In January, the Human Orangutan Conflict Response Unit (HOCRU) – managed by the OIC, our partners in Sumatra – discovered a female orangutan and her infant isolated in farmlands being cleared for an oil palm plantation. The orangutans were then safely moved back into the Gunung Leuser National Park (GLNP). The team has been monitoring their progress, and we’re delighted to report that they’re doing well, and finding plenty of food in the forest.
Last week the HOCRU team returned to the same area to check whether any other orangutans were in trouble, and found another adult female and baby. Once again, they were safely relocated, saving them from certain death. Here, Panut Hadisiswoyo, Founding Director of the OIC, describes the rescue…
“The HOCRU team regularly responds to reports of orangutans being spotted in farmlands next to the forest. Sometimes the orangutans are able to return to the forests themselves, but sometimes they can become isolated, and resort to crop-raiding for survival.
Last week, the OIC’s HOCRU team, assisted by the Leuser Ecosystem Management Agency (BPKEL), Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme (SOCP) and local Natural Resource Conservation Agency (BKSDA), successfully rescued a female orangutan and her baby. They were isolated in a large oil palm plantation in Aceh Tamiang, around five kilometres away from the national park border.
This follows the rescue of another mother and baby orangutan in the Aceh Tamiang area just weeks earlier. Having been told there may be more orangutans in need of help, the HOCRU team returned to the area. After searching for two days, they found the female orangutan and her infant in the plantation. It was getting dark, so they decided to wait until the next day to attempt the rescue, but followed the orangutans until they built their nest for the night.
The next morning, the rescue team got to work. First they tranquilised the baby orangutan, a male thought to be around two years old.
Whilst Yenni, the SOCP vet, tended to the baby, the HOCRU team returned to capture his mother. HOCRU staff Krisna, Rabin and Rudi managed to tranquilise her and get her down safely from the tree.
Thankfully, health checks showed that neither orangutan had any injuries, so once they had regained consciousness the pair were released into the GLNP, having a second chance to roam freely in their natural habitat.
We have received reports of at least six more orangutans isolated in plantations in this area, which are in urgent need of evacuation. They cannot return to their natural forest habitat as the hills around the plantation have been cleared of all tree cover and are being converted for oil palm planting. The HOCRU team will return to help these orangutans as soon as possible.
If orangutan habitat continues to be converted for oil palm plantations in Aceh, more orangutans will become isolated and this means more orangutans are at risk of being slaughtered by palm oil workers, as we have seen happening in Borneo. It is also likely that we will see more conflict between humans and other species which are also losing their habitat, such as Sumatran tigers and elephants.”
The spread of oil palm plantations into critical orangutan habitat is the single greatest threat to the species. Together, SOS and OIC campaign for an end to deforestation, and work with communities living next to the last remaining orangutan habitat to protect and restore the forests. The HOCRU team is working on the frontline of orangutan protection in Sumatra– with so few individuals remaining in the wild, each and every one needs to be given the best possible chance of survival.
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