Following the successful release of eight orangutans yesterday, today the BOS Foundation in Samboja Lestari continued the event by sending two more orangutans to the Kehje Sewen Forest.
DNA Test : Important!
Today we were going to release two orangutans, Kent and Wani, into the Kehje Sewen Forest, after they were almost removed as release candidates due to the necessity to re-run DNA tests.
Reintroducing orangutans is not as simple as many people may imagine. It is not only about taking the orangutans to the forest and opening their cages. Many strict criteria need to be met, both national and international and these are set by IUCN and the Indonesian authorities. One of those is to ensure the release area corresponds with the orangutans’ sub-species and origin. Hence the importance of DNA tests.
DNA tests play a significant role in deciding the location for rehabilitation and reintroduction. The placement of an individual orangutan according to their sub-species will save costs of reintroduction in the future. Following inconclusive test results, the BOS Foundation had to await more detailed analysis for Wani and Kent, who were originally candidates for this current release, along with the eight orangutans released earlier yesterday. This resulted in a delay in confirming their candidacy until after the results were out. The case of Kent and Wani shows how important DNA tests are for the government before they appoint the rehabilitation centers to care of the orangutans.
Heavy Rain in Samboja Lestari
A huge downpour had fallen over Samboja Lestari since last night until this morning. Release Teams in Samboja Lestari, Muara Wahau, and Kehje Sewen Forest coordinated nonstop to update each other with weather reports in each area. As the time passed, the weather cleared and brought hope that today’s event would go smoothly.
Just like yesterday, Medics and Technicians were ready from 5 in the morning at the Quarantine Complex. Vet Agus Irwanto as the coordinator of Release Team in Samboja Lestari, along with vet Agnes Pratamiutami were ready with the necessary sedation equipment. However, due to the rain, they had to delay the process until 09.15, still under the non-stop drizzle. Nothing could drain our spirits, though.
Kent, the independent and skilled male orangutan candidate who also dislikes human presence, was the first to be sedated.
In his enclosure, Kent seemed to start feeling the effects of the sedation. Slowly, he leaned on one of the corners, the drowsiness creeping in.
He was finally asleep and Technicians brought him out of the enclosure. Before putting him into his travel cage, vet Agus took a blood sample for the serum bank.
Kent was carried on a stretcher towards the travel cage. As always, he received a reversal shot before the door was secured.
Next was Wani’s turn to be sedated by vet Agus.
Without any delay, considering the day was getting late, Technician Firman sedated Wani. Firman is one of our senior technicians at Samboja Lestari. After looking for the right position to blow the dart, he managed to sedate Wani at 09.52.
But Wani still looked fresh in her enclosure and there was no sign of being sleepy whatsoever. After waiting for more than seven minutes, there was still no sign of drowsiness in the beautiful orangutan, the Medical Team decided to give her an extra dose. After 12 minutes, the strong female was still awake so an additional top up dose had to be administered.
Four minutes later, she finally fell asleep. Technicians brought her out of her enclosure and carried her to her travel cage.
Again a blood sample was taken and a reversal was given inside the transport cage. The Team tried to finish the process and leave Samboja Lestari before the weather worsened.
Constantly communicating with the Muara Wahau Team, at 10.15 the truck which carried Kent and Wani left for Sepinggan Airport in Balikpapan. After a 1.5 hour journey, they arrived at the airport where the airplane which would carry the orangutans to Muara Wahau was on stand-by.
The loading process started with moving Wani onto the plane, followed by Kent.
With loading completed, the plane was ready to fly to the ariport belonging to PT. Swakarsa Sinar Sentosa in Muara Wahau. Kent and Wani were accompanied by vet Agnes and technician Norman.
Cloudy Day in Muara Wahau
A thunderous storm poured down on the small sub-regional town of Muara Wahau which had started the night before. By 8 am this morning, it had calmed and turned into a light drizzle. The rain finally stopped at around 9 am and the sun started to shine again. But there were still many dark clouds, hanging low, promising more rain. Learning that the loading and transport process was also delayed at Samboja Lestari due to bad weather, we decided to lighten our mood by having breakfast together. We didn’t head to PT. Swakarsa Sinar Sentosa’s airport until the team from Samboja Lestari reported that they had arrived at Sepinggan Airport in Balikpapan. It was already 11.35 am.
Weather reports from Camp 103 in Kehje Sewen Forest weren’t optimum either. It was raining as well over there. Although the sky had reportedly cleared a bit by late morning, grey clouds, thick fog and heavy rain had returned by the time the Twin Otter airplane bringing our final two orangutans – Kent and Wani – landed at the airport in Muara Wahau at 1.07 pm.
We kept our spirits high and started unloading Kent and Wani’s travel cages from the airplane and loaded them into the helicopter sling load. Weather reports from the Kehje Sewen Forest did not improve. But the B3 helicopter pilot from Hevilift, Darren Stockton, said that he was prepared to fly and see if things might look different from above. He assured us that he would try his best to find his way into the forest and take our orangutans home. However, he also earnestly told us to prepare for disappointment if he decided to turn around and return to Muara Wahau due to worsening weather conditions. Safety for people and orangutans comes above all else and whatever the pilot’s final decision would be, we would wholeheartedly respect that.
Hoping for a Better Tomorrow
Around 20 minutes later, the B3 helicopter started its engines and prepared to fly. It took off at 1.28 pm, disappearing into low-hanging dark clouds, carrying Kent and Wani to the forest. We crossed our fingers and hoped for the best.
However, after around 45 minutes, we still hadn’t received any news from our team at Camp 103. When we contacted them, they told us that the helicopter had not been sighted or heard. They tried to radio the helicopter pilot but did not get any answer. They also informed us that the weather in forest had worsened considerably. Our hearts sank and sure enough, we heard the unmistakable sound of the helicopter coming back towards Muara Wahau.
At around 2.25 pm, the helicopter hovered above the airstrip of PT. Swakarsa Sinar Sentosa’s airport and gently lowered the sling load containing the travel cages of Kent and Wani, and landed shortly after. The pilot said that he had tried two different ways to get there. But thick dark clouds were everywhere affecting visibility. He finally decided it was not safe to keep flying and returned to Muara Wahau. Naturally, we were disappointed, but we realized it was for the best. There was no point trying to fight Mother Nature and certainly not to the detriment of safety standards.
So we unloaded the travel cages again and took them to a small forested area that borders the airport. After coordinating with all teams at the Headquarters, Samboja Lestari and Camp 103 in Kehje Sewen Forest, as well as with the teams from Airfast, Hevilift and PT. Swakarsa Sinar Sentosa, we decided that Kent and Wani will stay overnight in Muara Wahau under the careful watch of our team there and we will try to send them to their new forest home tomorrow morning.
At 4 pm, we moved the travel cages to a small but comfortable hut that usually functions as the airport’s waiting area. Vet Agnes and five technicians from Samboja Lestari are staying with our two orangutans, keeping them safe around the clock, well fed and well taken of. The helicopter also stays overnight in Muara Wahau and, weather permitting, is ready to fly as early as possible tomorrow. It was a tough day, but we are hopeful that tomorrow is a much better day.
Your Immediate Support is Needed
While the unforeseen delay is beyond our control, it has hampered us with additional costs, including the cost of helicopter rental. We desperately need your immediate support. Click http://donation.orangutan.or.id and donate to give your support for the successful release of these two Samboja Lestari orangutans during this 5th Orangutan Release activity.
Text by: Rini Sucahyo and Paulina L. Ela