Gober and Twins Update – 20 Days On!
As you probably recall, a formerly blind adult female Sumatran orangutan named Gober was released in in the forests of Jantho, in Aceh Besar, on January 5th 2015. Gober, whose eyesight was restored after ground-breaking cataract surgery in 2012 was released with her twin infants, a male ‘Ganteng’ his sister ‘Ginting’. Twins are rare among orangutans but these twins are particularly unique as they were born to parents who were BOTH blind at the time. Leuser, their father, is blind due to having been shot more than 62 times with an air rifle and still has 2 pellets lodged in one eye and 1 in the other. He will certainly live out his days in captivity, hopefully eventually in the SOCP’s planned “Orangutan Haven” facility (see http://www.earth4orangutans.com).
As reported shortly after their release, all did not go exactly as we had hoped. Poor little Ganteng got left behind in the forest and had to be returned to the on-site cages for his own safety. Gober and Ginting on the other hand seemed to perfectly fine in the forest. Gober happy to be free as a wild orangutan once again after several years in captivity and Ginting doing great too, with the best “survival teacher” she could possibly hope to have (see my earlier blog for the full story of the release itself: https://iansingletonsocp.wordpress.com/2015/01/09/gobers-story-formerly-blind-sumatran-orangutan-mother-of-twins-returned-to-the-wild/).
When I left them in Jantho to return to Medan we had not yet given up hope that Ganteng might still be reunited with his mum and sister, but were forced to wait and see how things developed. 20 days later, the following is my attempt at a brief update on how all three of them are doing.
During their first two days out Gober and Ginting ventured as far as about 200 m to the north of the cage complex, finding some of the fruits available there and spending the nights in some large and luxurious nests high in the trees. Ganteng was already back in the cages after one miserable night out alone in the forest. He’d got some decent food into him and begun interacting with some of the other orangutans hanging around at the time, including Wenda and Miki.
Over the next day, Gober and Ginting took a u-turn, and headed back towards the cage area, coming late on their 3rd day of freedom within sight of little Ganteng once again. They were still rather slow at moving through the canopy, but that probably reflected Ginting’s lack of experience in keeping up as much as anything else, and Gober was always patient enough to wait for her. Gober was clearly interested in her son when she could see him from her vantage point and spent long periods gazing towards the cages from her night nest too. Ganteng saw them as well, and vocalized a few whimpers from time to time. The team therefore agreed to assess the situation at first light the next day and if they felt their was a chance that the three orangutans might get together again, they would think about opening Ganteng’s cage door again and see what happened. But the next day Gober and her daughter headed of in another direction. They didn’t go so far, only a few dozen metres south, but Ganteng could no longer see them any more. Gober and Ginting were focused on feeding on “Terap” fruits (Artocarpus spp.). Some of the other previously released orangutans were too, and Gober and Ginting had their first encounters with Wenda, Miki, Ruben, Sachi and Balaram. Each of them approached the two newcomers but Gober seemed to deliberately to keep her and Ginting’s distance from them.
On January 9th Gober and Ginting made a nest for a nap at midday, as usual, but this time Gober then left Ginting in the nest they’d been sharing and made a another new one for herself just 2 metres away. The staff noted at the time that Ginting seemed to be adapting to the forest very well herself by then, moving much more easily through the trees, finding fruits and feeding herself.
Around 6pm on January 11th the pair again returned to the cage area, sitting in a clump of lianas just 10 metres from Ganteng’s cage. By then without his mum for a whole week, he cried when he saw them. But they still didn’t come any closer or show any sign of doing so. Instead they simply watched from afar and made another new nest for the night when the light began to fade.
The staff were optimistic that this could be the chance they’d been hoping for, and made plans to open Ganteng’s cage the next day if the prospects of reuniting them all looked good. So at first light, Wenda and Miki were enticed into another of the cages with a little food and locked in. This was to ensure that Gober would not be put off from approaching the cages and her son by their presence. Then just after 7 am Gober and Ginting did move a little closer, Ganteng’s cage door was opened accordingly and the staff scurried away to observe what happened from a good distance.
After about 3 minutes hesitation Ganteng came out, climbed up and sat on top of his cage. He moved around a bit more, mostly in and out of his cage. He climbed along some of the rubber ropes leading from the cages to the trees too, but didn’t go any further. Surprisingly, he did not seem so attentive towards his mum and sister whilst he was doing all this, despite them sitting just 10 m away watching him.
After half an hour of this, the team decided to open Wenda and Miki’s cage as well, in the hope that Ganteng might follow them as they made their way into the trees. When they first came out, however, the 3 of them simply fooled around and played together a while, and when Wend and Miki did finally move off to the trees he didn’t go with them, immediately withdrawing to the security of his cage instead. At that point Gober and Ginting moved off further into the forest too, so the staff closed poor Ganteng’s door again and gave him some food and bedding to take his mind off things.
By noon Gober and Ginting had already covered over 100 m and were at trail SA 50. They stayed around SA for the next 2 days and then went further into the forest as far as FB 500, near the top of a steep ridge, and then on to PB 250, where they met another orangutan known as Mawasudin, who they then followed to MU 150, about 1.5 km away from cage complex.
Ginting by then was showing signs of increasing confidence as a wild orangutan. Not only was she now finding her own fruits to eat in the trees, she had also learned to process and eat rotan (rattan) stems, just like her mother. This is an extremely useful skill as rotan is almost always available as a fall back food, when other foods are scarce. Its also notoriously thorny and spiny, requiring extremely careful processing to do it safely! Ginting was also interacting a lot with Mawasudin, pulling his hair and teasing him to encourage him to play with her. On the other hand though, she would cry out out if she turned round and found herself too far from mum all of a sudden. Usually though Gober would come immediately and chase Mawasudin away. Based on the staff’s daily monitoring notes, the furthest distance Ginting has been away from her mum is still only about 5 meters.
Interestingly, Gober did not show any obvious reaction towards some distant long-calls heard in the forest. The calls came from Seuna’am, a fully adult wild male rescued and relocated to Jantho from an isolated patch of forest in the Tripa peat swamps, back in 2012. He was up at FB 2400, nearly a 1 km from Gober’s position, trying to chase another large male, Radaria, away from a party of young females, Mongki, Marconi and Ayu Ting-Ting. On January 16, Gober and Ginting also met Marvel, a young male released in 2014, notable as he lost his left foot when an illegal pet due to a chain being too tight around his ankle and cutting of the blood supply. Marvel is doing extremely well in the forest despite his minor handicap,…which turns out not to be much of a handicap at all really! Gober and Ginting where by then also finding and eating many additional new fruits, both in terms of numbers and species.
Back at the cage complex, Ganteng is still fine and seems to really enjoy playing with Wenda and Miki through the cage bars. He also has a very healthy appetite, which is a positive sign. The team are putting a lot of effort and time in to give him more attention and win his confidence. They’re also giving him lots of enrichment and are paying extra close attention to his behavior and progress.
Each night at the camp there is a 10 minute informal discussion after dinner to update each other on Gober and Ginting’s progress and movements, Ganteng’s welfare, and to plan for the next day. There is a real air of excitement and ‘spirit’ amongst the staff since the arrival and release of this unique orangutan ‘family’. They are always talking about how brave little Ginting was when so high in the tree, how she moved this way or that to get the new fruits, and how concerned they were during the heavy rain that she might fall, so they gathered under the tree ready to catch her etc. Its easy to see how the Jantho team are impressed by Gober, who has gone through so much in her life, and is still doing such a great job as a wild orangutan and as a teacher for Ginting. They’re also concerned to make sure Ganteng is okay and getting over his separation.
I guess its not impossible that Ganteng met get back with his mum and sister sooner rather than later, but the longer it goes without happening, the more likely it is to be later rather than sooner. Without his mum, we need to wait quite some time I think before we try to release him again properly. The first thing we need to do is really gain his confidence and trust. As noted in the earlier blog, Ganteng and Ginting have never been close to people and remain suspicious when approached too close. The next time we try and get Ganteng out of the cage and into the forest on his own, we need to be sure we can monitor him closely and give him extra food, and get him back to safety if it doesn’t work out. Ideally we’d be able to take him out during the day and return him at night, and gradually enable him to learn the skills he needs that way. But we need to build his trust in the staff first, before we will be able to do that and that will take several months at the very least.
NOTE: This account is based on notes made on January 19, 2015, using the daily field observations of Mukhlisin and the rest of the SOCP’s Jantho team.