An isolated young female Sumatran orangutan was rescued by a team from the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme (SOCP) and the Aceh Conservation Agency (BKSDA Aceh) of Indonesia’s Ministry of Environment and Forestry, from a tiny fragment of forest surrounded by a palm oil plantation in the Tripa peat swamps, part of the world renowned Leuser Ecosystem in northern Sumatra, Indonesia.
The orangutan first had to be captured from the tree tops by the team, which included SOCP veterinarian drh Pandu Wibisono and SOCP Operations Manager Asril, using an anaesthetic dart fired from a specially designed rifle. After being successfully rescued, newly named Zaskia was found to be around 7 years old and weighing only around 20kg, a clear sign of her malnutrition due to having almost no natural food available.
As Asril commented, “Normally we don’t want to capture wild orangutans but in exceptional circumstances we feel we have no choice. In cases where we know the animal is going to die or be killed if we don’t get them, then of course we do our best to get them out of there and move them to somewhere safe.”
Zaskia was then taken to the SOCP’s orangutan reintroduction center in Jantho, Aceh Besar, in a protected Nature Reserve with abundant natural food in the forest, where she will join over 90 other orangutans already released there.
Dr. Ian Singleton, Director of the SOCP commented, “Capturing free living wild orangutans goes against the logic of the conservation goals we are trying to achieve, to keep as many wild orangutans living free in their natural habitat as we possibly can. But in cases like Zaskia’s, where we know she will be killed we really have no choice but to try and help them. She is now joining the new population, she will probably live a long life in the wild there and hopefully she will produce several infants during her lifetime, making a major contribution to the new population being established in Jantho.
Genman Hasibuan, S. Hut. MM, Head of BKSDA Aceh added, “Sumatran orangutans are a legally protected species in Indonesia, with fines of up to Rp 100,000,000 and prison terms of as much as 5 years for anyone caught killing, capturing, keeping, or trying to sell one. We have already prosecuted a number of people over the last few years and will continue to do so if the illegal capture and killing of orangutans does not stop. We hope these prosecutions will act as a deterrent to anyone thinking of capturing or killing an orangutan and for anyone who is offered one as a pet.”
The Tripa peat swamp forests and the Leuser Ecosystem in which they lie have both been in the news regularly over recent years. Tripa came to the world’s attention in 2012 when huge fires ripped through large scale oil palm plantations, devastating local biodiversity and releasing huge amounts of carbon into the atmosphere. These events led to several legal challenges against the companies by local NGO’s and by Indonesia’s Ministry of Environment, resulting in large fines and prison terms being handed out to the offenders. The 2.6 million hectare Leuser Ecosystem is also the subject of a civil lawsuit against Indonesia’s Ministry of Home Affairs and the Governor and parliament of Aceh province, due to fact that despite it being a National Strategic Area under National Law, which then requires its inclusion in all levels of spatial land use plan, it is not mentioned at all in the Aceh provincial spatial land use plan a fact that both National and provincial government already acknowledge renders the plan an illegal document.
Since 2001 the SOCP has reintroduced over 180 confiscated illegal pets to the wild at the edge of the Bukit Tigapuluh National Park in Jambi Province and over 90 in the forests of Jantho, Aceh Besar, establishing two entirely new wild populations of this critically endangered species.
The Orangutan Conservancy is pleased to help support the work of SOCP.