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: ‘Ganteng’ – Jess McKelson, SOCP
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.
Photo: ‘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: ‘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: ‘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
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: ‘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: ‘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!
Photo: ‘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!
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.
An article about the reality of forest destruction and orangutans
From the Forest is a new feature on the Orangutan Conservancy website written by those on the front lines of orangutan conservation and research. This month’s column comes from Dr. Ian Singleton of the PanEco Foundation: Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme. OC helps to support Dr. Singleton’s work.
From the Forest: Jantho, Aceh Besar, Sumatra 2011
by Ian Singleton, Ph.D
Conservation in Indonesia is always an uphill battle and it’s often difficult to know if you are ever achieving anything at all in reality.
The opposition, namely crony politics, massive corruption in every level of society and government, and the disproportionate influence on everything here of a relatively few extremely wealthy and powerful individuals and companies, means that a few dedicated conservation NGO’s, with relatively little money and overstretched resources, are always going to struggle.
In fact, it once occurred to me that many of the people we see and read about in the world, hard working and dedicated to their companies as they are, normally get to see the results of their toil directly, whereas we usually don’t.
Think of a large company CEO who is lucky enough to get a contract to build a major new airport. For sure he will be working just about 24/7 for several years, but then one day the job is done. He then gets to cut that ribbon and drink a swig of champagne, followed by a well earned rest before the next multi-million dollar contract comes along.
We in conservation, on the other hand, also work 24/7 for years on end – often for half the salary that a “proper” job might provide us – but we never get to cut that bloody ribbon! In fact, we may not see anything on the ground that we can definitely say is the result of our own labor, and even if we are lucky, we may in reality only be slowing down the inevitable.
Despite this rather depressing outlook, there is the occasional reason for hope that does get us out of bed (or wakes us up in the car half-way across Sumatra) and keeps us going. Just such an event happened to me earlier this year.
In 2009, a decision was made by the Aceh Government stating that they wanted all illegal pet orangutans confiscated in Aceh to be released there in the wild. This was after several decades of a separatist struggle in the region. Since 1998, a civil war raged on, which only ended after the tsunami of December 2004 devastated much of the province. Shortly after, Aceh Province was granted special autonomy status, which gave the provincial government considerable sway over the conservation of its own resources, including protected areas and wildlife conservation.
Given that directive, we began to look for a suitable site for orangutan release. We soon found it in the lush foothill forests of an area known as Jantho, near the northern tip of Aceh, and of the island of Sumatra itself. The site is a protected area of exceptionally rich lowland forest, with an unusually high density of fig trees, one of the orangutan’s staple foods. There is also a river at the edge of the forest that can normally be crossed by people on foot, but is at the same time an effective barrier to all but the most belligerent orangutans. The surroundings of the reserve are also largely open savanna-like areas with no local agriculture. The risk of orangutans released there coming out and raiding farmers’ crops is minimal. In the other direction, the forests are part of the immense Ulu Massen forest block (circa 750,000 ha) and ultimately connected to the vast Leuser Ecosystem, in which around 85% of Sumatra’s remaining wild orangutans reside. Jantho, in 2009, though, did not have any wild orangutan population, and may not have for several hundred years. We therefore considered Jantho the perfect site for the new project and began to build a simple site in the forest with accommodation for staff at one side of the river and some small cages and facilities for the orangutans at the other.
In the meantime, we were accumulating quite a number of Acehnese orangutans at our quarantine centre in Batu Mbelin, near Medan in North Sumatra. The plan was that all orangutans confiscated in Aceh would be released in Jantho, and all others would continue to be released in the Bukit Tigapuluh National Park, at the SOCP site there managed by the Frankfurt Zoological Society, to continue to build up the new orangutan population already established there. So to ease numbers at the quarantine, while waiting for the new camp in Jantho to be ready, we transferred several down to Jambi and freed up some much needed cage space that way.
Finally, in March 2011, the new site at Jantho was ready to receive the first orangutans. On March 28th the Governor of Aceh, Irwandi Yusuf, the Bupati of Aceh Besar, Pak Abu head of the Aceh Conservation Agency (BKSDA) and a host of other dignitaries, local NGO’s, community leaders, and even Prof. Jean Michel Hatt, a veterinarian from Zurich and friend of PanEco, who was at the time teaching as a sabbatical at Syiah Kuala University in Banda Aceh, attended a well publicized media launch of the new centre. The Governor and the SOCP team then drove the first five orangutans into the new site and let them out of their travel crates and into the new cages. This in itself felt like quite some achievement, and it was already clear that the orangutans where highly interested in their new surroundings.
It’s important to understand that virtually all of the orangutans confiscated by SOCP and the Indonesian Government’s PHKA are illegal pets. Most of these are kept in atrocious conditions. A few lucky ones may be loved for the first few days or weeks by their owners, but the vast majority of owners soon get bored, and the orangutans end up crammed into small rusty old cages or chained by the neck or waist to a tree, often with no shelter whatsoever from the sun or rain. Many of these individuals are kept for years in the same cage or chained to the same tree. Frequently the chains used to tie them are never loosened, such that as the orangutan grows the chain gets tighter and more painful. Not surprisingly, the orangutan gets more aggressive too. This means the owner is less and less likely to be able to loosen the chain, as he would get badly bitten. So he simply doesn’t bother! Needless to say, some of these animals undoubtedly die due to their conditions, despite every effort by ourselves to confiscate all those we know about.
For this release, we were focused on five orangutans: Kis kis, Pibi, Coconut, Sangir and Mongki.
Once they were settled in their cages I left them to relax. We agreed that they should have a few weeks of R’n’R before being released to the forest. These five were deliberately chosen as being the most suitable, in that they were a little older than most but also seemed to still be relatively wild. They’d likely make a quick transition to a life in the forest. The timing of these first releases was also planned to coincide with the onset of the fruit season. Luckily enough, this year has turned out to be a mast fruit season in most of Sumatra. A mast fruit season is a phenomenon peculiar to Asian forests, in which just about every tree in the forest, of every species, fruits at the same time. It happens on average about once every five years and is thought to be a way of combating seed predation, as seed predators (largely rodents) cannot possibly eat all the fruits of a given tree when a mast fruiting occurs!
A few weeks later, I returned to Jantho to check all was okay and help with the release of Kis kis and Pibi. On the morning of May 2nd the cages were opened and both were given their first taste of freedom in several years. Pibi was the most adventurous, immediately entering the trees and scaling a 44 meter high tree just behind the cages, like she’d been doing it all her life. Kis kis on the other hand preferred the security of the cage’s metal bars, but he also eventually made it into the trees after a few hours. These two were released first as we thought they would be the easiest to control once out of the cages. To a large extent that proved to be the case. Both returned to their cages that night, tempted by some juicy fruits, and were let out again the next day. Pibi then showed us that she was adept at nest building and has never slept in the cages again since. Kis kis, however, still prefers the familiarity of the cage complex and on occasions returns to the cages to sleep.
Shortly after Kis kis and Pibi were free, Coconut, Sangir and Mongki were also released. These three were never particularly close to people and we wondered if they would simply head off. Despite the best efforts of the field staff, it was possible that we might lose these orangutans in the undulating Jantho terrain. Indeed they did come out of the cages quite quickly, and they immediately headed into the trees too, much as we had predicted. What we had not really predicted and fully appreciated, though, is just how well they did it.
I, along with two of the staff, followed Coconut and Sangir all day that day, and it proved to be one of the highlights of my whole career. Mongki also did fine, but she preferred to hang around with Pibi and Kis kis during her first few days of freedom.
It’s quite some years – thirteen in fact – since I spent every waking hour of just about every day for two years following orangutans around in the swamp forests of Suaq Balimbing, in South Aceh, for my PhD research. So I was keen to spend a whole day following orangutans again at the new site. I was hoping they’d stay in the trees, and not keep coming down to the ground, and that they’d be able to find and eat wild foods and build nests. Indeed, they didn’t let me down, but even I was taken aback by just how well they did.
From the moment they left the cage, neither orangutan set foot on the ground again that day, or to my knowledge ever since. Both found and ate several different fruit species and also leaves and rotan vines. We saw them eat insects too. What was perhaps most surprising was that even though when in the cages they would come and take food from your hand and interact physically, at least Sangir, both of them were clearly concerned and anxious when they came lower in the trees and were in their view too near to myself or the other staff. This was just like wild orangutans often are!
There was a point when they were sitting on a fallen, but still leaning tree, whose roots had partially lifted out of the ground on the slope of the hill, revealing a rich clay-like soil. Humans sometimes ingest this kind of soil for an upset stomach (it’s sold in chemists as kaolin); wild orangutans have been seen to eat it occasionally too, probably for the same reasons. On seeing that, I half jokingly said to the field assistants to watch the orangutans as they might try it, at which point Sangir inched her way to the soil and promptly took a mouthful before returning rapidly again to the treetop. Wow, I thought, how much more like wild orangutans could these guys be? Even I was amazed!
We then continued to follow them, recording their behavior, activity, food intake, etc. on our checksheets. It was late in the afternoon and the pair were now around 700 meters away from the cage complex. Coconut soon began constructing her nest for the night, about 20 meters up in the bough of a large tree, within sight and earshot of the river. Sangir then found himself a suitable site nearby and did likewise. They both made two nests before finally settling down. You could almost hear their brains ticking over as they did what seemed natural, but then decided it wasn’t as comfy as it could be and that they could do better, selecting a new site and new tree for the final product.
We waited for about 45-minutes more before heading back to camp in the dark for some rest before the next morning, and another day following the pair. On the way back to camp I was deliriously happy. I had just spent the day following two orangutans that had been kept in someone’s backyard for several years, followed by a couple of years in the cages at the quarantine centre, some of which was in isolation, but most of which was with each other and with other orangutans. Today had been their first day in a tree, let alone in a forest, for many years, and the last time they did that was almost certainly the day their mothers were killed. Nevertheless, despite this, I had just followed what to all intents and purposes were two totally wild orangutans, behaving as if they had never ever left the forest! I was thrilled.
What struck me most was when I thought about what their life story would have looked like had they never been confiscated.
It’s highly likely they would be dead already, or gone within a year, the rest of their short lives being riddled with worms, baking under the hot sun or shivering in pouring rain, and seriously malnourished from a diet of rice or noodles. Now these two were out there in the trees, free from people (even wary of them already) and potentially with a life of 50 years or more in the wild ahead of them, with who knows how many babies, the founders of a new population of wild orangutans to the north of the existing wild population, and complementing the new population in Jambi. I really felt great that evening, and have ever since. Kis kis, Pibi and Mongki are also doing well and a number of others have now been released to join Coconut and Sangir. They regularly meet up and hang out before parting and exploring the forest further. But it will always be those two, that day, that I remember as the time I finally achieved something tangible for the orangutans here. All those years of work, long days and nights, endless meetings, workshops, emails, proposals and reports, etc., etc., etc.
That day was the cutting of the ribbon for me. If I achieve nothing else in life for the orangutans I will always know that for those two individuals in particular, but also for all those others that follow them, all that work and stress is worthwhile.
Now where’s the champagne?
Dr. Ian Singleton is the Director of Conservation
at the PanEco Foundation: Sumatran Orangutan
Orangutan Conservancy edit by Tom Mills
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