5 Orangutans Have Been Released Into The Wild At The Samboja Lestari Orangutan Project!

Posted by Kate Helliwell on 22nd Dec 2017

Earlier this month we brought you news of five orangutans that were due to be released from the Samboja Lestari Orangutan Project in Borneo. Well, we have some fantastic news as the releases went well and our resident volunteer coordinator Kate was on scene to witness the whole release process! Kate has written about her experience on the release for us, so let’s see what happened!

The Build Up To The Release

Having worked alongside the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation (BOSF) for the last 2 and a half years at Samboja Lestari, where I have waved goodbye to many orangutans who have been released back into their natural habitat, I have finally had the chance to join one of these releases and accompany the 5 orangutans on their journey back into the wild.

The five orangutans to be released are all ones I am familiar with in some way or another and many volunteers from past and present have met them either on the islands or in the enclosure areas. It is therefore very interesting to see from what I have learnt about them all over the years how they will react to their new home!

The Loooong Journey Begins…

Orangutan being prepared for release in Borneo

All of the orangutans were sedated and transferred to their transit cages at 12 noon Monday 4th from the project site, and we then drove as a convoy to the release site.

Orangutan on its journey to release in Borneo

The journey was a mere 15 hour drive north.... and with the cars stopping every two hours to check the orangutans the journey seemed to go on forever!

Cars taking orangutans to release site in Borneo

On the journey I felt very proud to be part of such a unique operation and kept on reminding myself I was not just on a road trip across Borneo but on a journey that would change the lives of these 5 orangutans forever.

The convoy arrived early into the district of Wahau, and here the orangutans and humans were able to take a few hours of rest before the final leg of the trip.
This area has a huge palm oil industry and a lot of the forest has been destroyed, but we were heading to an area of forest that is protected by BosF. We left at 6am and begun our 2 hour journey to the release site.

Car journey to orangutan release site

On the way the destruction of the other areas of land was evident but it was at least good to know that without BOSF protecting their 86 000 ha of the forest it would have a similar fate to the rest of the now non-existent forest. BOSF had to purchase the forest in order to secure it for many years to come. This forest is beautifully remote and once you start driving through its hills and valleys and soaring trees you start to really understand why it’s so important to save it - just like BOSF are doing. It’s something you can talk about again and again but it doesn’t quite hit you until you are bang smack in middle of it all.

Boat journey to orangutan release site

We soon reached edge of the boundary for the BOSF area of the forest and were met by a breath-taking large river only crossable by boat. Here the orangutans had already been transferred over to the other side by the time we arrived as we were in a trusty but slow highlander car, and some sudden heavy rain had slowed us down.

Walking with orangutans to release site

Eventually though we also crossed the river and walked up the hill to the release site where the individuals were being placed in their release spots.

We were all wearing plastic football shoes for the mud and long blue socks for the leaches making us look like a misplaced football team in the rainforest. Needless to say this uniform worked a treat; but the leeches still managed to find their way through...

It’s Finally Time For The Actual Release: 11 am on the 5th December

Orangutan being released into the wild

First to be released was 7 year old Santa, and she had been rescued by BOSF when I first started working at Samboja and was very wild and scared of humans. I found out that she was actually rescued a couple of hours from the release site but the forest she was born in is now long gone. After spending 2 years in forest school she was finally ready to be released.

Orangutan climbing a tree

When her cage was opened she ran out and immediately scaled a large tree climbing all the way to the top. Later when the post release monitoring team arrived back that evening they informed us that she had travelled 500m from her release site which is rare and had also been foraging for food and had made a nest to sleep in.

Orangutan in a tree

This was the best outcome we could have asked for and everyone was extremely happy!

Orangutan being released in Borneo rainforest

Next to be released was Tiny.

Orangutan climbing a tree in Borneo

He was released close to Santa and they were later observed travelling together for more than 4 hours before he nested close to her that night.

Two orangutans in Borneo

Ingrid and Ivan were next to be released, and they had previously been on one of the islands that volunteers helped to refurbish. I got the pleasure of dual opening their cage and releasing them which was an honour. Ingrid and Ivan climbed up the tree and took in their surroundings; both looking shell shocked as they did so. The now quite large Ivan was hanging onto to his mother for comfort, however after a few moments they realised they were safe and started to explore cautiously. We were later told they explored and Ivan did some foraging before they nested in the trees.

Finally it was time for Yuni to be released. She has a keen interest in humans so we all stayed far back from her release. Even when she did decided to approach us; we all quickly evacuated the area and left her with the post monitoring team. Later she had been observed exploring and sleeping in the trees. She had not yet eaten anything when the team checked on her, but apparently this is common on the first day.

On To The Camp In The Forest and Then Back Home

Orangutan monitoring site
After the release we all headed to the monitoring camp which was a 30 minute walk from the release site. Here, all of the monitoring team stay and go out every day to track the orangutans that have been released. The team wake up very early before the orangutans do, and go find them in the tree they left them sleeping in the night before. They will then follow them all day until the orangutan nests and sleeps once again. This happens intensively for 3 months and then reduces in intensity but continues for a minimum of 18 months.

Post release monitoring team for orangutans

The camp is on a beautiful large river and here we ate and relaxed for the rest of the day enjoying the noises of the forest.

The next morning after a good night’s sleep in the open forest, we set off early back to our vehicles to begin the long journey home. This entailed another river crossing and then a two hour drive to the base house. We later set off on the 12 hour journey back to Samboja over night and we arrived at 3.30am on Thursday morning.

It takes a lot of time money and manpower to release and track orangutans back into the wild and BOSF are standing alone currently as the only charity managing to successfully achieve this goal. The amount of care and attention a single orangutan needs from entering the sanctuary to release is huge and BOSF have hundreds of animals currently under their care so you can imagine how hard this job is!

As you can see a lot of work has to go into an orangutan release, and we would like to take this opportunity to say thank you to not only the extremely hard working staff members at Bos F, but also to all of our amazing volunteers who have helped at Samboja! Keep your eyes peeled for more updates about these five amazing orangutans as we want to keep you updated on how they are getting on in the wild!


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