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Into the Wild

The world’s largest orangutan center, the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation, helps put orangutans back into their natural habitat.


“BE CAREFUL—IF YOU SEE A BABY ORANGUTAN and look into his eyes, you’ll fall in love,” kids Jamartin Sihite, chief executive of the NGO Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation (BOSF). He then leads the way into the nursery at BOSF’s Samboja Lestari project in East Kalimantan. Inside, nearly a dozen baby orangutans one to two years old happily swing among branches and wrestle with each other in a natural playground near their cages. These infant orangutans are all orphans, and have been rescued from almost certain death in the jungle after their parents were killed, typically by poachers. They are learning the developmental skills in a “baby school,” the predecessor of three levels of a “Forest School” of the BOSF’s orangutan reintroduction program in both Eastern and Central Kalimantan. This program is fighting an uphill battle against habitat destruction and poachers to rescue, rehabilitate and release the critically endangered great apes back into the wild. BOSF currently cares for 806 orangutans, making it the largest orangutan rehabilitation center in the world (versus maybe 50,000 left in the wild). About 75% of the orangutans are release candidates, meaning that they should eventually be able to go back into the wild, while the remaining 25% are long-term sanctuary orangutans that have lost their ability to survive on their own. The organization has 43 orangutans now completing Forest School, in which the orangutans are taken out in to the forest and taught various survival skills, such as how to identify food, build nests and avoid threats like snakes. To “graduate,” the orangutan has to successfully pass through the three levels of self-sufficiency, which upon completion means the great ape should be able Some 75% of the orangutans to survive in the jungle. are release candidates, meaning that they should eventually be This Forest School can take years to comable to go back into the wild. plete, based on each individual orangutan’s progress through the program. “Some orangutans need more time because they spent a longer amount of time with humans and missed out on learning necessary survival skills,” says Wiwik Astutik, the animal care coordinator at BOSF’s Samboja Lestari site. The government’s Natural Resources Authority (BKSDA) provides orangutans to BOSF after they are displaced by habitat destruction or found near villages—21 orangutans were rescued this way last year. In 2012, 50 orangutans were released. This year, Jamartin says BOSF hopes to release 120 orangutans in Central Kalimantan and 20 in East Kalimantan. However, releasing orangutans is not as easy as it seems. BOSF monitors every newly released orangutan from “nest to nest”—orangutans typically build one nest a day high in the trees—for at least a year to ensure they can handle natural living. So far, every orangutan released by BOSF has survived, and the NGO has released over 100 orangutans between 1991 and 2003 (the BOSF was founded in 1991).

“If we save the orangutans, we save the forest”



FROM LEFT: BOSF currently cares for 806 orangutans, making it the largest orangutan rehabilitation center in the world; Infant orangutans are all orphans, and have been rescued from almost certain death in the jungle after their parents were killed.

Lack of funds is one of the biggest barriers for BOSF. “Even though we released nine orangutans last year, we still have a long waiting list of orangutans who are ready to be released. We have the forest space and the orangutans have passed the health checks and Forest School, but for now many are stuck in our cages because we don’t have the budget,” says Wiwik (it costs Rp 50 million to release one orangutan, mostly for the helicopter transportation cost). A lucky few can live on special islands so they don’t have to stay in a cage—yet the numbers are limited due to lack of space on the islands. Excluding releases, it costs about Rp 3.5 million per month to care for one orangutan, resulting in an operating cost of about Rp 2.8 billion a month. Sadly, BOSF has to turn away orangutans because it doesn’t have the space to accommodate them. Even so, Jamartin has high hopes for BOSF. “The biggest challenge we face is getting more support from Indonesia and other countries. I am optimistic about receiving more funds from Indonesia because in 2010, the amount from our country was only 5% of total operating costs, with most coming from our friends in Europe,” he says. But in 2012, that number grew to 28%. Jamartin would like to expand its sanctuaries for un-releasable

orangutans and partner with more companies which can act as sponsors. He also plans to build more orangutan islands and other facilities to house orangutans waiting to be released. BOSF is currently working with one palm oil company, PT Mentaya Sawit Mas, to manage an orangutan habitat within the plantation. BOSF hopes to work with more companies that are a part of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) to help them manage and identify high conservation value forests. Jamartin encourages the idea of corporate biodiversity responsibility. In addition to the two orangutan rehabilitation centers in Kalimantan, BOSF also works in habitat conservation. The goals of this program are to increase sustainable management of natural resources in local communities, identify illegal activities and fire risks, and reforest land along with collecting data on vegetation growth. The conservation program is closely linked to BOSF’s main efforts to protect and rehabilitate orangutans. Jamartin says: “We as an NGO cannot do it by ourselves. We need the private sector and government to see that if we save the orangutans, we save the forest, and it will ultimately affect humanity as well.” F