Rescuers in West Borneo have saved the life of an orangutan stranded in a small fragment of forest after the surrounding area was destroyed by fire.
The West Kalimantan Conservation Agency (BKSDA) and International Animal Rescue (IAR) Indonesia carried out the emergency rescue operation in the village of Tanjungpura, Muara Pawan in Ketapang District on 28th September. The large male, named Junai by the rescue team, is estimated to be more than 20 years old.
Land and forest fires are one of the most serious threats to the orangutans’ survival. Destruction of their habitat leaves them homeless and hungry, forcing them to venture into gardens and villages in search of food. This often leads to conflict between orangutans and local people. Cooperation from local communities in reporting the presence of orangutans is vitalif these animals’ lives are to be saved.
In the case of Junai, villagers in Tanjung Pura reported their sightings of him to the International Animal Rescue centre inKetapang. A team from IAR’s Orangutan Protection Unit (OPU) went the same day to verify the report. The large cheek-padded male was found stranded in a patch of forest where most of the surrounding area had already been burnt. Theassessment by the OPU observation team, combined with analysis and mapping of the surrounding vegetation carried out using drones, confirmed that the orangutan couldn’t be driven back to his habitat because fire had left it burnt or fragmented. It was agreed that the only way to save him was to translocate him.
Junai was perched high up in a tall tree and unable to reach any other trees because there were so few remaining. The rescue team used a dart gun to anaesthetise him and captured him without incident.
During the initial veterinary check-up it was noted that the orangutan is blind in his left eye. He was taken back to IAR’s centre for further examination and will receive medical treatment and care until he is deemed fit to be released into a protected area of forest.
During a period of less than two weeks IAR Indonesia and BKSDA Kalbar have rescued four orangutans whose forest home has been destroyed by fire. The number suggests that there could soon be many more orangutans in need of help, in what some fear could be a repeat of the devastating forest and land fires in 2015.
IAR Indonesia has worked with the BKSDA for more than six years and formed a team Orangutan Protection Unit (OPU) which cooperates with community villages in Ketapang and Kayong North in areas where human-orangutan conflict often occurs. There are already dozens of people partnering with the OPU in five villages. Fortunately, one of the villages which has an orangutan conflict partner team is Tanjung Pura Village, where Junai was found.
The OPU and Partners team is equipped and trained to undertake mitigation of conflict with orangutans and has the experience to repel or drive orangutans back to their habitat. “We have a team of partners set up in villages where the risk of human-orangutan conflict is high,” said Argitoe, Field Manager of IAR Indonesia. “With partnerships like this, orangutans can still be saved and left unharmed by the people here. But becausethe forest in the surrounding area has already all been burnt, we have no alternative but to capture the orangutans and translocate them into forest where they will be safe.”
The Head of West Kalimantan BKSDA, Sadtata Noor, said: “Settlement of human-animal onflicts requires policies that aremore comprehensive and long term. Rescue operations or even relocation do not answer the long-term needs of wildanimals. For this reason the government, together with partners and the community, must be more courageous when discussing formulating concrete steps in the field that will answer the problem of such conflict. And there’s no time to waste!”
Karmele L Sanchez, IAR Indonesia Programme Director, said: “We rely on collaboration and cooperation from the community to ensure that orangutans that stray into gardens or residential areas are not harmed or killed.We greatly appreciate the cooperation of Team Partners and the local community who immediately reported the existence of the orangutan so that the Rescue Team from the BKSDA and IAR Indonesia was able to intervene and save the orangutanas well as protecting people’s gardens from damage.”
Alan Knight, IAR CEO, concluded: “We applaud the Tanjung Pura community for alerting us to the presence of this magnificent male orangutan, enabling the rescue team to step in and avert a potential human-wildlife conflict. Land and forest fires pose a very serious threat to orangutans’ lives and this Critically Endangered species needs all the help it can get if it is to stand any chance of survival.”
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