Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Rehabilitated orangutans freed in Borneo as species dwindles

Jamur didn't hesitate as the door of her temporary cramped quarters slid open. In less than a second, the stocky red-haired orangutan was savoring freedom for the first time in nearly two decades.

Her 10-year-old daughter J-lo would join her, along with three more of the endangered great apes.

The long-limbed hirsute primates were the ninth set of Bornean orangutans to be released into natural habitat by the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation after years-long rehabilitation from trauma often inflicted by people.

Taken from their sanctuary, Samboja Lestari, to an even remoter spot on the island of Borneo, a journey by road, boat and foot that takes nearly 24 hours, the orangutans bolted from their holding boxes and scaled the nearest trees with astonishing speed and agility.

"Because we love them, we have to let them go, to be free in their habitat," said Jamartin Sihite, chief executive of the foundation, after all five orangutans had climbed into the tropical forest canopy.

"They have a right to live in their natural state and not with people as pets."

The release of the five last week marked the 25th anniversary of the foundation and was done in conjunction with government conservation officials. It is part of a herculean effort to prevent orangutans from being wiped out.

The species, known for its gentle temperament and intelligence, lives in the wild only on the Indonesian island of Sumatra and on the island of Borneo, which is divided among Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei.

Bornean orangutans were this year declared critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature due to hunting for their meat, which kills 2,000 to 3,000 a year, and destruction of tropical forests for plantation agriculture. The only other orangutan species, the Sumatran orangutan, is found only on Sumatra and has been critically endangered since 2008.