An Update On Romeo's Release - How Has The Big Orangutan At Samboja Lestari Adapted To His New Home?

An Update On Romeo's Release - How Has The Big Orangutan At Samboja Lestari Adapted To His New Home?

Posted by Connor Whelan on 12th Jun 2017

Just last week we brought you news of Romeo the big male orangutans move to his new home on an orangutan island at the Samboja Lestari Orangutan Sanctuary, and now we are back with an update! We have been in contact with Kate the volunteer coordinator and she’s told us all about Romeo and what he has been up to over the past week. Here’s what she had to say!

Romeo the orangutan

“First things first here is a bit of history on Romeo: He came to the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation when he was 6 years old from a zoo in Taiwan. He lived in the sanctuary for a long time as he had hepatitis B and was deemed unreleasable. It was only until a few years ago when new research found that the type of hepatitis B he has is from orangutans and this category of orangutans can be release. The only problem was however was that there was no release site at this point. Romeo s only hope for freedom was in the form of an orangutan island of which at the time all were full. Since finding a release site in 2012 BOS F have released many orangutans including those from these islands and this meant that there was now room for Romeo and some females to go on them!

Over the last few months the keepers at Samboja along with help from the volunteers have been refurbishing the island with platforms for shade and feeding and hammocks for nesting. They’ve even been helping to build ropes for climbing!

Pre Release

Romeo was socialised with two females prior to being released. Fani and Isti are both 18 years old and originally come from a circus in Jakarta. They came here in 2006 and have also had to sit in cages for 10 years, waiting for freedom due to lack of space.

Fani is a large lady who loves to eat and relax, but Isti is much smaller and more active! All three orangutans were getting on well prior to being released, and in particular Romeo and Fani.

The Release

Female Orangutan

Fani and Isti were first moved to the island on a Tuesday. On their first day they both seemed uncertain in their new habitat. Isti started to explore the island before the end of the evening on Tuesday, however Fani spent most of the first day in the middle of the island. On Wednesday morning Romeo was carefully sedated by the experienced vets here at Samboja, transferred to the centre of the island and placed under a large platform.

Orangutan rehabilitation

Everybody was very excited to see the moment Romeo woke up and saw his new surroundings for the very first time. He took a while to wake up completely which is very normal after sedation. He spent a long time sitting and sleeping under the platform until around 4pm. He was sitting and looking fascinated by the soil on the ground, and he was using sticks to move the soil. Then, for the first time in a few hours, he stood up and shook a few trees in a territorial manner. He then stood for a few minutes before we watched him start to move back into the bushes in the island.

He had started to explore the island which was a great sign that he wasn’t scared or overwhelmed by his surroundings as after 24 years of being enclosed nobody knows how an animal will react.

We followed him around the island as he explored different areas and by this point it was getting dark so he was probably looking for a comfy place to sleep. He found some papaya and had a munch on that, and after that he then tried to nest on the floor with leaves and twigs. After lying down for a bit he decided that was not comfy and moved on. Finally he went back to the centre platform that the volunteers built, and for the first time climbed the platform. Once up the platform he made a magnificent long call almost claiming his territory and settled down to sleep.

Orangutan alpha

During this time the girls had already become more confident after being on the island for a day longer and had inspected every inch of their new surrounding just to see what was there.

The next morning Romeo was found at the top of his new platform and again long calling looking like he had claimed his castle. It was a magnificent view for us and I’m sure for him too, as from the top of the platform he can see across the whole forest.

Over the next few days we observed Romeo spending a lot of time with Isti with the two of them sitting or napping together on the platform.

Romeo is a very relaxed orangutan who takes everything in the stride. He is often seen lying on his back eating which is quite comical to watch as he just looks soooooo chilled out.

Bujang ( a male orangutan on the adjacent island 6 ) and Romeo are unaffected by each other probably as they are quite content with their territories and females acquaintances.

Orangutan in a barrel

Fani is now more active and spends a lot of time high up. She has claimed a barrel to sleep in whereas the other two prefer the platform for now.

Orangutans together

Life on the island is going extremely well for all three orangutans at the moment and we are fairly confident that this will remain the case for a very long time! “

We are delighted to hear that Romeo is doing well after his island release and we will of course send you any updates we receive here too! Thanks to Kate for letting us know how he is getting on!


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John commented 5 years ago
Sooo happy for Romeo. Reading this update from Kate Helliwell was awesome. Having spent 4 weeks volunteering last July, reading this was 'just like being there' again <3


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