehje Sewen, a muddy and slippery narrow path. I had to hold tight otherwise I thought I might be thrown off the bouncing truck. At some points it was almost undistinguishable from its surroundings. Tree branches were ready to hit you in the face if you’re not agile enough to avoid them, especially when you sit on the open back of the truck.

Trunk on the road
Photo by: Media Romadona

On the way, we passed by a hut belongs to Orang Sarang (nest people). Orang Sarang, which acquired their nickname after their occupation, are those who make a living from hunting swallow nests. The hut serves as their transit camp before and after living in the forest for weeks or even months to hunt Swallow nests.

Hut belongs to Orang Sarang
Photo by: Media Romadona

We finally arrived at the entrance to the first release point, about 20 meters from Lembu River bank. We got off the truck and started climbing the hill. The path was slippery and for such a novice like me, it looked intimidatingly precipitous. I rested several times to take some breath, while the technicians walked merrily far ahead. Note to self: Start hitting the gym!

Hiking towards the first release point
Photo by: Media Romadona

This first release point was located 365 meters from the main road where we got off the car. After the area was cleaned up, it was now ready to be the place where the orangutans will be released. We also determined where the travel cages will be placed, as to which trees the orangutans can climb to once the travel cage doors are opened. These details might seem small, but the trees need to be slim enough for them to grab and climb on, but strong enough to hold their weights. Also the canopy needs to be connected to each other so the orangutans can travel easily. At this release point, three orangutans will be released.

Release Point

Apparently while we were up at the release point, our driver, Pak Haji, used the time to repair his truck. Living in such condition where there is no professional garage available in the middle of the forest, you can’t be just a driver, you should also be knowledgable in repairing your own car.

Our driver, Pak Haji, fixed the tyre and machine while waiting for us
Photo by: Media Romadona

Resting after hiking

The River was flooded so we couldn’t cross to reach the second release point
Photo by: Media Romadona

Unfortunately, we couldn’t proceed with survey to the other release point because Lembu River was at high tides after heavy rain the night before. It was too deep and the stream was too strong for the truck to cross. Instead, we went to check the area where a flying camp will be built for release event. The release and monitoring team will stay at this flying camp during and after the event. They will also use a built-by-nature toilet to wash and clean.

The location where we took the photo at will be transformed into a bath and toilet
Photo by: Media Romadona

Special Guests of The Day

We went back to Camp 103 at around 15.00. My spoiled legs were screaming for pain reliever balm, so after excessively rubbing it all over my legs which resulted in burning sensation, I took a rest at the back of the camp facing Lesik River and enjoyed the amazing panorama right in front me. Half-asleep listening to the river stream, someone woke me up and told me that it seemed a couple of orangutans were approaching the forest in front of the camp. I rushed to join the others. Suddenly we heard a loud crack and saw a branch fell to the ground in the forest in front of the camp yard. I gasped; this would be my very first experience to see free-living orangutans in the wild. And there they were! Lesan and Hamzah, two rehabilitant orangutans who were released by the BOS Foundation to Kehje Sewen Forest back in April 2012. Lesan who made the cracking sound by breaking a tree branch was sitting on a Macaranga tree, picking out ripe fruits and Hamzah swinging on the branches on top of hers. I hold my breath, it was a beautiful feeling to see such magnificent creatures living free in the forest where they belong, no conflict with humans nor forced to live in a broken habitat. The good news is, in April 2013, six orangutans will follow Hamzah, Lesan, Casey, and others’ steps to start a new life in their true home in Kehje Sewen Forest, and more orangutans to come.

Hamzah
Photo by: Jamartin Sihite

Lesan
Photo by: Jamartin Sihite

Text by: Media Romadona, BOSF Communications Officer.