Banda Aceh (20th February 2013)
A team from the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme (SOCP: comprising PanEco Foundation (Switzerland), Natural Resources Conservation Agency (BKSDA) Aceh, and Yayasan Ekosistem Lestari (YEL) Medan successfully confiscated an infant orangutan on 19th February 2013 at Afdeling II of PT. Socfindo plantation, Sidojadi Village, Darul Makmur sub-district of Nagan Raya district in Aceh province, Indonesia. SOCP field staff first heard about the young male infant orangutan shortly after it was captured on January 26th in an area known locally as Suak Puntung, in the Tripa Peat Swamp Forest of the Leuser Ecosystem, within the concession of the palm oil company PT Surya Panen Subur 2.
SOCP veterinarian, drh. Ikhsani Surya Hidayat said that the infant orangutan was found in a very weak condition due to malnutrition and dehydration. “We already fed him with enough milk and is likely to survive, but he is thin and also has a lot of intestinal worms that we have to treat as well” said Ikhsan.
The SOCP first heard about this infant shortly after his capture. Reports indicate that a group of local fishermen spotted an adult female orangutan carrying a small male infant (less than 1 year old) isolated and trapped in a single tree, some distance from any other trees, making it impossible for them to get away without descending to the ground near them.
The fishermen decided to try and capture the infant, thinking they may be able to sell it for a decent amount. One of the men climbed the tree, pressuring and panicking the female orangutan so much that she eventually fell to the ground. He then beat the mother with timber and in the ensuing tussle she fled to a nearby tree, only then realising that her infant was no longer with her. The fishermen were then able to capture the infant and steal him away from the site, with the mother only able to look forlornly on. Luckily for the mother she managed to escape with her life before being beaten too badly. Normally orangutan mothers are killed in such encounters.
In the end, the fishermen were not as lucky as they had initially hoped, as they sold the infant for just IDR100,000 (USD10.40), to a local medical aide working for another nearby palm oil company, PT Socfindo, living at Simpang Empat, Abdiling II, Socfindo plantation. Once at the medical aide’s house, SOCP staff had difficulty monitoring the medical aide’s new “pet” as it was kept out of sight behind the house, within a fenced yard, but they did later manage to get a glimpse of them bathing it through a gap in the fence, confirming the information they had received.
Dr. Ian Singleton of the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme reported that “It is unusual for us to receive reports of the actual capture of a wild orangutan. Normally we only find out about them when they are spotted already at someone’s home. By confiscating illegal pet infants like this we are able to give them a second chance of a life in the wild, and all being well this one will eventually be returned to the wild at SOCP’s orangutan reintroduction centre further north in Aceh. This case is also relatively unique as it seems the mother also survived, but ironically, she may not survive for long. She is clearly hanging on in an area where the forests are still being cleared and most of her home range has probably already been destroyed, hence she was found in an isolated tree, and not in good forest. By staying there, her own prospects of survival may now actually be worse than those of her captured infant”.
The Tripa Peat Swamp Forests, where this infant was captured, have received considerable international media attention in the last 12 months due to some high profile legal cases brought against palm oil plantations operating illegally there. Tripa’s remaining orangutan population is also recognized as a global priority population for conservation by UNEP’s Great Ape Survival partnership (GRASP). Tripa is also part of the world renowned Leuser Ecosystem Conservation Area, in which more than 80% of the remaining Sumatran Orangutans, a critically endangered species, are hanging on.
Head of the Indonesian Government’s Natural Resources Conservation Agency in Aceh (Balai Konservasi Sumber Daya Alam Aceh / BKSDA Aceh), Mr.Amon Zamora, MSc, added “It is totally illegal under Indonesian law to kill, capture, trade or keep an orangutan as a pet, punishable by up to 5 years in prison and a 100 million rupiah fine (approx. 10,000 USD).”
“For me, the key thing is that we simply must prevent the extinction of the Sumatran orangutan and remaining numbers of this critically endangered species are already very low, with only 6 to 7,000 or so left in the wild. Our children and grandchildren should also have the chance to see the orangutans in the wild,” he said. Mr. Amon reiterated that it is not good, both for the orangutans and for humans, to keep orangutans and other primates as pets, for welfare and health reasons, and it is also very much illegal.
The newly confiscated orangutan has been named Gokong Puntung by SOCP staff and arrived at the SOCP’s Orangutan Quarantine Centre near Medan, Sumatra, on the 20th of February 2013.
To date the SOCP has returned to the wild more than 180 illegal captive orangutans and also rescued a number of isolated orangutans living in tiny forest fragments in Tripa and relocated them to safer forest areas.
The SOCP is one of the projects that the Orangutan Conservancy helps to support.
Edited and links added by Tom Mills for the Orangutan Conservancy.