Orangutans are extraordinary and endangered. Golden Agri-Resources (GAR) works on orangutan conservation with our long-term partner Orangutan Foundation International (OFI). Over the last decade, we have supported the rehabilitation and release of more than a hundred orangutans back to the forest.
In 2019, my colleagues and I had the opportunity to go on an expedition to observe the release of three orangutans. This was a collaboration with OFI, together with Tanjung Puting National Park Office (Balai Taman Nasional Tanjung Puting) and the Central Kalimantan Natural Resources Conservation Center (Balai Konservasi Sumber Daya Alam Kalimantan Tengah).
The process started very early in the morning, with the OFI team preparing the orangutans at the rehabilitation centre and moving them to the transportation area. Each orangutan was placed in its crate and moved to a large boat, called a klotok, to bring them safely and slowly along the river to the release point. We were advised to skip this part as the moving process needed to be done with care to minimise disturbance to the animals during the journey.
We wanted to catch a glimpse of the klotok, so we took a speedboat to reach Tanjung Puting National Park to wait for its arrival. Tanjung Puting National Park is located in Central Kalimantan, Indonesia, and can only be accessed using water transportation. Surrounded by tall trees, the National Park is a beautiful sight to behold.
We reached Camp Leakey first and waited for the klotok. Camp Leakey is a research station located in Tanjung Puting National Park. The research station studies the behaviour and ecology of orangutans, proboscis and leaf-eating monkeys, leech behaviour, and river system ecology.
Not long after our arrival, it began to rain. This made the expedition even more challenging. But the release process must go on.
It took the klotok a few hours to arrive at the camp, and we continued our way to the release point in the rain.
When we reached the narrower part of the river, the orangutans were transferred from the klotok to a smaller boat to enable them to get to the release point.
Due to the narrow waterway, the boats couldn’t move fast. We had to stop several times to shift plants that were obstructing them.
After an hour, we finally arrived at the orangutan release point. The OFI team prepared two locations for release as no more than two orangutans can be released in a single location.
The release had to be carried out at specific buffer zones because the National Park does not allow orangutans to be released inside the park. Large populations of wild orangutans live in the park, and this will prevent any competition for food and mates or the introduction of new diseases or parasites. The OFI team brought food for the orangutans to attract the orangutans out of their crates.
Before the release, the OFI team had a last briefing about each orangutan’s individual characteristics to avoid causing stress to the animals.
After the release of the first two orangutans, we travelled to the next buffer zone for the release of the last orangutan.
After each orangutan was released, we stayed at the location for approximately 30 minutes to check and make sure that they had safely moved into the buffer zone. OFI appointed three staff to remain in the buffer zone to observe the orangutans for the next 10 days. The orangutans’ behaviour and development in the wild will be monitored to make sure that they have successfully adapted to their new environment.
This expedition was like no other. I now understand the long and complex process as well as manpower needed to rehabilitate and release orangutans to their natural habitat. It was a moment of sheer relief when the orangutans emerged from their crates and moved into the forest. I felt at one with nature during my trip—an experience I will always keep close to my heart.
From 2011 to 2020, GAR has released 127 primates. We aim to release a total of 160 orangutans by the end of 2021. Learn how we preserve orangutans with OFI here.
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Audityo Perdana is the Art Director in Sinar Mas Agribusiness and Food’s Group Corporate Communications team. When he is not designing at the office or working on new creatives, you can find him capturing candid moments and telling stories through images and videos, set against the backdrop of beautiful plantations.