Releasing rehabilitated orangutans into the wild is not as easy as one may imagine. It takes more than just opening the cages and let the orangutans run into a forest. Remember, these are orangutans who have spent most of their lives with humans. When they first came to the BOS Foundation’s rehabilitation centers, they had lost almost all of their natural behaviors to survive in the wild.
At the centers, we have to train them – for 7 to 14 years – to be wild again. And after going through long and comprehensive stages of rehabilitation and also health checks at the centers, many of them are ready to be released. However, they can never be as forest-competent as the real wild orangutans who have spent all their lives in the forest. They cannot be released in forests where a high population of wild orangutans exists because they will never be able to compete with the wild ones.
In general, criteria for orangutan release include:
- They must be released into an area with either no or a low population of existing wild orangutans (0.1 individual per square-kilometer), within their historic range.
- The forest must be lowland forest (up to 900 m-asl), while we all know that most remaining healthy forests in Indonesia now only exist in high altitude due to land conversion and forest degradation.
- The forest must be secure; as far away as possible from human settlements, yet accessible for our team to conduct the actual releases and post-release monitoring.
- The orangutans must pass a series of health checks. They must be free from fatal diseases, especially diseases that we have not found in the wild (i.e. the orangutans would not be able to find natural cures in the forest).
- Subspecies appropriate locations – meaning East Kalimantan orangutans cannot be released in Central Kalimantan or other forests outside East Kalimantan. Central Kalimantan orangutans cannot be released in West Kalimantan etc. To ensure this, the release candidates must also go through DNA tests to determine subspecies.
So finding a suitable forest as a habitat for orangutans has always been our biggest challenge. Even after they are released, challenges still exist. The newly released orangutans must be monitored closely for at least one year to ensure a successful reintroduction program. In short, orangutan reintroduction is a laborious and costly program. And that is why RHOI and the BOS Foundation need to secure more lands as well as sufficient funds to ensure a long-term success.
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