"It was like being part of a live wildlife documentary!" - See what Deborah had to say about being able to watch Romeo the orangutans release!

"It was like being part of a live wildlife documentary!" - See what Deborah had to say about being able to watch Romeo the orangutans release!

Posted by Connor Whelan on 30th Jun 2017

You may remember earlier this month when we brought you news of Romeo the orangutans release onto one of the orangutan islands at the Samboja Lestari Sanctuary over in Borneo! We’ve been lucky enough to talk to Deborah who was volunteering at the project at the time of the release, and this is what she had to say about the exciting events!

What was it like being able to witness Romeo (and the girls) release onto the island?

Female Orangutan Borneo

It made the whole experience worthwhile. It was like being part of a live wildlife documentary! We saw Romeo in his cage 2 days before his release too, so it made seeing his release even more poignant.

The two girls were released the day before and that had enough drama going on! After she was put on the island, Fani just sat by the water and started dipping her fingers in, then an arm and then, to everyone' shock, her entire body! It took 4 keepers to get her out. There was one terrifying moment when she went completely under the water and then just managed to put out her hand like the lady in the lake. I was so relieved when the keepers grabbed her and hauled her out! She was still so sleepy from her sedation. We watched the keepers and the vet monitoring her and she was sat with them and just put her arm around one of her rescuers! It was so incredibly moving.

The day Romeo was released, they were trying to keep Fani and Isti away from seeing Romeo sedated. Isti wasn't having any of it and wanted to watch, I guess! She was getting very irritated with the keepers for trying to keep her away but was finally sedated until Romeo was securely on the island and awake.

There was so much drama with both releases! It really helped my understanding of how difficult a release is and how much has to be taken into consideration. I can't imagine how hard a wild release is!

It was so fantastic to watch the 3 of them spread their wings, enjoy their freedom and explore the rest of the island during the time we were there.

What was your favourite task on the project?

There were so many:

  • Making enrichment, especially the ice lollies and the magazine enrichment
  • It was very hard work but helping planting the ground and building the play area in the new baby house! They are going to love it!
  • I quite enjoyed the weed clearing from the river, as it was the only warm water I experienced all week; A nice hot bath!
  • Hiding food in the enclosures for the sunbears and watching them rip their happy sacks apart!

Putting the release aside, what was your stand out moment at the project?

On the last morning before we left, Kate let us three (volunteers) do water enrichment. As there was just the 3 of us and there wasn't any cleaning, enrichment or breakfasts going on, we had the orangutan’s complete attention and they loved playing with the hosed water. It was just gorgeous.

If I can have 2, the boat trip to see the proboscis monkeys was pretty special too!

Did Kate, Wik, and Sam (the in country team) help make the overall experience?

Romeo the orangutan

Did they ever! What amazing people they are! Their knowledge and the sheer love and dedication oozes out of them. They made you feel completely part of the project and they went above and beyond to make sure we had a fantastic experience. It was so well organised and they made sure we all experienced a wide variety of activities.

What advice would give to future volunteers?

If they go to Borneo, only take quick dry clothes! Brace yourself for the experience of a lifetime and cold showers!


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