- Before their release, Johnny and Desi spent four years being rehabilitated.
- Both had spent several years confined in a cage, so they had to learn how to climb, forage, make nests and acquire a variety of other survival skills.
- Johnny and Desi were released into Baka Bukit Raya National Park on November 23.
It’s not every day that a wild animal, held captive for years, makes it home.
But two Bornean orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus) — an eight-year-old male called Johnny and a ten-year-old female named Desi — were recently released into a Bornean rainforest, more than four years after being rescued from captivity. Both orangutans were being kept as pets before they were rescued.
Before their release, Johnny, who was rescued in 2011, and Desi, who was rescued in 2012, spent four years being rehabilitated at International Animal Rescue’s (IAR) Orangutan Conservation Centre in Ketapang, West Kalimantan. Both had spent several years confined in a cage, so they had to learn how to climb, forage, make nests and acquire a variety of other survival skills, IAR said in a statement. But the two learned quickly, and were soon able to fend for themselves. The team then moved them the centre’s pre-release island.
Rehabilitation can take seven to eight years, and it doesn’t guarantee a release, Karmele Llano Sanchez, IAR’s Programme Director in Indonesia, said in the statement.
“Being kept as pets for several years can have a very adverse effect on the orangutans’ mental and physical health,” Sanchez added. “Luckily Johnny and Desi were saved in time but there are several orangutans in our care for whom our help came too late. We rescued them but they were no longer suitable candidates for rehabilitation because of the many years they had spent in captivity. So sadly now they will have to stay in our rescue centre for the rest of their lives. ”
Johnny and Desi were released on November 23 by a team from IAR in cooperation with the Centre for Conservation and Natural Resources (BKSDA) in West Kalimantan and the Bukit Baka Bukit Raya National Park (BBBR NP) in the district of Melawi, West Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo).
On the day of their release, the two orangutans were moved by road, then by a boat, before being carried on foot for six hours into the forests of Baka Bukit Raya National Park. Once they were released, Johnny and Desi climbed up the trees nearby and began foraging. A monitoring team, comprised of local people from the villages around the release site, is expected to follow their movements and keep detailed records of their progress and health.
IAR’s centre in Ketapang currently has more than 100 orangutans, and the team has released 11 orangutans in BBBR NP till date. But as orangutan habitats continue to get cleared for plantations, finding safe release sites for rescued orangutans is becoming a challenge. For the critically endangered Bornean orangutan already on the verge of extinction, this could spell doom.
“We can’t envisage a bright future for orangutans if their habitat continues to be lost at this rapid rate,” Sanchez said. “They are threatened by the clearing of forests, fires, and also the threat of being caught and sold as pets like Johnny and Desi. They will only survive when people start to take the problem seriously, although I fear it could be too late by then.”