The 90 kg Sumatran ape found himself relegated to a small area of forest in the Nagan Raya District of Aceh Province, Sumatra, Indonesia after palm oil companies surrounded the animal leaving him nowhere to go.
Separated from the rest of the Tripa swamp forests and the remainder of Tripa’s surviving orangutan population, the ape was forced to eke out an existence from palm oil seedlings, an act that earned him a death sentence from the very companies that destroyed his natural habitat.
Seuneam (named after the village near where he was located), had been monitored in the field by the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme (SOCP) staff for several days and was rescued in cooperation with a team of experts from SOCP and the Indonesian Ministry of Forestry’s Department of Forest Protection and Nature Conservation (PHKA).
The team in the field comprised of SOCP veterinarians, staff of BKSDA Aceh (the Government’s provincial Conservation Agency) and staff of the Indonesian Sustainable Ecosystem Foundation (Yayasan Ekosistem lestari, or YEL) along with local community members, evacuated the great ape safely and released early him this morning at the SOCP’s specialist Orangutan Reintroduction Centre in the Jantho Pine Nature Reserve in northern Aceh.
In a press release to Digital Journal, head of BKSDA Aceh, Mr Amon Zamora MSc, said:
BKSDA Aceh strongly supports this orangutan rescue and I hope that other orangutans facing similar threats in Tripa can also be rescued before they are killed, or die of malnutrition. Evacuation efforts like this are essential to our efforts to save the Sumatran orangutan and reduce conflicts with local communities. It's a sad fact that orangutans are often regarded as pests by people and plantation companies, as when they have no other food to eat they can and do eat and damage agricultural crops.
Palm oil companies operating illegally in the area are destroying the protected forests, habitat and food sources for the orangutans. Last June, it was estimated that there were now only 200 orangutan
left in the Rawa Tripa areas, a significant drop in numbers compared to 1990, when almost 2,000 of the great apes were registered.
Tripa’s surviving orangutan population is declining fast. At the beginning of October, the Coalition to Save Tripa Peat Swamp Forest announced that they had been fighting for permit revocation
in the Tripa peat swamp area of Aceh for months. But five companies bolstered by financial incentive, still continued to break the law in Tripa by clearing protected forests.
SOCP says they only rescue orangutans as a last resort. Dr. Ian Singleton head of the group stated:
We are always happy to see a successful rescue take place, but these activities are expensive, logistically challenging and also dangerous, for both staff and the orangutans themselves. There is always a serious risk of injury to the animals during capture, especially when they fall from the trees after being anaesthetized.
We would much prefer not to have to intervene in this way and in reality we should not be having to rescue orangutans from Tripa, as it is part of the Leuser Ecosystem, now a protected area under National Spatial Planning laws.
Several of the palm oil companies operating in Tripa are already under investigation for breaking Indonesian Law and one plantation has even be cancelled. But regrettably, forest clearance, drainage of the peatlands and burning of the land continue unabated, so we have no choice but to rescue orangutans when they will clearly die if we don’t.
Drh Yenny Saraswati echoed Singleton's sentiment after Seuneam was released back to the wild:
Rescues like this are not something we enjoy. There are serious risks of injury and even death to an orangutan like this during capture, however good modern equipment and drugs are these days. No matter what you do, orangutans climb higher when afraid, and then fall all the way to the ground. We have had several break bones in the past as a result of falls, even though we always try to get a capture net underneath them beforehand. As a veterinarian, its not pleasant to have to take such risks with an animal’s welfare.
The Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme
is a collaborative programme involving the Swiss based PanEco Foundation
, Indonesia’s Yayasan Ecosystem Lestari
and the Indonesian Ministry of Forestry’s Directorate General of Forest Protection and Nature Conservation
Main activities of the SOCP include:
Confiscation, quarantine, and reintroduction to the wild of illegal pet Sumatran orangutans.
Research and monitoring of remaining wild Sumatran orangutan populations.
Habitat protection and conservation.
Conservation education and awareness raising.
To date the SOCP has returned more than 180 illegal captive orangutans to the wild and rescued a number of orangutans in similar situations to Seuneam; but "it's not the orangutans who should be leaving said Dr. Singleton, "particularly as people were inspired recently by the strong leadership of new Aceh Governor, Dr Zaini Abdullah, when the Aceh Government revoked an illegal oil palm plantation permit granted to PT Kalista Alam."
Unfortunately the SOCP head added, "it is still clear to see that rogue palm oil companies are continuing to destroy Tripa’s remaining forests, creating more conflicts between human and orangutan, and other wildlife."