Betung Kerihun is the name of the trans-border national park, some 20 kilometers to the north of Sintang where we have already twice released orangutans from the Sintang Orangutan Centre through the sponsorship of Masarang International. At the border of the park along the Mendalam River we built the base camp from where we have brought the orangutans deeper into the virgin jungle to become free living wild orangutans again. Jojo, Juvi and Cemong were the first orangutans to move there followed by Molly, Bembi and Joy. All six are females that are less difficult for the field teams to get experienced with. In the mean time we have learned a lot of working in the national park and following our rehabilitated orangutans for more than a half year.
Juvi, who always was a bit of a wild female has decided to move to the other side of the Mendalam river, which is still in the national park. She builds great nests and utilizes a big variety of forest foods. Her hair has become longer and shiny and looks like she even put on more weight in the jungle. Jojo and Cemong have decided to find a place deeper in the jungle towards the north. We only irregularly encounter their weak telemetry signals but at too far distances in the park to be able to regularly follow them now. But from the good observations we had on them for the first months we know they both did very well and we have no reason to suspect it is different now. Moreover they have had a chance to enjoy a big fruiting of durians! The king of fruits with lots of calories but unlike popular belief with zero cholesterol!
From the second group we still regularly see Bembi and Molly near the release site and both are also doing well. Bembi has started to move further and further away from the release site and may soon also be too far to follow for direct observations. Molly stays still close fo the release site and made a new friend, a wild young male orangutan of about 8 years old! He is trying to establish a relation with her and we filmed them with a mere 10-15 meters distance between them. Originally the field studies by orangutan researchers suggested that there were no orangutans in our release area, but male orangutans are known to roam vast distances while females tend to establish smaller permanent territories. What we know for sure is that this was the first sighting of a wild orangutan there so the protection of the area and the releases should help the natural population significantly.
Now the not so good part. Joy has been brought back to the forest school in Tembak. Although she is one of the orangutans with the best food foraging skills in the group her wound on her back did not heal. The wound is from the operation to implant the transmitters to track all the orangutans. Joy has very long arms, even compared to other orangutans as you can see from this picture where she is self-clasping, and probably kept scratching the stitches that can be very itchy. Maybe because of her wound she also slept a lot on the ground instead of making nests high up and that can be dangerous for orangutans with big wild boars roaming the forest. She also too often tried to come to the field camp of the observers and destroyed there a lot. Doctor Jati then first brought her to the holding cages at the base camp for daily treatment of her wound that even had some maggots in it. Unfortunately Joy broke all of the cages whilst the wound was still recovering. So in the end the decision was taken to take Joy back for treatment in Tembak first.
For our staff in the release forest we now rotate them every month to prevent loneliness and boredom deep in the jungle. Four of the original team decided to leave the project, jungle life not being their thing. Now we are rotating 12 staff with 4 persons living in the forest monitoring the released orangutans, then rotating them to the Sintang facilities for a month, then a month in Tembak forest school before they return to the jungle again for their next shift. Some of the staff are from the very last village on the Mendalam River, the village of Nanga Hovat. They are very experienced in the jungle.
Dopo, a Dayak from the Seberuang tribe in Tembak who did a shift in the forest, went a few times to the Nanga Hovat village and met Tadai, the Dayak girl from the Mendalam tribe, that was one of the three girls that were cooking for the big group of visitors during the second release. We are not sure what was in the forest air but after just two weeks the mother of Tadai asked Dopo if he was serious with Tadai and he answered yes. A few weeks later, on July 2nd, they married in the tiny village of Nanga Hovat! I remember a Dutch student that came to a project in East Kalimantan in 1985 and was visiting a Dayak village. While enjoying a party in the village the head of the village asked him “Do you like my daughter” and he replied yes to please the village head. He was asked again and the answer was the same. I quickly had to tell him that if he would say yes for a third time he would be married, and he quickly made sure he got away! ;-)
I asked our staff what else happened in the forest and they told me about an eagle that tried to steal the fish that one of them had just hooked. The problem was that then the eagle got caught in the hook and got wounded. So doctor Jati cured the eagle for a week and it was released again after it was fit.
I hope to return myself to the release forest end of October. We may have a special event then, but I will not tell too much until things are fixed… Until then I will just have to remember the magnificent forest and fast flowing rivers of the Bentuang Kerihun national park.
Willie Smits, Sintang, September 9th, 2018
Newsletter provided by ®Orangutanrescue NL
Out of the seven orangutans that are now three ready for release, we have selected three for the first release, since we can only do three at a time. As one of our best students in the group, Jojo is one of the three. Along with Jojo, we have Juvi and Cemong who´s getting ready for a life back in the forests. Ready for release means they have passed all the requirements needed to be independent and survive in the wild, such as making nests, knowing and finding enough food sources, even during low season, and climbing skills. Secondly, they also have to pass at least one full season in the forest school in Tembak. This way we can access wether they can identify and happily eat enough different foods, that might be their favorite, but would be available when food sources are scarce.
Jojo, Juvi and Cemong are now in quarantine, which is needed prior to release. They had a medical check-up and we are awaiting the test results from the lab. All three have also received an implant chip. this microchip is not a GPS System, but can be tracked within a certain radius by using the receiver and an antenna. It will help the monitoring team to follow the orangutans to observe them and collect behavioral data.
®Text and pictures: Sintang Orang Utan Center
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