PRESS RELEASE : Renowned British orangutan conservationist awarded OBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list 2020

From : PanEco Foundation – Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme

Photo (c) Charlie Dailey

London, UK, 10 October 2020. Renowned orangutan conservationist, Dr. Ian Singleton, has been awarded an OBE (Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) by Her Majesty the Queen for Services to the Environment and Conservation. The announcement of the Queen’s Birthday Honours list usually takes place in June, but has been delayed this year to enable recognition of some of the leading actors in the battle against the CoVID 19 pandemic. 

In 2001, Dr Singleton founded the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme (SOCP) working for the Swiss-based PanEco Foundation, alongside its Indonesian partner NGO the Sustainable Ecosystem Foundation (Yayasan Ekosistem Lestari; YEL) and the Indonesian Ministry of Environment and Forestry’s Directorate General for the Conservation of Natural Resources and Ecosystems (Ditjen KSDAE).

Dr. Singleton began his career with orangutans more than 30 years ago, in 1989, working for another OBE recipient, Gerald Durrell, at his world-renowned Jersey Zoo in the British Channel Islands. He left Jersey in 1996 to study wild orangutans in Sumatra for his Ph.D, with the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology at the University of Kent, and after completing his thesis in 2000, headed back to Sumatra immediately to establish the SOCP and help protect and conserve wild orangutans and their habitat. Ian was also one of a team of scientists that in 2017 described to the world a new species of orangutan, the Tapanuli orangutan, named after the region where it occurs.

“Ian was an exceptional keeper during his time with Gerry and me at the Jersey Zoo, but it was always obvious that he wanted to do more. It’s been extremely rewarding to watch him grow since then into what he is today, one of the most well rounded and effective conservationists for some of the planet’s most threatened species and habitats, taking on some of the biggest issues of our time,” commented Dr. Lee Durrell, MBE, widow of Gerald Durrell, OBE.

One of Ian’s mentors during his Ph.D research and beyond, renowned primatologist Professor Dr Carel van Schaik commented “From the day I met him, I knew Ian was destined for greatness. He had a singular stamina, was equally at home in the forest and in the villages, and had only one aim: to save the orangutan from extinction. Since he founded the SOCP twenty years ago, he has given hundreds of ex-captive animals a new lease of life in the jungle. The secret of his success? His unconditional love for the animals.”

“I am extremely honoured, and very proud, that all of our hard work over the years has been recognised, but it hasn’t been the work of any one individual, or organisation. This award is recognition for the entire team of dedicated conservationists, most of them Indonesian, that I have had the pleasure and honour to work with throughout my career, and our many colleagues within the Indonesian Ministry of Environment and Forestry’s own Conservation Department,” Singleton emphasised. “But of course it is something that myself and my family will treasure for a very long time,” he added.

“The work also remains unfinished. There are still many orangutans in Sumatra being kept illegally as pets, or trapped and isolated in fragmented forest patches. We need to get these individuals back to safe and protected rainforests again, where they can contribute to the future of their species,” said Dr. Singleton,”at our project sites in Jantho and Jambi, we are releasing these “refugees” to create new, genetically viable populations of orangutans. These populations act as a “safety net” or “backup”, should a catastrophe befall the remaining truly wild populations.” he added.

“The value of the new wild populations we are creating has never been so apparent. Scientific consensus is that orangutans are likely to be susceptible to infection by the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes CoVID-19 in humans, and we have a duty to keep not just our staff safe, but all of the orangutans as well, especially when we remember just how few of them there are left,” Ian explained. “Indeed, like others, we are very much on the front line of the covid pandemic here too, but fighting to protect three species, not just one!”

“We need to protect the remaining wild populations of both the Sumatran orangutan (Pongo abelii), today numbering only around 13,400 individuals, and their last real stronghold, the Leuser Ecosystem, and the fewer than 800 Tapanuli orangutans (Pongo tapanuliensis) that remain in their only habitat, the Batang Toru Ecosystem in North Sumatra. Both species are listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, and the Tapanuli orangutan is the most endangered great ape species in the world!”

“We do what we can for all orangutans here in Sumatra and that requires a lot of hard work by a lot of different people, and a lot of support. Without the recognition of all our supporters around the world none of this work would be possible. We would also like to thank the Indonesian Ministry of Environment and Forestry, especially Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar and Director General Wiratno, for their close collaboration, and we look forward to many more years of working together to protect Sumatra’s orangutans. It really is nice to be recognised and appreciated with an OBE, but I would like to thank all of the many people, organisations and institutions around the world that make the work of the SOCP happen.” Dr Singleton concluded.


  • The Sumatran orangutan (Pongo abelii) is a distinct species from its neighbour in Borneo (Pongo pygmaeus). It is also different from the third, most recently described orangutan species, announced to the world only in November 2017, namely the Tapanuli orangutan (Pongo tapanuliensis), living in the Batang Toru Ecosystem of North Sumatra.
  • Only around 13,400 Sumatran orangutans and less than 800 Tapanuli orangutans remain in the wild. All three orangutan species are listed as Critically Endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in their Red List of Threatened Species (
  • The Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme (SOCP, is a collaborative programme of the Swiss-based PanEco Foundation (, its partner NGO in Indonesia Yayasan Ekosistem Lestari (YEL: Sustainable Ecosystem Foundation; ), and the Indonesian Ministry of Environment and Forestry’s Directorate General of Natural Resource and Ecosystems Conservation (
  • The SOCP is active in all aspects of orangutan conservation in Sumatra including:
    • Confiscation, rehabilitation, and reintroduction of captive orangutans to form new viable wild populations.
    • Research, surveys and monitoring of wild orangutan populations.
    • Habitat protection and restoration.
    • Environmental education and awareness raising.


A document noting some career highlights, a selection of photographs and a short video clip are available for download here:-

Photographer contact details:

  1. Charlie Dailey; Tel +44 (0)7989 978069 Email:
  2. Craig Jones; Tel +44 (0)7516 761284 Email :
  3. David Higgs MBE; (REQUESTS PRIOR APPROVAL) Tel +44 (0)7970 992848 Email:
  4. Kike Arnal; use © Kike Arnal/Arcus Foundation. Tel: +1 (347) 683 3996 Email
  5. Nanang Sujana : Use © Nanang Sujana. Tel: +62 (0)812 9006146 Email:

Further information:

  1. Dr Ian Singleton, Director Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme/panEco Foundation; Tel +62 (0)811 650491, Email :
  2. Vicky Dauncey; International Programme Development- PanEco Foundation; Tel +44 7985 195484,
  3. Castri Delfi Saragih, Communication Officer, YEL-SOCP – Email: ; Tel: +62 (0)853 59991525
  4. Nicole Bosshard, Communication Officer, PanEco Foundation, , Tel: +41 76 469 08 11

PRESS RELEASE : Sumatran orangutan rescued from isolated trees in Tripa peat swamps, Leuser Ecosystem, Sumatra.

Sumatran orangutan rescued from isolated trees in Tripa peat swamps, Leuser Ecosystem, Sumatra.

From : Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme (SOCP)

17th November 2016

Wednesday, November 16th 2016, an isolated young female Sumatran orangutan was rescued by a team from the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme (SOCP) and the Aceh Conservation Agency (BKSDA Aceh) of Indonesia’s Ministry of Environment and Forestry, from a tiny fragment of forest surrounded by palm oil in the Tripa peat swamps, part of the world renowned Leuser Ecosystem in northern Sumatra, Indonesia.

Located in a palm oil plantation near the village of Gelanggang Gajah (Kuala Batee sub-district, Aceh Barat Daya district, Aceh province) the orangutan first had to be captured from the tree tops by the team, which included SOCP veterinarian drh Pandu Wibisono and SOCP Operations Manager Asril, using an anaesthetic dart fired from a specially designed rifle. The task was made easier, however, by the fact that there were only 4 small trees for her to hide in, all other surrounding vegetation being 4 year old oil palms, only a few metres high.

On being successfully darted at around 11.00am, and then caught in a net as she fell from the tree she was in, she was found to be around 7 years old and weighing only around 20kg, a clear sign of her malnutrition due to having almost no natural food available.

As Asril commented, “normally we don’t want to capture wild orangutans but in exceptional circumstances we feel we have no choice. In cases where we know the animal is going to die or be killed if we don’t get them, then of course we do our best to get them out of there and move them to somewhere safe. This young female, who we’ve now named ‘Zaskia’, was already raiding farmer’s crops, and even eating young palm oil seedlings in an attempt to survive. That’s certainly not their natural diet, but it’s all she had to try and survive on, and if we hadn’t got her out of there soon the villagers would almost certainly have killed her for the damage she’s been causing.”

Once safely sedated and in the net the team performed routine medical checks and transferred Zaskia to a specialist transport cage ready and waiting on a pick-up truck 2km away from the capture site.

“Despite being obviously undernourished there were no signs of any other major medical problems,” stated drh Pandu Wibisono, SOCP veterinarian. “That being the case we left at 14.00 and took her straight to the SOCP’s orangutan reintroduction centre in Jantho, Aceh Besar, in a strictly protected Nature Reserve with abundant natural food in the forest, where she will join over 90 other orangutans already released there,” he added.

Dr Ian Singleton, Director of the SOCP also commented, “capturing free living wild orangutans  goes against the logic of the conservation goals we are trying to achieve, to keep as many wild orangutans living free in their natural habitat as we possibly can. But in cases like Zaskia’s, where we know she will be killed we really have no choice but to try and help them. Fortunately though, we are also reintroducing confiscated illegal pet orangutans back to the wild in Jantho, the aim being to establish an entirely new genetically viable and self-sustaining wild population of this Critically Endangered Species. Whilst its always sad that we have to capture and rescue wild orangutans like this one, the up side is that she is now joining the new population, she will probably live a long life in the wild there and hopefully she will produce several infants during her lifetime, making a major contribution to the new population being established in Janthoand therefore the long term survival prospects for her species! That’s something she would not have done if she’d stayed where she was.” He stressed.

Genman Hasibuan, S. Hut. MM, Head of BKSDA Aceh added, “Sumatran orangutans are a legally protected species in Indonesia, with fines of up to Rp 100,000,000 and prison terms of as much as 5 years for anyone caught killing, capturing, keeping, or trying to sell one. We have already prosecuted a number of people over the last few years and will continue to do so if the illegal capture and killing of orangutans does not stop. We hope these prosecutions will act as a deterrent to anyone thinking of capturing or killing an orangutan and for anyone who is offered one as a pet.” He emphasized.

The Tripa peat swamp forests and the Leuser Ecosystem in which they lie have both been in the news regularly over recent years. Tripa came to the worlds attention in 2012 when huge fires ripped through large scale oil palm plantations, devastating local biodiversity and releasing huge amounts of carbon into the atmospehere. These events led to several legal challenges against the companies by local NGO’s and by Indonesia’s Ministry of Environment, resulting in large fines and prison terms being handed out to the offenders. The 2.6 million hectare Leuser Ecosystem is also the subject of a civil lawsuit against Indonesia’s Ministry of Home Affairs and the Governor and parliament of Aceh province, due to fact that despite it being a National Strategic Area under National Law, which then requires its inclusion in all levels of spatial land use plan, it is not mentioned at all in the Aceh provincial spatial land use plan a fact that both National and provincial government already acknowledge renders the plan an illegal document.

Local NGO’s and environmentalists are now pushing the central government to ensure that all fines and prison terms related to the Tripa peat swamp palm oil companies are now enforced and carried out. They are also eagerly awaiting the outcome of the civil lawsuit against the Aceh spatial land use plan, originally due on November the 8th but then postponed until the end of the month.

Additional Information :-

  • The Sumatran orangutan (Pongo abelii) is a different species from its Bornean relative (Pongo pygmaeus).
  • The Sumatran orangutan is listed by the World Conservation Union (IUCN) as a ”Critically Endangered Species” on its Red List of Threatened Species.
  • Surveys by the SOCP suggest only around 14,600 Sumatran orangutans survive in the wild today.
  • All orangutans are fully protected under Indonesian National Law UU No 5, 1990 on the Conservation of Natural Resources and Ecosystems.
  • The Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme is a collaborative programme implemented by the Ministry of Environment and Forestry’s Directorate Jenderal Konservasi Sumber Daya Alam dan Ekosistem (Ditjen KSDAE), the Indonesian NGO Yayasan Ekosistem Lestari, and the Swiss based NGO PanEco Foundation.
  • Since 2001 the SOCP has reintroduced over 180 confiscated illegal pets to the wild at the edge of the Bukit Tigapuluh National Park in Jambi Province and over 90 in the forests of Jantho, Aceh Besar, establishing two entirely new wild populations of this critically endangered species.


Contact :-

Dr Ian Singleton. Director SOCP,Tel : +62 61 4514360 / +62 811 650493, Email :

Genman Hasibuan, S. Hut. MM. KepalaBalaiKSDA Aceh, Tel : +62 812 86319877, Email :

Asril, SSi.  SOCP Operations Manager, Tel : 0813 70233052, 0821 65417394, Email :

drhPanduWibisono. SOCP Veterinarian, Tel :+62 813 17868372, 0857 11243212, Email :

Photos :- can be downloaded here 

B. zaskia rescue

Suggested captions below. Taken by the SOCP team during the capture and rescue of the female orangutan, Zaskia.


drh Pandu (left) dan Asril (centre, brown teeshirt) checking the physical and medical condition of the orangutan immediately after capture.


drh Pandu undertaking medical checks in the field.


Asril and Zaskia before placing her in her transport crate for the journey to the SOCP reintroduction centre in Jantho.

PRESS RELEASE : Four Sumatran orangutans return to Aceh for release to the wild.

Four Sumatran orangutans return to Aceh for release to the wild.

16th November, 2016

From : Balai Besar KSDA Sumatera Utara and PanEco Foundation – Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme

On Tuesday November 15th, four young Sumatran orangutans arrived safely in the forests of Jantho, Aceh Besar, to begin the process of learning to be wild orangutans once again. They travelled to Jantho overnight from their previous home at the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme’s orangutan quarantine centre in Sibolangit, near Medan, in North Sumatra.

Agustina, a female approximately 8 years of age, and 3 males, Adel, Jagai and Upin, between 5 and 7 years old, arrived at 11.00 in the morning at the Jantho Orangutan Reintroduction Centre, also run by the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme (SOCP).

“I wish these four orangutans the very best of luck for the future as they learn the skills they will need to survive in their new habitat,” commented Dr Hotmauli Sianturi, Head of the North Sumatra Conservation Agency (BBKSDA Sumatera Utara) of Indonesia’s Ministry of the Environment and Forestry. “All being well they’ll produce infants of their own eventually so help to found the new wild population of this critically endangered species being established in Jantho’s forests.” She added.

According to Mukhlisin, Manager of the Jantho orangutan Reintroduction Centre for the SOCP, the four young orangutans must first spend a few more weeks in cages at the edge of the forest on the banks of the Aceh River.

“First they have to recover their energy and get used to their new surroundings,” he noted. “They’ll then be released and closely followed and monitored in the forest for several months by the staff at the centre. The staff will observe the orangutan’s progress closely and monitor their health, diet and behavior so we can assess how well they’re doing. If they need any help from the team, such as extra food, or to shelter for a while in the cages again, then we will provide that. Most orangutans we release do very well out in the forest and don’t need much help at all. The most important thing for them is to find enough food and to sleep in a well-constructed nest in the trees for protection against predators and to prevent them getting too wet and cold if it rains.” He added.

Dr Ian Singleton, Director of the SOCP also commented. “These orangutans were once illegal pets in Aceh, confiscated from their owners by the Ministry of Environment and Forestry’s Conservation Agency in Aceh (BKSDA Aceh). They have since been cared for and rehabilitated at the SOCP orangutan quarantine centre near Medan. Now they’re finally ready to return to their natural habitat and have a second chance at a long and healthy life as a wild orangutan once again. It’s really great to see orangutans like these, after suffering the death of their mother when captured and then kept illegally, often in tiny cages or chained by the neck, get the chance to be genuinely free and wild again. Orangutans can live for 50 years or more in the wild and we wouldn’t want them to spend the rest of their lives in metal cages. They will also be joining over 80 orangutans that have already been released in Jantho. The aim is to establish an entirely new, self-sustaining wild orangutan population in Jantho, as a kind of ‘safety net’ to prevent the extinction of their species in the wild.” He explained.

Genman Hasibuan , S. Hut. MM, Head of BKSDA Aceh added, “Sumatran orangutans are a legally protected species in Indonesia, with fines of up to Rp 100,000,000 and prison terms of as much as 5 years for anyone caught killing, capturing, keeping, or trying to sell them. We have already prosecuted a number of people over the last few years and will continue to do so if the illegal capture and keeping of orangutans does not stop. We hope these prosecutions will act as a deterrent to anyone thinking of capturing or killing an orangutan and for anyone who is offered one as a pet.” He emphasized.

Dr Hotmauli also stressed, “Whilst it really is heartwarming to see orangutans like Agustina, Adel, Jagai and Upin on the path to being truly wild orangutans once again, that they are captive in the first place is also a sign that we are failing to protect them sufficiently in the wild. Each one of these four youngsters will have been removed from the body of their dead or dying mother, almost certainly killed by human hands. It’s that and the destruction of their habitat that remains the biggest problem!”.

Drh Yenny Saraswati, Senior Veterinarian for the SOCP added, “So far these four orangutans have done very well. We managed to get them back to full health and also to teach them how to be orangutans once again after living with people. Now their future is very much in their own hands. We wish them the very best of luck and will continue to do all we can to ensure they have a long, happy and productive live back in the forests of Aceh.”

Additional Information :-

  • The Sumatran orangutan (Pongo abelii) is a different species from its Bornean relative (Pongo pygmaeus).
  • The Sumatran orangutan is listed by the World Conservation Union (IUCN) as a ”Critically Endangered Species” on its Red List of Threatened Species.
  • Surveys by the SOCP suggest only around 14,600 Sumatran orangutans survive in the wild today
  • All orangutans are fully protected under Indonesian National Law UU No 5, 1990 on the Conservation of Natural Resources and Ecosystems.
  • The Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme is a collaborative programme implemented by the Ministry of Environment and Forestry’s Directorate Jenderal Konservasi Sumber Daya Alam dan Ekosistem (Ditjen KSDAE), the Indonesian NGO Yayasan Ekosistem Lestari, and the Swiss based NGO PanEco Foundation.
  • Since 2001 the SOCP has reintroduced over 180 confiscated illegal pets to the wild at the edge of the Bukit Tigapuluh National Park in Jambi Province and over 80 in the forests of Jantho, Aceh Besar, establishing two entirely new wild populations of this critically endangered species.


Contact :-

Dr. Ir. Hotmauli Sianturi, M.Sc, Kepala Balai Besar KSDA Sumatera Utara. c/o Garendel Siboro, Kepala Bidang Teknis, Tel : +62 812 7516395, Email

Genman Hasibuan, S. Hut. MM, Kepala Balai KSDA Aceh, Tel : +62 812 86319877, Email :

Dr Ian Singleton, Director SOCP, Tel : +62 61 4514360 / +62 811 650493, Email :

drh Yenny Saraswati, SOCP Senior Veterinarian, Tel : +62 813 17837976, Email :

Photos by SOCP:

  1. ariesta and jaggai SOCP Photo.JPG
  2. edy and augustina SOCP Photo.JPG

Photos are also available via Getty Images photographer Ulet Ifansasti (+62 811 2538194, Email …see download.

Photos can be downloaded at :-

  1. 4 orangutan to Jantho

From Cage to Nest – Happy 5th Birthday Ganteng!

21st January, 2016 
Written by Jessica McKelson, SOCP. 

WATCH NOW! DECEMBER 2015 – Ian & Jess visit Ganteng and follow his progress.

“To be honest it’s actually amazing to me that both Gober and Ganteng are now living free as wild orangutans in Jantho, Aceh. Back in 2011 when the twins were born, Gober was still totally blind, and we never expected she would again be free in a forest. That changed completely when we were able to do surgery on her cataracts. I remember very well the birth of the twins too. We knew Gober was pregnant, and due any day, but had no idea that she’d present us with twins. The only downside is that poor little Ginting didn’t make it this far, even though when Ganteng was left behind we all thought it would be Gober and Ginting that would be the big success story, not her twin brother. But still, like I said, theirs is an incredible story, and, despite the sadness, also a very positive and heartwarming one. Gober, who we always knew was elderly, gets to live out her days in a spectacularly beautiful and rich forest, much better in fact than where she first came to us from. She might even be pregnant again already, we are not sure. And now Ganteng is also making really excellent progress as a wild orangutan. So happy 5th birthday little guy…..and I hope there are many many more truly “Wild Birthdays” to come!”
Ian Singleton, Director SOCP.


Wow! 5 years ago today (21st January 2011), Ganteng and his sister Ginting were born at SOCP’s Quarantine Station to their mother Gober (their father was Leuser). Time has flown by! Even now, I can remember watching the two twins for the first time as they clung to Gober, and how absolutely terrified they were of the humans in front of them. gober, ganteng, ginting (6)

Photo: SOCP, ‘Gober & Twins’ 

Today, on Ganteng’s fifth birthday, I dedicate this piece to his sister Ginting, who would have also turned 5 years old today, however, tragically, we found her passed away in the forest due to natural circumstances (age 4). Ginting’s legacy will always be remembered every time we see Ganteng.

ginting rotate

Photo: SOCP, ‘Ginting’ 

It is crazy to think that just 12 months ago, Ganteng was released back to the wild, he did not follow his mother and sister, instead, he ended up spending the next few months in the pre release cage alone, scared of the forest, and terrified of climbing trees. I reflect on how far Ganteng has progressed in the last 10 months I’ve been working with him and the team in Aceh to ‘train’ him for an eventual life back in the forest.

Wow, life has changed dramatically for him!

I am thrilled Ganteng has taken to the animal training program so well and can now confidently say that he is behaving like a wild orangutan; I am honoured to be a part of Ganteng’s life and I am so proud of the team in Aceh who have worked so hard on implementing the steps to make it possible for Ganteng to return to the forest.

The best birthday present we have given him is the opportunity to be free, to learn about the forest, to meet and to follow his new wild cousins and to be a wild orangutan. His survival success now rests with himself. Although he’s doing so well, we will continue to monitor him daily, and I silently pray that his mother Gober will end up passing by and they will reconnect. (Dreaming big!)

Happy Birthday Ganteng! A brave little orangutan and a hero in the Sumatran orangutan world!

Ian & Jess’s Journey: December 2015

image_1SOCP Director Ian Singleton and myself have just returned from four days at Jantho Reintroduction Centre in Aceh Besar. It had been over 10 months since Ian last visited Jantho to release ‘Gober’ and her twins, ‘Ganteng’ and ‘Ginting’. I was excited to show Ian Ganteng’s progress, and also to look at commencing a new training program for another candidate, ‘Lucky’. I was also anxious to see how Ganteng was getting along, as when I last left him he was just starting to learn how to build and sleep in nests by himself about 50-100m from the pre-release cage area.

Arriving at Jantho:

The road leading into Jantho was extremely muddy as it is the rainy season. Torrential downpours each afternoon leave the bumpy track almost impassible and getting bogged down is just part of the journey into camp! After finally arriving, all I wanted was to head straight into the forest in order to find Ganteng, so, Ian and myself quickly headed off in search of the staff monitoring him around 1km away from camp.

I’d heard from the team’s regular updates that over the last month the young male had developed an incredible confidence to explore while following a group of his fellow released orangutans in an area of high fruit density. Ever since my previous month’s visit, when I pushed him to move away from the cage location, the monitoring team had also observed him building nightly nests and sleeping in them away from the cages. Ganteng was still was coming down three times a day to get supplementary food from the staff, which is important to give him a healthy, balanced diet, as we slowly wean him onto eating only forest foods.

Approaching Ganteng’s location in the forest, I was excited, but also a little nervous about how Ganteng would be doing. Actually, it was very difficult to spot him high up (20m+) in the fig trees with his friends, so it took a few hours to fully assess his condition. How wonderful to watch him behaving like a wild orangutan with no interest in coming down to people. Fantastic result!

My only concern was that Ganteng might get sick from sleeping in the forest, as torrential downpours each afternoon and night lead to dramatic temperature drops overnight. Only time will tell how the young orangutan will adapt to these rainforest extremes.

Our Time at Jantho:

For three nights, Ian, myself, and the staff observed Ganteng behaving like a wild orangutan. Each morning the staff would meet back at the nest he’d constructed the night before, wait for him to wake up and then follow him throughout the day. He was feeding in many fig trees, eating other wild fruits, and munching on leaves from a number of orangutan food species.

It’s still key for Ganteng’s development to be around other orangutans, so it was great to see him interacting with other individuals! While we observed, he would follow them, staying close, and learning all about how to be a wild orangutan; which trees to feed in, how to manipulate the fruits, who wants to play, and what are the best times to be social. Not once did he retreat back to the pre-release cage area, instead choosing to stay in the forest with his friends. This has been a huge development from the training program; we are witnessing natural learning, dispersion and exploration, where Ganteng’s key teachers are the orangutans, which have been released, instead of spending long periods in the Quarantine – they’re wild animals.

It was extremely hard to get any good footage of Ganteng, as he was always so high up in the canopy, often out of sight feeding and nesting. But witnessing him build a nest each night and behave like a wild animal was extremely rewarding.

What have we learnt from training Ganteng?


Photo Jess McKelson, SOCP – ‘Ganteng’

  • Ganteng learnt how to build a nest in a cage, and we weren’t sure if he’d be able to apply these skills in the forest. It took some time, and some pushing for him to bend, break, and shape tree branches into an orangutan’s characteristic nest. Now, although he is not a perfect nest builder, he is able to build a nest high up in the trees. One of the most important behaviours of a wild orangutan!
  • Ganteng is a 5 year old which is attracted to following other orangutans no matter what sex they are. He often follows his friends; learning forest pathways, and a variety of feeding behaviours. Interestingly, we have also noted that he is teaching others the feeding behaviours he’s picked up from his broad range of orangutan interactions. For example, he has been observed showing orangutans how to eat termites and feed on different leaf species, both of which make up an important part of the wild diet. These orangutans then eat these foods the next time they encounter them, even without Ganteng present. Wild social transmission in action!
  • Ganteng’s training with the staff is well developed, as they are able to call him down and move him to other trees when the pathways become too difficult or he has ranged too far from his orangutan friends. We think it is critical to keep him around other orangutans and manipulate his movements, and by using his diet we are able to ensure he is kept in contact with them. Yet he is still able to connect with the monitoring staff when we feel he is unable to resolve an individual problem.

Amazing work from everyone on the monitoring team!

Video & Text written and prepared by Jess McKelson, SOCP

Training Ganteng. Abandoned twin orangutan, returns to the wild in 2015.

23rd November 2015
Written by: Jessica McKelson, Pan Eco Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme (SOCP)

It’s November 10th 2015, and I’m back in Jantho Reintroduction Station, Aceh. I’ve just had 2 months break in Oz, so the last time I visited was early August. I love it here; it is where I get to escape from the busy life of Medan City in North Sumatra, where I get NO mobile phone service and am not required to answer emails and be ‘on call’ 24hrs a day. It’s where I get to witness all our released orangutans returning to their rainforest homes.

Surrounded by a mixture of grasslands and spectacular rainforest habitat, our station is nestled within the highest protected status ‘Cagar Alam’ and therefore suffers very minimal disturbance from illegal activities. I’m sat with the river on one side, watching the otters feeding as they pass our release site. They remind me of meerkats, the way their heads bob up and down in the water checking up on us as they swim past. Towards the forest, I also watch our recently released orangutans, Genang and Monic, feeding on fig tree fruit about 100m from the release cages. Last time I saw them, they were in cages at Quarantine, and it gives me immense joy to witness their wild existence once again.

Checking up on released animals is one reason for my monthly visits, but what I have really been working on since February is the Animal Training Program for a young male twin, Ganteng, and his friends, Mikki, Rachmad and Lucky. I reminisce about the program and how far we have come since March. Ganteng has progressed far more quickly than I could have ever imagine and the past few months have taught me a great deal about juvenile orangutans and training them back into the forest. How fast they can adapt when released role models are a part of the training program along with staff who can help build the confidence and independence (the first steps required) for the animal to be free once again.

PHOTO 1 Photo: ‘Ganteng’ – Jess McKelson, SOCP

Ganteng’s Story

Back in February, I visited Jantho Reintroduction Station and was amazed to see the release efforts going from strength to strength. But I left feeling bothered about Ganteng and his development. He was a different animal from the one I’d worked with at the Quarantine Station; he had a different attitude, showed some sterotyped behaviours (possibly stress driven) and seemed to be simply ‘lonely’. After discussions with SOCP’s Director Ian Singleton, I realised here was an opportunity to put my past animal training experience to good use. This time though my training challenge would be much more complex and have a large load of past baggage to sort through.

Ganteng’s story is heartbreaking. He was one of a pair of twins born into captivity to a wild orangutan, Gober, who was blind but had her sight repaired by surgery. Despite being born in captive environment, Ganteng is quite wild as he stayed with his wild mother and twin sister, Ginting, and never interacted with people. For his future returning to the forest it was the best not to condition him to people and to let him learn from a wild orangutan, his mother. However, when the three were released at Jantho, his mother and sister, left him behind in the forest, where he spent the night alone for the first time in his life, sleeping on the ground.

Watch the video on release efforts of Gober, Ganteng and Ginting HERE

Tragically Ginting’s body would be found just a few months later by SOCP Jantho staff and myself on a visit that will never be forgotten. Our thoughts are with her everyday.

Read more from SOCP Dr Ian Singleton, HERE.

I can only imagine how this experience must have affected Ganteng. His first and only memory of the rainforest was his family leaving him behind. He never climbed a tree and was never taught how to move around a forest by his mother. After that harrowing night asleep on the forest floor, humans surrounded him and brought him back to an empty cage. Training him looked to be impossible, as a 4-year-old orangutan, he should still be learning from his mother; he had no trust for people, showing signs of stress whenever SOCP’s keepers tried to work with him. Furthermore, he’d had no interaction with orangutans except his family, and he’d need to learn all of these social skills, as well as how to be a wild orangutan. He was left by his mother, lonely and afraid, and not in any condition to leave the pre-release cages unless these insecurities were broken down.

PHOTO2.JPGPhoto: ‘Gober and Ginting in the forest’ – SOCP 

I am a firm believer of ‘reduced human contact’ for orphaned orangutans; therefore everything we do at Quarantine is non-human contact or very limited human contact. Even at the very young age they arrive, while orangutans may have some hands on comfort from vets and keeping staff, they are quickly ushered into social groups so they can develop confidence and learn skills from each other. In this way we try to teach them how to be as wild as possible in a captive environment; they spend all day with other orangutans, and sleep in hammocks filled with leaves, not in washing baskets, or with people or on the floor in any shape or form. It is the best and ‘kindest’ form of teaching if you want to return them to their forest home.

However, there are some orangutans at quarantine that are very human focused, due to the previous hands on care and attention they have received from their illegal captive days and also with previous Quarantine keeping staff who used to sleep with the small orangutans in the vet clinic. These animals require special care, as they will take longer to become ‘wilder’ and it’s not possible to take them from all human care and throw them straight into social groups. Actually, I think it’s cruel to ‘fuss and over comfort’ infant orphans when they arrive at Quarantine, and would only have a negative impact on their development. The results we have seen from the new orphan arrivals at Quarantine have been outstanding, so I thought it would be possible to develop a methodology of Operant Conditioning practices towards Ganteng’s development.

As you can probably work out, these previous experiences, challenges, and individual orphan cases have made me very motivated to develop Animal Training Plans for captive orangutans (Quarantine) and for the rainforest (Jantho Reintroduction Station, Aceh).

It all started with Ganteng, my biggest ever challenge, with so much unfortunate history and anxiety to work on. I needed to design a training plan that would prepare Ganteng for the forest; one that would include meeting other orangutans so he could learn the skills to be a wild orangutan, but also keep him safe until he was independent and ‘ready’ to venture off on his own. Not only did the responsibility for his future cause me great stress, but also I would be working with staff unskilled in animal training. What would the best option be? I had to trust my past skills and my gut instinct. Each day will be a different adventure!

Photo: ‘Team’ – SOCP  /  Photo 2: ‘Jantho Rainforest’ – Udin, Jantho SOCP staff

Stage One: Operant Conditioning

For me, the most critical part of the training program was to develop a trusting, healthy relationship with Ganteng. We needed to enter his space and develop a rapport with him. There would be no use opening the cage and allowing him to explore by himself if he had no idea what to do and had no trusted friends to guide him along his journey.

In April we nominated three staff to train Ganteng, to give him the same people to work with every day. Each orangutan is different and each will respond differently to conditioning, but we could maximise the training’s effectiveness by keeping his conditions stable and consistent. The staff also needed to learn patience. Over three long days I worked closely with the training staff, critiquing them on how to feed Ganteng in his cage, slowly conditioning him to only feed with people giving him his diet. This was an absolutely critical first step for the operant conditioning to succeed.
Initially I set a goal of 3-weeks, by the end of which Ganteng had to confidently come to people when his name was called, and to be hand fed at all times. He was not to be nervous or to show any signs of abnormal stress or anxiety.

The staff worked fantastically hard and within a week Ganteng began to consistently come to people when being ‘cued’ to do so. The first step on his journey back to the forest was beginning

Watch the First Step to Ganteng Development HERE

Ganteng meets Meysin, a wild orangutan.

PHOTO 5                            Photo: ‘Ganteng & Meysin’- Jess McKelson, SOCP

During April it happened that a wild, adult female, Meysin, who’d been released 12 months prior, returned to the pre-release station looking slightly underweight. I decided to put her in the cage next to Ganteng. This decision would shape not only his future, but also potentially everything we do to train reintroduced orangutans.

Putting a wild female next to Ganteng was controversial, many of you reading may disagree with this step; certainly the monitoring staff did, and it took me a long time to convince them that it was best for the training and welfare of Ganteng. My feeling was I could keep her in the cage, well fed to get her weight back up, all the while introducing forest fruits and leaves to Ganteng while he had another orangutan to learn from.

During the month of April I visited twice. The second time was to introduce Meysin with Ganteng to one another so he could play and develop his social skills that can only be learnt from other orangutans. She could be a perfect surrogate mother for him, but we needed to move slowly; I did not want Meysin to become frustrated with a 4-year-old orangutan that always wants to play and interact, steals food, and invades her space. The two would be separated for periods of the day, at feeding times and at night, but otherwise mostly left to interact. The introduction went well and after a few days Ganteng came to treat Meysin as the dominant, older animal. Eventually, Ganteng began to sleep in her nest overnight and became the adopted son I’d hoped he would. This experience and companionship improved his confidence dramatically, allowing us to move to the next vital stage: introducing the rainforest and trees into his life.

Going back into the forest… A small ray of sunshine!

Over the month of May, my goal for our little twin male was to get him into the forest school setting, which would really test his relationship with the staff!

We needed to improve Ganteng’s confidence in the forest and push him to follow his trusted staff into the jungle. Once he gained the confidence to go about 20m into the forest, we would then be able to work on staying out in the forest rather than returning automatically to the cage.

As the staff pushed Ganteng into unknown areas, they would also need to teach him the pathways orangutans use in the wild. Once he’s learned these pathways, he will be able to explore the area until he is 100% confident to return alone.

Photo: ‘Ganteng & Damsen’ & ‘Monitoring Staff Jantho’ – Jess McKelson,SOCP

To start, we set up small coconuts and plastic buckets with his food to encourage him up to climb high into the trees until he gained the self-confidence to go exploring by himself. This period of conditioning went really well and Ganteng began to get stronger, developing his muscles, allowing him to spend longer periods in the forest. He also interacted and played with new orangutan friends; Ruben, Mikki and Krisna.

PHOTO 8 Photo: ‘Ganteng & Ruben Playing’ – Udin, Jantho SOCP Staff

This was excellent as he began to learn social skills and independence from his peers. Though he watched the other orangutans eating jungle foods around him Ganteng would still came down to his trusted staff for his diet, which allowed us to move him between the pre-release cages and the forest each day.

Witness Ganteng Rainforest Training MAY VIDEO HERE

Releasing Ganteng

In June, we let Meysin and Ganteng out of the cages together. Automatically, the young male followed her out into the jungle. As we watched the two travel Ganteng would cry out for her and she would have to wait for him to cross the forest canopy (exactly as a mother orangutan does with her infant). We did have a number of concerns however: this was the first time he had climbed so high, travelled so fast, and ventured so far from the cage area (up to 300m); Meysin is a wild animal and might just go back to the forest where we would have no control to work towards strengthening Ganteng’s skills further. Most worrying we noted he wasn’t making a nest in the trees, a vital skill for his survival.

So, we pulled him back for another week, only letting him out each day and keeping him well trained to come back each night. We encouraged Meysin to stay around the release space by supplementing her with food, until eventually she became bored with the process and naturally dispersed. However, this time together with Meysin really shaped Ganteng’s confidence and development; her teaching him to move through the trees and allowing him to play with other orangutans in the forest was the most developing week of his entire life.

PHOTO 9Photo: ‘Training Ganteng’ – Jess McKelson, SOCP

In the months of July and August I visited a further 3 times, continuing to work on Ganteng’s development in the forest. During this period we released Rachmad, a 7-year-old male. Rachmad slept outside overnight, but had a hard time acclimatising to his new surroundings. Seeing he quickly interacted well with Ganteng, I made the two complete the daily training program in the forest together. This worked well for both orangutans; it’s provided Ganteng with another role model, and is helping Rachmad gain further confidence in the forest.

Photo: ‘Rachmad & Ganteng’ – Jess McKelson, SOCP
Photo 2: ‘Animal Training in Forest’ – Udin, Jantho SOCP Staff.

I left for Australia in mid August, wondering how this entire program would progress, hoping that Ganteng would continue to improve and hoping I could apply the same methodology for future smaller orangutans. The results were outstanding to date, and there was no reason we couldn’t develop this program over the next 12 months.

PHOTO 12 Photo: ‘Ganteng’ – Udin, Jantho SOCP Staff

Returning in November, a breath of fresh air and a proud ‘mum’ moment… Ganteng in the forest!

Black Hornbills pass over me ready to roost in the pine trees behind camp. I’ve just finished a horrendous, neck-breaking hike for 4hrs in the forest. I wanted to see on the furthest transect what orangutans I could find. I wanted to secretly find Ganteng’s mother, Gober, to see how she’s doing. I couldn’t find her, but I’m still beyond happy, sat by the river reflecting on her infant’s training program (pulling leeches off my body), thinking about how far Ganteng has come since I was last here. I’m also proud I made it back in one piece! It’s Musim Hujan – raining season. The transect trails and off path hikes make it very slippery to navigate around the forest. I often wonder, ‘what the hell’ am I doing here and why is my body tolerating this abuse. Mukhlisin Jantho Camp Manager reminds me, “Jess, you need exercise as it makes us sweat out our toxins and breathe in fresh air. You will thank me afterwards.”

Thanks for the reminder… Thanks for my ridiculous slippery hike…

Photo 1: ‘Ganteng Feeding’- Jess McKelson,SOCP  
Photo 2:’Staff monitoring Ganteng’ – Udin, Jantho SOCP Staff

As you can see in my video below, I watched Ganteng follow the staff into forest each day, during which he ate wild fruits and leaves and interacted with other orangutans. I even witnessed his natural ‘display’ towards a group of pig-tailed macaques; kiss squeaking, breaking branches and shaking the trees. This is a natural behaviour he developed alone. He was still coming to the staff for some of his diet, and they take him back to the pre release cage area for the night. The last three weeks, Ganteng decided he will no longer sleep in the cage but on top of the cage with his friend Rachmad. In this way we’ve been using his diet to reward him for moving through the trees and not using the forest floor to walk to the next tree.

I have also pushed him, because I am a negative in his world, (he doesn’t like me as I am the nasty one who pushes him back to the forest and not his comfort space) specifically by holding a broom up. I do think that one day the broom will be thrown back at me (lol)! Using this method a few nights ago, I wanted to test my big questions: What would happen if we don’t let him come back to the cages? Can he build a nest?

He did get little upset at first, but then watched his friends ‘Genang’ and ‘Monic’ build a nest and go to sleep. What made my night, and what makes this training program such an important achievement, was that Ganteng also made his own nest for the first time in the forest! Without ever having lived in the wild he performed the most important of an orangutan’s natural behaviours! After we left, he did retreat back to sleeping on top of the pre release cages, but the very next night was he no longer was sleeping on top of the cages, but in his own nest with friends Genang, Kluet and Monic in the area!!!

I cannot express how proud I am of the team implementing this training program and how hard they’ve worked with me on pushing Ganteng a little further. Through a mixture of Animal Training, consistency from staff, regular evaluations and behavioural modifications, and wild orangutan social based training, he has developed so much in the last 8 months!! More than anyone would have expected. Happy moments and a sense of achievement on a grand scale!


What’s Next?

IMG_7803Photo: ‘Ganteng in the rainforest’ – Udin, SOCP Jantho Staff

Well we now hope Ganteng will build his nest and stay longer in the forest without wanting to come back to the pre release station. This will be evaluated daily, as he still is not confident in sleeping in his nest overnight with torrential downpours. However, when it is a nice evening he will happily stay in his nest. So its Time…. Patience…Team Work…and slow natural dispersal with his fellow friends.

Stay tuned for his next step to freedom in 2016!

Jess McKelson,
Pan Eco Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme (SOCP)


*Special thanks to James Askew for helping edit this long blog post. Jantho Team for being so incredibly tolerant of me during this process and having the patience to implement this program, when I was at times ‘demanding’…. It couldn’t be done without your admirable dedication. Its truely appreciative.

PRESS RELEASE Confiscated Baby orangutans arrive safely at Quarantine Centre in North Sumatra

Monday, 16th November 2015


Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme (SOCP), Medan, Sumatra, Indonesia.

MEDAN, SUMATRA, INDONESIA// Three recently confiscated infant Sumatran orangutans arrived safely today at the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme’s specialist orangutan quarantine centre near Medan, North Sumatra, where they will soon be given full health checks and begin the long process of being gradually returned to a life in the wild.

Investigators at the criminal detective unit of the Riau Police arrested three people on Saturday November 7th, 2015, foiling the illegal trade of these critically endangered orangutans in Pekanbaru, Riau Province, Sumatra, Indonesia.

“The first thing they need is to rest and recuperate after their long ordeal.” Stated Asril Abdullah, Operations Manager for the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme (SOCP). “They are highly traumatised by all the travelling they’ve done and all the unfamiliar surroundings and people they’ve encountered these last two weeks, not to mention the initial trauma of being captured, when their mother was almost certainly killed. Being still such very young infants, that can’t have been very long ago either.” He stressed.

Riau police spokesman Adj. Sr. Cmr. Guntur Aryo Tejo said on Monday November 9th that police arrested three people from Aceh who were trying to sell three baby orangutans aged between 6 and 9 months old. “We have named the three people as suspects. One of the suspects is a civil servant from Aceh,” he said as quoted by news agency Antara.

The suspects are Ali Ahmad, 53; Awaluddin, 38; and Khairi Roza, 20.

Police received information from locals who reported that an illegal trade of orangutans was planned in the Palas area in the city of Pekanbaru, Riau Province.

Guntur said after investigating that police identified the sellers and arrested them on Saturday November 9th, while they were waiting for the buyers to meet them in their vehicle. Two of the suspects tried to flee but were later arrested after their car was involved in a road accident.

Police found three baby orangutans in the car, in white plastic boxes.

“[The orangutans] were in weak condition after a long trip from Aceh,” he said.

The suspects told police they had bought two male baby orangutans and one female baby for Rp 5 million each, in Lokoh village in District of Tamiang, in Aceh Province.

“They planned to sell the baby orangutans for Rp 25 million each. We are currently chasing the original seller in Aceh and the person who ordered them in Pekanbaru,” he added.

Police handed over the babies to the provincial Center for Natural Resource Conservation (BBKSDA) in Riau, who immediately requested the help of the SOCP to take over their long-term care and eventual return to the wild.

Ir Rinaldo, Section Head of BBKSDA Riau commented “ We would like to thank the Riau Police, WWF Riau Program, the SOCP and the North Sumatra Conservation Agency for all their assistance with this case and for delivering the orangutans safely to the SOCP Quarantine Centre in North Sumatra. At the same time, we hope this case is not repeated, and that other illegal wildlife traders, so far undetected, are also identified and prosecuted”

Head of the North Sumatra Conservation Agency (BBKSDA North Sumatra) Mr John Kennedie, expressed his appreciation to the Riau Police for preventing the illegal sale of the orangutans. “This should be a lesson to everyone that illegal trade in protected wildlife species is against the law and can be prosecuted. Furthermore, the apprehension of these traders has resulted in the rescue of these three young Sumatran orangutans, a species at serious risk of extinction. They now have a chance to recover and grow and eventually to be reintroduced to a life in the wild. For this purpose we have placed them in the care of the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme, at their Orangutan Quarantine Centre, where they will receive veterinary care and begin the gradual rehabilitation process, to learn how to survive in the forest once again.

Drh Talitha Khairunisa, Veterinarian with the SOCP noted, “Whilst they seem reasonably okay at first glance they need time to rest and rehydrate after all their travels. We will give them a few days to calm down now, and get used to their new surroundings, and then give each of them a more thorough health check. Once we know they’re fit and well we will start to introduce them to some of the other young infants at the centre for companionship.”

Dr Ian Singleton, Director of the SOCP added, “We are extremely grateful to the Riau police and the Riau Conservation Agency and applaud all involved for taking such swift and decisive action in this case. Sadly, however, we’ve seen a marked increase in the numbers of very young infants arriving at the quarantine centre in 2015. This trend is worrying as it shows orangutan mothers are still being killed, and their infants taken for trade or as pets, on a regular and frequent basis. We cannot be sure yet exactly which forests these particular infants originate from, but often the killing and capture of orangutans is greatest in areas where the forests are being cleared, for example for palm oil plantations. It will be very interesting to see if the legal proceedings can identify the precise area they came from, although from what I hear it was definitely in Aceh, probably somewhere within the Leuser Ecosystem protected area.” He concluded.

Sumatran orangutans (Pongo abelii) are a distinct and separate species from their relatives in neighbouring Borneo (Pongo pygmaeus). Only around 6,600 Sumatran orangutans survive in the wild today in Aceh and North Sumatra provinces, where their major stronghold is in the Leuser Ecosystem National Strategic Area.

The Sumatran orangutan species is listed as Critically Endangered by the World Conservation Union (IUCN) on their ‘Red List of Threatened Species’, and as one of the “Top 25 World’s Most Endangered Primates.” The biggest threat to their survival is the destruction of their rainforest habitat, often for large-scale palm oil plantations, and increasing fragmentation of their habitat by roads and agricultural encroachment.

Statement from Riau Police (translated from Bahasa Indonesia)

Director Criminal Detective Dept., Riau Police, Police Commissioner, Arif Rahman Hakim, SH. “We would like to report that on Saturday 7th November 2015 at 22.30 three people were arrested engaged in criminal activity related to the conservation of natural resources, in contravention of National Law No 5, 1990, article 21 paragraph 2a, which states that everyone is forbidden to catch, injure, kill, store, own, keep, transport or trade a protected species.

The arrested are:

  1. Ali Ahmad, 53 yrs, male, civil servant, from Aceh Tamiang
  2. Awaluddin, 38 yrs, male, trader, from Aceh Tamiang
  3. Khairi Roza, 20 yrs, male, private, from Aceh Tamiang

Police report: LP/505/XI/2015/krimsus/ Riau dated7th November 2015

Location of arrest: Simpang Palas, Jl. Lintas Pekanbaru – Minas, Rumbai Pesisir, Pekanbaru, Riau.


  1. One car, Inova, black, registration BK 1156 KB.
  2. Three infant orangutans held in plastic boxes.


On Saturday 7th November 2015 at 22.30, after receiving information from the public regarding the sale of infant orangutans from Aceh in Pekanbaru, The Head of Unit 1, Sub-directorate IV, Directorate of Social Crimes of the Riau Police, Captain Bayu Wicaksono, and 6 agents arrested three men intending to sell 3 infant orangutans. One of the perpetrators, Ali Ahmad, was arrested whilst waiting to carry out the transaction. The other two, Awaluddin and Khairi Roza, immediately tried to evade arrest, driving away in vehicle Inova, BK 1156 KB, but after a short chase, resulting in said car being crashed, they were also apprehended by the unit head and agents. Once these two were captured, a quick check of the vehicle found three infant orangutans in plastic boxes at the rear of the car.

As of now, the 3 perpetrators are being detained, and the vehicle BK 1156 KB is confiscated for the purposes of the investigation.

Meanwhile, the three orangutans, after coordination with the Riau Conservation Agency (BBKSDA Riau; the provincial office of the Indonesian Government’s Ministry of Environment and Forestry’s Directorate of Natural Resource and Ecosystem Conservation, Ditjen KSDAE), have been sent to be cared for at the Orangutan Quarantine Centre, managed by by the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme(SOCP) and BBKSDA North Sumatra, in Batu Mbelin, Sibolangit, Deli Serdang, North Sumatra.”

Editors note:

Article 21, paragraph 2a of Indonesian National Law No 5, 1990, on the conservation of natural resources and ecosystems carries a maximum prison sentence of 5 years and fine of up to Rp 100 million.

The 3 orangutans have been provisionally named by Riau Police as Sultan and Raja (the two male infants, both aged just under 1 year) and Dara (the female, aged approximately 4 to 6 months).

 Photos of the infants at the SOCP’s orangutan quarantine centre attached. Larger versions of these photos are available on request to Dr Ian Singleton, details below.


  1. Asril Abdullah, Operations Manager SOCP. Tel: 0813 70233052 Email:
  1. Drh Talitha Khairunisa, SOCP Quarantine Veterinarian. Tel: +62 857 82361019, Email:,
  1. Dr Ian Singleton, Director SOCP. Tel: +62 811 650491, Email:
  1. Ir Rinaldo, Section Head, BBKSDA Riau. Tel: +62 811 7510501, Email:
  1. John Kenedie, Kepala, Balai Besar Konservasi Sumber Daya Alam Sumatera Utara (BBKDSDA-SU). Tel; +62 812 29695533, Email:
  1. Head of Unit 1, Sub-directorate IV, Directorate of Special Crimes, Riau Police, Captain Bayu Wicaksono. Tel : 0812 1785 7777, email :

Photo 1. Staff BBKSDA Riau (Somad), Police Captain Bayu Wicaksono and the 3 orangutans (Dara, Raja and Sultan (L-R) with keepers from the SOCP quarantine

Photo 1. Staff BBKSDA Riau (Somad), Police Captain Bayu Wicaksono and the 3 orangutans (Dara, Raja and Sultan (L-R) with keepers from the SOCP quarantine

Photo 2. Dara, Raja and Sultan at the SOCP quarantine centre

Photo 2. Dara, Raja and Sultan at the SOCP quarantine centre

Photo 3. Dara in her new cage accommodation at the SOCP quarantine centre.

Photo 3. Dara in her new cage accommodation at the SOCP quarantine centre.

1. Sutanta Aditya (freelance photographer), Tel: +62 812 64618289, Email:
2. Haryono (Reuters), Tel: +62 813 62191966, Email:

PRESS RELEASE Illegally smuggled infant Sumatran Orangutans confiscated by Malaysian Authorities return to Indonesia for return to the wild

From :

  • North Sumatra Conservation Agency (BBKSDA–SU) , Directorate General of Natural Resource and Ecosystem Conservation (Ditjen KSDAE), Ministry of Environment and Forestry, Republic of Indonesia
  • Malaysian Wildlife Department (Perhilitan), Malaysia
  • Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme, Medan, Indonesia.
  • Malaysian Airlines




Medan, North Sumatra, Indonesia; 20th October 2015 : Two young infant Sumatran orangutans illegally smuggled into Malaysia, today returned to Sumatra to begin the process that will eventually see them return to a life in the wild, contributing to the long term survival of this Critically Endangered species.

The two infants, a male and female, aged just around 1 year old and named Citrawan and Bobina respectively by the Malaysian Wildlife and National Parks Department (Perhilitan), were confiscated on July 24th in Bukit Tinggi, Klang, Malaysia. Four men, comprising two locals and two Indonesians, believed to be members of a wildlife trafficking syndicate, were arrested by Perhilitan enforcement officers in the 8.30 pm operation. They had been smuggled illegally into the country via Medan in Sumatra. The protected animals were meant to be sold in Malaysia by the suspects for RM 20,000 each. The case is being investigated under the Wildlife Conservation Act.

Sumatran orangutans (Pongo abelii) are a distinct species from their relative on the neighbouring island of Borneo (Pongo pygmaeus). Whilst Bornean orangutans are listed as ‘Endangered’ by the World Conservation Union (IUCN) on their Red List of Threatened Species, the Sumatran orangutan is considered the more immediately in danger of extinction, with only around 6,600 or so left in the wild today, and is therefore classified as ‘Critically Endangered’.

Today the species’ major stronghold is in the Leuser Ecosystem, straddling the border of Aceh and North Sumatra provinces in the north of the island of Sumatra. The most serious threats to their survival in the wild include destruction of their habitat, primary lowland rainforests and peat swamp forests, which is most often due to conversion to monoculture palm oil plantations, and fragmentation of their habitat by road construction, which itself leads to more encroachment and conversion and also opens access to wildlife poachers.

Infant orangutans still regularly end up as illegal pets, a phenomenon that is normally a direct result of the loss of their habitat and the killing of their mothers. Within Indonesia it is illegal to capture, kill, trade or keep an orangutan under National Law No. 5 / 1990, with potential sentences of up to 5 years and fines of IDR 100 million. The species is also listed on Appendix 1 of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), under which animals smuggled out of their natural range country and confiscated should whenever possible be repatriated and returned to the wild.

Dr Ian Singleton of the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme (SOCP) explained, “We are delighted to get these two little orangutans back to Sumatra, and that the smugglers were apprehended in this case and are being prosecuted. There have been far too few legal prosecutions of orangutan keepers and traders in the past, though we are seeing signs of this improving within Indonesia with two recent prosecutions in Sumatra in 2012 and 2015, and the actions of the Malaysian Wildlife Department suggest they too are also taking a stand. The main problem for the species, however, remains the loss of their habitat and the decline of the wild populations from which these two originally came.”

Ir. John Kenedie, head of the North Sumatra Conservation Agency of Indonesia’s Ministry of Environment and Forestry stated, “We would like to thank the Malaysian Authorities for their actions in this case and the SOCP for arranging the repatriation of Citrawan and Bobina. Indeed international collaboration is essential if we are to effectively address the illegal wildlife trade here in SE Asia and this is an excellent example of governments working closely with NGO’s to achieve that goal. The challenge now is to build on this and reduce the numbers of orangutans and other species still being captured and traded illegally in the region.”

Dr Yenny Saraswati, the SOCP’s Senior Veterinarian added, “We’re always glad to receive confiscated illegally captive orangutans and these two little ones are no exception. But on the one hand its sad that so many still end up as illegal pets or in the trade in the first place. but at least these two now have a chance of a full and productive life in the wild, contributing to the long term survival of their species, once they’ve passed their medical checks and quarantine period and have developed the skills they will need to survive once again in the forest.”

“Citrawan and Bobina are now recovering from their journey from Kuala Lumpur at the SOCP orangutan quarantine centre near Medan, North Sumatra and will be gradually introduced to other confiscated orangutans of the same age once their quarantine period is completed. They will eventually then be transferred to one of the SOCP’s two reintroduction centres in Aceh and Jambi, where they will join other orangutans that have already been released thus helping to build up a new wild population of this critically endangered species”, clarified Dr Singleton.

The shipment of these orangutans to Medan from Kuala Lumpur was generously arranged free of charge by Malaysia Airlines Berhad (MAB). Anita Kushairy, Head of Corporate Communications at MASkargo explained, “This is the third shipment of Sumatran orangutans that we have flown to Medan but these two are by far the youngest. As a member of the IATA Live Animals and Perishables Board, Malaysia Airlines practices strict compliance to the Convention on International Trade and Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). In line with this, we pledge our full support for international government, inter-governmental and non-governmental organizations that are managing wildlife populations and will work cooperatively towards eliminating illegal transportation of protected species worldwide and saving wildlife heritage.”

Gober’s story, great German language film showing the early part of Gober, Ganteng and Ginting’s story

Gober out 04

Although in German its still possible to follow the story and some great images in here. Highly recommended for those following this unique family and all the ups and downs.

Some VERY bitter sweet news: update on Gober, Ginting and Ganteng

It is with an EXTREMELY heavy heart, and immense sadness, that we must report the very sad loss of Ginting; a famous and unique little ‘star’ of an orangutan who touched the hearts of countless fans and admirers around the world. All who knew her personally were heartbroken by the news that she’s no longer with us. Ginting, the daughter of ‘Gober’ and twin sister of ‘Ganteng’ was a VERY unique and special little orangutan and we owe you all an explanation of what has happened.

Gober and Ginting free at last in the forest, January 2015

Gober and Ginting free at last in the forest, January 2015

My apologies too, that this news is somewhat belated now. In the first instance we wanted to be sure of all the facts before we released the news. Then just when I was halfway through drafting this article I also had a mishap, breaking my collarbone in a motorcycle accident on the way to the quarantine centre. Fortunately, that’s the only injury I sustained though, and all being well its healing okay, but it did prevent me from writing anything for a while and my apologies again for that.

Many people are already familiar with the story of this unique orangutan ‘family’ already, but to put these recent developments in context I try here to summarise their journey thus far!

The beginning

Back in November 2008, the SOCP’s vet team was called out to rescue an elderly orangutan female who was blind, and raiding farmers crops in the Sampan Getek region of Langkat, in North Sumatra. The orangutan in question was Gober and she would certainly have been killed by local farmers if not rescued. SOCP vet drh Rachmad Wahyudi and a team from the Orangutan Information Centre (OIC), with staff of PhD student Gail Campbell Smith (who was studying the Sampan Getek orangutans at the time) therefore tracked Gober down in the corner of a small mixed rubber agroforest, surrounded by palm oil plantations, and evacuated her to the SOCP’s quarantine centre for her own safety. We immediately confirmed she was blind due to cataracts in both eyes. We also deduced she was an elderly female, probably over 40 years of age, based on her very worn and not too pretty teeth!

Given that she was blind we all considered that she’d almost certainly never be wild again. As she’d also been a wild orangutan her entire life, we also felt that the rest of her days captive in a cage, especially as she couldn’t see, would be both highly stressful and extremely miserable. It was already clear she was terrified of humans.

Ensuring Gober’s psychological welfare

In an attempt to address this problem, to improve her welfare and reduce her boredom we opted to allow her the chance to get pregnant at the quarantine centre. Normally, we try to prevent orangutans falling pregnant whilst in our care, at least until after they are released! In Gober’s case, however, we knew she was an experienced mother, and felt strongly that the benefits of having an infant to care for would be a huge boost to her psychological welfare. None of us had any doubt it was something we simply had to allow her to do. Furthermore, all being well, we felt there would be every chance for her infant to eventually be released to the wild as well. The decision was therefore made to introduce her to a male orangutan and see what happened.

Ironically, the best male orangutan “suitor” for Gober was also blind and already living in the adjacent cage; separated by a solid wall and a steel door. Unlike Gober, Leuser’s blindness was due to his being shot 62 times with an air rifle, with pellets still lodged in each eye.

Surprise, surprise!

As we anticipated, Gober fell pregnant shortly after the pair were introduced to each other. What we hadn’t anticipated, however, was that Gober’s pregnancy would result in TWINS! Ganteng (male) and Ginting (female) were born on 21st January 2011. Twins are rare in orangutans. In 25 years working with the species, I have only ever heard of around 8 or so cases, almost all of which were born in zoos, and some of them didn’t survive.

Despite being taken by surprise with the twin infants, we carefully evaluated the unexpected situation once we were happy that Gober was caring for both of them. The twin’s father, Leuser, had already been separated from Gober by then, behind the wall again, to prevent any accidents with him grabbing her or the infants through the cage bars. We also had the option to confine Gober to a smaller cage within her larger one, and did that to minimize the risk of the twins falling and injuring themselves during their early months.

Ground-breaking surgery

We still considered Gober would never be a wild orangutan again, but as noted, had not ruled out the possibility of her twins eventually being released one day. But then, in early 2012, we were contacted by a friend who knew someone willing to perform cataract surgery for Gober, and naturally jumped at the chance to try and restore her eyesight! The surgery was performed by leading Indonesian ophthalmologist, dr Arie Umboh Sp.M (K) and the SOCP vet team on 27 August 2012, and was a complete success. Over the following months Gober fully regained her eyesight, increased her activity accordingly, and the twins went from strength to strength.

A chance of freedom?

With these major developments in their story, and as things were all going so well, we began thinking more seriously about the future of these 3 unique orangutans. Prior to her surgery we’d never really considered that Gober could ever be a wild orangutan again. On the contrary though, we always felt that her twins ‘could’, actually have that chance one day. The idea would be to leave them with their mum until they were around 4 or 5 years old, an age that we thought would ensure they gained as much experience and confidence as possible from their mum, whilst still being young enough to team up with other orangutans in the reintroduction project, and learn to be wild with them. But now, we began to realise, there was no longer any good reason why Gober couldn’t also be given the chance to be wild again as well, ideally with and as mentor to the twins! If we could manage this, not only would she be able to live out her days as a free, wild orangutan once again, but if she could also take her infants with her, they would have the best possible teacher they could possibly have, to teach them all the skills they’d need to survive in the forest.


The next question then, was what might be the optimum age to release the twins to give them the best possible chance of success. For Gober we felt the sooner the better, as she clearly still hated people and living in captivity. The twins on the other hand, would have to learn alot from Gober, but with her looking out for them, we felt that 4 years old would be a sensible option. They were already adept at climbing and feeding for themselves, and were also already building basic nests in the cages with leaves. We certainly debated if it might be wiser to wait another year, till the kids were 5, but at the back of our minds also knew that Gober was not a young female, meaning there was an ever-present risk that she could die naturally of old age, at any time. Weighing up all the options, and all possible scenarios, we therefore concluded that the sooner we could release all 3 of them together, the longer the kids would probably have with their mum still around, to protect them and teach them what they needed to learn. Hence we started making plans for their release around the time of their 4th birthday.

The journey to freedom

Gober, Ganteng and Ginting were transferred together to the SOCP’s Jantho Reintroduction Centre in December last year. There they spent several more weeks in cages, acclimatizing to their new forest habitat, new staff, and some of the foods they would find in the forest, before we finally opened the cage doors to freedom in early January this year.

First deviations from the plan

It was at this point, for the first time, things began to deviate somewhat from our initial plans and hopes for Gober and her kids, and we realized that our much hoped for ‘fairy tale ending” to their story may not actually be realized.

Gober and daughter, Ginting, both exited their cage and climbed nearby trees very soon after the door was opened. They did exactly what we’d expected all three to do, but Ginting’s little brother, Ganteng, totally surprised us all by not following and keeping up. He was quickly left behind in the cage, despite everyone’s best efforts to keep the three of them together.

For a fuller account of these first days of the release process see my two earlier blogs:

As you can see from these earlier reports, Gober and Ginting did a fantastic job job of being wild orangutans, whilst Ganteng was resigned to spending longer in the cages, until he too is brave enough to try and make it as a wild orangutan.

After much consternation and considering all the options, we all resigned ourselves to the fact that this was how it was going to be from then on; Gober and Ginting living free, Ginting learning everything she needed to know from her mum, and Ganteng having to play catch up later, when ready to try on his own, without his mum’s care and support. Given mother and daughter’s obvious progress, none of us anticipated the tragedy that was still yet to come. In hindsight, however, life in the wild is always fraught with risk and dangers too, and at the back of our minds we knew you can never rule out all of the potential hazards.

Sad end to little Ginting’s story

Gober and Ginting we’re really doing great. They’d been building great nests, Ginting sometimes even opting to build her own next to mum’s. They’d been. feeding on a wide variety of the wild fruits, leaves and other foods available in the forest and they’d been keeping their distance from people and other orangutans as well. Despite the setback for Ganteng, we were all thrilled to see mum and daughter behaving so much like truly wild orangutans and looking so healthy and happy in the trees.

I saw them myself several times over the weeks following their release and each time got a huge sense of satisfaction seeing them both high in the trees, acting like they were totally at home in the forest and ecstatically happy to be there. Ginting’s future seemed all but assured. She would grow up as a wild orangutan and eventually become a founder of the new orangutan population being established in Jantho. Gober would spend the rest of her days free once again, as she had spent most of her life, only this time in a far better quality, richer forest than she had ever known before. Ganteng would still get his chance eventually too, and with a little luck also meet up with his mum and sister again as a wild orangutan.

Sadly though, our initial optimism was short-lived. It was a HUGE shock to all when the monitoring team found the lifeless body of a young female orangutan in the forest early on February 5th. She was lying at the base of a large tree, near the ridge about 1km north of the cage area. There was no doubt the body was a young female orangutan, but we weren’t 100% sure who it was at first. There were two possibilities, both of which were heartbreaking. One was Ginting, and the other was Mawar.

Mawar is the young daughter of an adult female named ‘Merkati’. Both were rescued together in 2014 from an isolated forest patch surrounded by palm oil plantations in the Tripa swamps, and were released in Jantho the very next day (incidentally, the capture of Merkati and Mawar was featured recently on TV by VICE on HBO in the US, see ‘sneak peak’ here.

Confirming ID

The monitoring team had been following Gober and Ginting extremely closely since their release, virtually every day in fact, and all their movements, behavior and interactions with other orangutans had been observed and documented. There had been a couple of breaks in contact though, mostly due to heavy rains, when we had lost them for a day or two. This event had happened during just such a break in contact.

The pair had last been seen just a few days earlier. They’d been observed being pursued, and harassed to a degree (i.e. approached, chased etc), by some of the males we have released in Jantho. These include ‘Radaria’, a large subadult/unflanged male approaching full maturity; and ‘Seuna’am’, a fully adult male, complete with cheek flanges. Both Radaria and Seuma’am were seen close by during the days prior to finding the little body. The monitoring staff hadn’t actually witnessed any direct physical contact between either male and Gober or Ginting, but it seemed clear both were very interested in Gober, as one of the few sexually mature females in Jantho to date. They also noted that whenever the males were nearby, Gober would quickly grab Ginting and try to keep out of their way.

An ‘all-out search’ was immediately initiated with everyone instructed to find Gober as quickly as possible, and Merkati too if she was in the area. They had the unenviable task of needing to confirm which of these two females was missing their daughter.

Being such young animals, and completely mother-reared, we had never implanted a transponder chip into either Ginting or Merkati, so could not check the ID of the body that way. Nor did either of them have any tattoo, for the same reason. Furthermore, when found, the little body had already been dead for a couple of days such that facial features were no longer recognizable enough for a convincing ID that way either. The only way to be sure was to track down Gober, or Merkati, and see who was missing their daughter.

The very next day, Gober was found resting in a nest very close to a large subadult, unflanged male orangutan known as ‘Harry’ (also rescued from Tripa and released in 2012. His capture was featured in an NBC TV broadcast: Harry was sat feeding happily in a nearby tree.

Ginting, unfortunately was nowhere to be seen, meaning we could finally confirm that it was indeed her little body that had been found. Unsurprisingly this sad realisation was a major blow to all the Jantho staff, and to all those who had worked with and known Ginting since she was born.


Everyone considered Ganteng and Ginting ‘extra’ special! Indeed they were totally unique in the world, being twins born to parents who were BOTH blind. The devastation we all felt, and are still feeling today, really cannot be adequately described in writing.

What I will say though, is how thrilled I was with all the email and text message updates I’d been getting from the staff in Jantho throughout the early weeks of Gober and Ginting’s freedom. I was bombarded nightly with stories of “today Ginting did this…”, “today she did that…”, “we held our breath when she was doing this, or that, or the other….” etc. Everyone who knew these amazing characters had a special place in their heart for them, and was willing them with all their power to do well. I was extremely proud of the whole team. It’s one thing to work in a foreign country and try to save the wildlife that lives there. Its certainly not easy, I can tell you that! But when you see young Indonesians themselves, with no prior history or interest in wildlife and conservation, rooting for individuals like Gober, Ganteng and Ginting, it’s a total joy. It reminds you that there is actually still some hope!

I was personally doubly sad, therefore. First, of course, shattered to lose little Ginting, but also to see the devastation and deflation her loss caused amongst the staff. It’s certainly true that some of the SOCP staff have become conditioned to orangutans occasionally dying, though you never really get used to that either. We don’t lose a lot but there have been a few over the years that haven’t made it, despite all our efforts. That’s reality of course. In a place like Sumatra animals and people get sick and die all the time. It’s the way it is here. Some orangutans arrive with the SOCP barely hanging on. Some of those we lose, but happily some of them do make it too.

Losing Ginting was another thing altogether though. She’d made it all the way through the quarantine and reintroduction process and was already free in the forest. She was a little orangutan that offered so much HOPE, only for that to be dashed one very sad and emotional day in February. It was a big blow for all of us.

What could have happened?

Once everyone had collected their thoughts and started to come to terms with the news, the first thing we did was try to understand what could possibly have happened. Little orangutans do fall out of trees. I saw it myself once in Suaq Balimbing during my PhD research there in the 90’s. One of my assistants in Suaq saw infants fall on two separate occasions before I ever saw it happen myself. One day I was following ‘Mega’ and her 2 year old daughter ‘Meggie’. As Mega reached the top of a large fruit tree she left Meggie hanging on a branch on her own, while she stuffed her own face with fruits. Just a few minutes later I watched dumbstruck as Meggie grabbed a small branch, which immediately snapped, and came crashing (more ‘splashing’ really, as Suaq is a swamp forest) to the ground a couple of metres in front of me. There was then a period of total silence. Think of when the wind is knocked out of you by a fall, and you can’t say or do anything for a few seconds until you’re lungs start to function again. That’s what happened to Meggie. But then there was an almighty scream, emanating from the long swamp grass just in front of me. Amusingly, to me at the time at least, Mega’s first response on hearing the scream 30 metres below her was not to look down, but to immediately look behind her and scour the tree’s canopy. She must have thought it so unlikely that Meggie could fall that before anything else she had to check if that infant orangutan way down there could possibly be hers…which of course it was! On seeing no little orangutans behind her and realizing the scream was indeed Meggie, she immediately hurtled downwards, and I backed away, so she could come and scoop her daughter up to safety again. So as I say, it may not be so common but wild orangutan infants DO fall out of trees, and for sure sometimes they won’t be as lucky as Meggie was.

What seems equally plausible in Ginting’s case, is interference from the male orangutans in Jantho. Gober is one of very few sexually mature females in Jantho. The majority of orangutans we’ve released there to date are even now still only 10 to 12 years old at most, having been released on average around 6 to 8 years of age. Most won’t be sexually receptive for a few more years yet, wild females tending to give birth to their first infant when 15 years old on average. This makes even elderly females like Gober a major focus of interest for the larger males in the forest. Male orangutans are also well-known for “rape” or if you don’t like the term (I don’t much), ‘forced matings’ with females. This can be an aggressive affair if the female resists, ending up with a lot of screaming, shuffling and wriggling as she tries to fend him off. It frequently leads to quite violent slapping, grabbing and even biting, and it’s easy to imagine how a young, naïve orangutan like Ginting could get bitten or knocked to the ground in such a situation.

One of the orangutans I worked with at Jersey Zoo some years ago, a large Bornean male named ‘Giles’, had always been branded as a baby killer by some of the staff that knew him before I did. Two infants born to females whilst Giles had been in the same cage had been killed soon after. Myself I always doubted Giles would kill an infant deliberately, but can easily see how they could have been batted aside or have fallen during one of his amorous episodes with their mother. I’m therefore convinced that most males are capable of ‘accidentally’ killing infants during such forced mating events.

Given that Radaria and Harry (and other males in the area) had been seen taking a close interest in Gober in the days prior to Ginting’s death, and had even been seen harassing the two of them, my temptation is to assume, or propose, that a forced copulation could easily have been the ultimate cause of Ginting’s death. For one thing, as noted, these can be quite aggressive and violent situations, which of course are dangerous, especially when high up in a tree. Ginting also had zero prior experience of such things, and would not have known she was in danger or how to keep herself safe. She wouldn’t have understood that she was at serious risk of being suddenly slapped or pushed aside if she interfered, and hence may not have been concentrating on keeping her hand and footholds secure.

For the above reasons its not so difficult to imagine how poor little Ginting could have fallen from high in a tree, whatever the ultimate reason for that might be. To be honest, its just easy to imagine, and therefore not really surprising at all that it could have happened. Life in the wild is indeed dangerous after all.


We can speculate all we like but will never really know what happened. Knowing wouldn’t really make Ginting’s loss any easier to deal with either, but there is still some hope to be gleaned from this unique family’s story. I’ve been working on the SOCP for 15 years now, often rescuing pitiful little orangutans from appalling conditions under which they would almost certainly die if we didn’t get them. Likewise we also rescue relatively healthy animals on occasions, living wild in patches of forest where they too would surely die if left where they are. Gober was certainly one of the latter, even if she was initially rescued for an unusual reason, being blind and crop raiding to feed herself.

Gober is now a fully wild orangutan, as she was before we ever met her. She now has the prospect of several more years of freedom as a truly wild orangutan again, in a FAR better quality primary forest habitat than she ever had before in the mixed agroforest landscape she grew up in at Sampan Getek.

Ganteng is still fit and well too. Staff are working hard with him and he’s making major progress. He is now far more trusting of his caretakers and is gradually being conditioned to trust them even more before his eventual future release. Very soon we will be able to start taking him into the forest properly and teaching him in earnest the skills he will need to survive in the wild on his own. He also has several new orangutan friends. Wenda and Mikki, both released in 2014 but still frequenting the area, are always coming to interact with him.

We no longer have Ginting, of course, but she will always be in all of our hearts. Not only was she a ‘little orangutan star’ for everyone who ever met her, but also for many, many other people around the world who have followed the story of her unique family, and for those who will learn about them in the future. Ginting’s legacy will be with me for the rest of my life, and I am sure the staff at Quarantine and Jantho will never forget her either.

Ironically, whilst we all thought Ginting was going to have the easier ride to a new life in the forest, we must now focus on her brother Ganteng, who seemed to have drawn the short straw when he was left behind by his mother and sister. I therefore add a note here from Jess, who has been working closely with Ganteng and the staff in Jantho over the last few months and is most up to date on his progress. I won’t get there myself for a little while yet whilst I wait for my broken shoulder to heal!

Rest (or nest) in Peace, little Ginting!

Ginting enjoying the freedom of the forest

Ginting enjoying the freedom of the forest

Ganteng progress update – by Jess McKelson

Over the past 7 weeks I’ve been visiting Jantho regularly to teach the staff how to build a closer relationship and bond with little Ganteng. Using positive reinforcement training and conditioning as a tool we’re all excited to see the little guy growing fast and gaining ‘new found’ confidence and skills that will allow him to become a wild orangutan.

The first step in this process was to gain his trust and get him more used to his human caretakers. He’s had relatively little prior contact with people, even at the SOCP’s quarantine centre before moving to Jantho, as we always wanted him and his sister to be as close as possible to their ‘wild’ mum, and not people oriented. Because of this he was understandably lacking in confidence and extremely nervous when he was first left behind on his own.

The second step is to help him explore the surrounding area, close by but outside the security of his cage. We want him to climb the trees and to interact as much as possible with other orangutans, whilst maintaining our ability at all times to get him back to a safe environment quickly, whenever we need to do so. The ability to call him or direct him back to the safety of the cages is extremely important. On the one hand we don’t want him suddenly heading off on his own before he’s ready, and refusing to come back, and on the other hand, there are some large male orangutans around and we need to keep him out of harms way. He’s not ready to deal with those kinds of risks just yet.

Every day Ganteng is offered a variety of forest fruits and leaves and he really loves eating termites from rotting branches that we collect in the forest! He has also been able to interact with other orangutans who come back or pass through the cage area, like Wenda, Udin, Mikki and others. These social interactions are vitally important for Ganteng to develop and build his confidence further.

Happily he is responding really well to the work so far and is turning into a shining example of what dedication and patience can produce. All of the staff are totally behind him and offering as much support as they possibly can. Consistency and a strict daily routine are making his excellent progress possible and we aim to have him moving and climbing in the trees in the very near future.

The hope is that over time he will naturally follow his wild orangutan friends into the forest, as a natural integration method, with the staff just assisting him from a distance, providing the support and confidence he needs, as and when he needs it. We don’t want to rush him, and will take as long as we need to give him the best possible chance of success in the forest, but we’re all thrilled and encouraged by his progress thus far. And of course we will keep you posted along the way.

As an addendum, I have posted a very short video clip of Ganteng exploring outside the cage and playing with other orangutans. You can see from this how well he’s responding to the staff’s efforts. Take look at the link below:-

Ganteng now much more confident with people due to a lot of hard work by the Jantho team

Ganteng now much more confident with people due to a lot of hard work by the Jantho team

Ganteng making good progress

Ganteng making good progress