The forest looked so charming from the air as the helicopter circled the area to check the weather this morning. The sun shed a soft, pale light on the majestic Kehje Sewen, bathing everything in an ethereal, elevating glow. It was the final day of Orangutan Release activities this month and we were again blessed with wonderful weather.
A bright and beautiful morning in Kehje Sewen
Dr. Aldrianto Priadjati, RHOI Deputy Director of Conservation, conducted a short briefing this morning. Yesterday’s success and Emerson’s long call last night had helped set the spirit high. It was a transformative feeling. Then, empty travel cages were packed and loaded onto the helicopter. Soon after, it lifted and hovered for a minute or two over Camp 103, then disappeared in the glorious morning sky. The helicopter was heading back to Uyang Lahai Airport in Miau Baru Village. Another busy day had just started.
Morning in Samboja
Miles away in the tiny suburb of Samboja, another team was getting ready. Six orangutans in the Socialization Enclosure A of Samboja Lestari Orangutan Reintroduction Program were especially intrigued by the early morning activities around them. Acong, Agus, Noel, Mayang, Inge and Siwie seemed to sense that something important was going on. They were quite right. Today was the day they would no longer have bars to keep them apart from the world they were born into. A world of freedom.
Inge and Siwie intuitively got closer together as Vet Agus Irwanto, who is also Samboja Lestari’s Program Manager, put on his gloves and prepared to sedate them. Wiwik Astutik, Samboja Lestari’s Coordinator of Animal Welfare and Forest School 3 watched anxiously like a mother about to see her children leaving for college overseas. These six, Inge in particular, had been her students, her children and her best friends for nearly all of her time in the BOS Foundation. Wiwik was happy and nervous at the same time.
Inge and Siwie intuitively got closer together as the vet prepared to sedate them
The 100th Orangutan!
Inge, Noel and Siwie were all successfully sedated by around 7.30 am. After they were all transferred into their respective travel cages, Wiwik approached Inge’s travel cage. She was already awake. Wiwik lovingly talked to her, giving Inge her final words of encouragement. A moment froze in time. Wiwik was reliving all the memories of the past 11 years with her, caring for her, nurturing her and teaching her to be who she really is – a wild orangutan. Inge was the “Little Miss Clean”, a princess who had been kept as a pet for too long, altering her natural behavior. She was weak, tame, shy and unusually clean.
But look at her now. She is everything but weak and tame and shy and unusually clean. She is strong, intelligent and independent. In fact, she is a dominant female orangutan. Wiwik is so proud of her, but sad to say goodbye. She tickled Inge’s chin briefly then let the technicians load her onto the truck.
Wiwik approached Inge and gave her the final words of encouragement
Yes, if you haven’t already guessed, Inge is the BOS Foundation’s 100th Orangutan to be released in the wild since 2012!
Agus, Acong and Mayang were soon sedated as well and transferred into their travel cages. By 8.45 am, all were ready go. The travel cages sat comfortably on the truck and the team departed to Sepinggan Airport in Balikpapan. The six orangutans left the comfort of the idyllic restored forest of Samboja Lestari. Challenges lie ahead but they were ready. They were going to their real home.
The trip to the airport took around one hour. Arriving there, the team had to wait a bit for the final preparations of the airplane. At 10.45 am, the cages were finally unloaded from the truck and loaded onto the Premiair Grand Caravan, the same aircraft that took Emerson, Sarmi and Mona yesterday.
Truck carrying the six orangutans arrived at Sepinggan Airport, Balikpapan
Acong and Inge were loaded first, followed by Noel, Siwie, Mayang and Agus. Wiwik and Vet Putra also boarded the airplane accompanying their six fury friends on the first leg of their journey. This flight would take them from Sepinggan Airport in Balikpapan to Uyang Lahai Airport in Miau Baru. At 11.13 am, the Grand Caravan took off and landed safely at Uyang Lahai around an hour later, welcomed by the Orangutan Release Team in Miau Baru.
There were two helicopter flights into Kehje Sewen today, each carrying three orangutans. The first group consisted of Agus, Acong and Mayang. They were immediately loaded on the sling load. But before the sling net was secured, the team gave them some food and drinks, and bid farewell to these Forest School graduates. It was the last time they were fed by humans. After this, it was up to them to find their own food.
Helicopter leaving Uyang Lahai with Agus, Acong and Mayang on sling load
The helicopter took off at 12.37 am and arrived in Kehje Sewen at 1.18 pm. The sky was blue and the air was deliciously crisp. The team in Kehje Sewen Forest was ready and the engines of the pickup cars were started as the three travel cages were loaded onto them.
For the Wild at Heart
Unlike Emerson, Sarmi and Mona who were released around the Lembu River area, today’s release was conducted at a different location, away from the Lembu River. This is because Emerson, Sarmi and Mona are semi-wild orangutans who still retained some or all of their forest skills at the time of their rescues. While the remaining six orangutans are rehabilitants who were orphaned at a very young age and thus had to learn their skills from humans at Forest School. These rehabilitated orangutans, or rehabilitants, may not be able to compete with wild or semi-wild orangutans in search for food and therefore must be separated from them. This is just one of the many criteria we have to consider when choosing a suitable site for their release.
Gunung Belah is an area blissfully untouched by time
The chosen release site for Agus, Acong and Mayang was located at the area of Gunung Belah, the same area where the BOS Foundation released Casey and her friends back in April 2012. It is an area blissfully untouched by time, filled with thick vegetation, towering trees and wild forest food. It is the perfect home for the wild at heart, home for the orangutans.
Agus was definitely getting very impatient by the time they arrived at the release site. He was screaming and banging on his cage. So the team let him out first. Adoption Coordinator Monica and Samboja Lestari Technician Angga opened his cage door. Sure enough, Agus sprinted to the nearest tree and climbed to the top in lighting speed. He really wanted to get out. Don’t worry, Agus. You will never have to go back in a cage. You’re home now!
Agus really wanted to get out!
Then Dr. Aldrianto Priadjati opened Mayang’s travel cage. Unlike Agus, Mayang took her time examining the new environment. She walked and looked around, choosing a tree. But when she did, she too quickly climbed to the top and rested in the height of the canopy.
Mayang finally chose a tree to climb
Acong was a character. She seemed calm in her travel cage, waiting patiently for her turn. But when RHOI Technician Syawal opened her cage, she turned around and chased everyone to the river. She was clearly just as frustrated as Agus was. Who can blame her? It was a long and tiring journey, indeed.
She stood there by the riverside for a while, eyeing the team carefully. But soon enough, she took to a tree near the river and started to climb. The team let out a breath of relief and returned to Camp 103. The first three orangutans are now home.
Acong didn’t want to see humans around her
Heartfelt Goodbyes from Wiwik
In the meantime the helicopter arrived back at Uyang Lahai to pick up the final three – Noel, Siwie and, our 100th Orangutan, Inge. Time was precious. It was already 2 o’clock in the afternoon. The team rolled up their sleeves again and loaded the travel cages onto the sling load while the helicopter was refueled.
While waiting, Wiwik stayed with Inge, giving her fruits once in a while
There were heartfelt goodbyes at Uyang Lahai along with the familiar warmth all of us on the Orangutan Release Team feel no matter how many times we have witnessed this. Wiwik in particular fell silent, trying to hide her tears. Her babies have all grown up. Inge, the little princess, has also grown up, ready to venture on her own.
We pin high hopes on their shoulders, the hopes to see a new generation of wild orangutans in the near future. Wiwik knew this. She looked up to the sky as the helicopter disappeared in the clouds, wiped her tears, and smiled.
Happy but nervous at the same time, Wiwik tried to hide her tears
Moments of Freedom
The helicopter landed in Kehje Sewen 45 minutes later. One technician was especially eager to welcome this group. He was one of Inge’s teachers at Forest School during her early years at Samboja Lestari. His name is Syahrul and he would be the one opening Inge’s travel cage. He was touched by the honor and could not wait to see his former student finally be where she truly belongs.
Syahrul and the rest of the Orangutan Release Team loaded the cages onto the pickup cars that took them to a walking trail leading to the release site at Gunung Belah, from where they continued on foot. At 3.23 pm, they arrived on site and began the release of Noel. Pak Min, a local driver from Pelangsiran – a transit town at the border of Kehje Sewen Forest – who has helped and supported us tremendously in every activity in the forest, was given the chance to open Noel’s cage.
Noel enjoying his new home
Like Acong, Noel also became a bit aggressive. Fortunately, the team managed to avoid any conflicts with him. He soon climbed a liana and swung around happily enjoying his first few moments of his freedom.
Next, vet Anin opened Siwie’s cage. After the experiences with Acong and Noel, the team was a little worried that Siwie too was a little agitated. But good-natured Siwie did not even pay any attention to anyone around her. She grabbed a liana and swung to a Magnolia tree. There she rested relishing her new forest home.
Good-natured Siwie, climbing on a tree trunk
The 100th Orangutan is Free!
The moment had come for the 100th Orangutan. The “Little Miss Clean”. The lovely princess. The special one with red lips and gorgeous hair. It was finally Inge’s turn to be released.
Syahrul, who has worked in Samboja Lestari for 17 years, unlocked the cage and opened its door. Inge came out leisurely and, for a moment, just stood nearby. Syahrul was only one meter away from her. Inge looked at him for a few seconds, as if saying goodbye, then also found a Magnolia tree. She climbed the tree and started eating. She is indeed an expert in finding wild forest food!
The 100th Orangutan’s cage was about to be opened by Syahrul
Syahrul was speechless. He was so moved by the experience, he couldn’t say a word for a while. Then finally, “It’s unbelievable. There were times when I thought she would never be released. She was so spoiled. Now look at her. Just look at her!” he said proudly. Inge will no longer be remembered as the “Little Miss Clean” or the “Princess”. Wild and free, she will be remembered forever as the 100th Orangutan released by the BOS Foundation.
We Thank YOU!
The helicopter took off and returned to Balikpapan, leaving the otherworldly views of Kehje Sewen Forest behind. The Orangutan Release Team was finally able to stretch on their beds and get some rest. On the contrary, the Post-Release Monitoring (PRM) Team has started to get busy.
Inge, the 100th orangutan, says thank YOU!
There are now 18 orangutans in Kehje Sewen to monitor closely. Adding the 82 Central Kalimantan orangutans released in Bukit Batikap Conservation Forest since 2012, the BOS Foundation has successfully reintroduced a total of 100 orangutans into their natural habitat. It is a milestone that would not be possible without the incredible support from all stakeholders, including the Government of Indonesia, local communities around the release sites, private sector donors, individual donors, partner organizations and other conservation organizations across the globe. On behalf of the 100 orangutans, we thank YOU!
And we also thank YOU!
SUPPORT THE ORANGUTAN RELEASE ACTIVITIES
AND HELP US SEND MORE ORANGUTANS BACK TO THEIR FREEDOM!
Text by: The BOS Foundation and RHOI Communications Team