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1000 Orangutans to be released into the wild

15/04/2007 00:00:00 More than a thousand orang-utans are to be released back into the wild as part of a project to save the species. The first 90 of the great apes are to be transported early in 2007 from a rescue centre to a protected area in the heart of Borneo. Two valleys, large enough to support 1,150 orang-utans, have been identified by conservationists as a suitable new home for the endangered animals.
A sick orangutan rescued from a palm oil plantation. © The Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation.
Orang-utans were once common across South-East Asia but are now restricted to Borneo — where there are an estimated 35,000 to 50,000 — and Sumatra, where there are about 7,500.

Illegal logging, mining and the rapid expansion of palm oil crops have caused numbers to drop and the apes are one of the most rapidly declining species in the world. Each year an estimated 4,000 to 5,000 orangutans are killed or made homeless as rainforest is cleared to make room for palm oil crops.

While many of the animals are beaten or hacked to death, conservationists have been able to rescue some of the displaced creatures, mainly the young.

The orangutan’s situation remains desperate, Borneo Orang-utan Survival Foundation UK is only able to rescue, rehabilitate and release a small percentage of the total number of orangutans needing care.

The Betikap and Sepathawung valleys have been identified as ideal homes. They supported large numbers of orang-utans before hunting all but wiped them out. Both valleys in the Murung Raya district of central Kalimantan are now protected by law and are big enough to provide food and shelter for 1,150 orang-utans. ‘They’re ideal for the orangutan and it’s been approved at every level of the Indonesian government,’ said Michelle Desilets, of the survival foundation.
Forest fire in Kalimantan. © The Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation.
‘100 years ago it seems there was a substantial orang-utan population there, but it has been reduced to just a few by hunters.
‘We now have the support of the people in 5 villages in the area. They will keep an eye on the orang-utans and support them. In return, the villagers will get facilities for medical care and schooling.’

The catastrophic fall in ape numbers in Borneo is largely attributed to the palm oil industry, which is clearing land to make way for the crops. Palm oil, derived from the fruit of oil palms, is a lucrative crop and is used both in biofuel and as cooking oil. In the past 35 years Indonesia is estimated to have lost more than 100 million acres of forest, much of it from orang-utan territory in Borneo.

Orang-utans rescued by the survival foundation are sent to a 63-hectare (155-acre) holding centre, where they are treated for injuries and illnesses before rehabilitation work begins. Of the 1,150 apes to be returned to the wild, 600 already have the skills to survive unaided and 550 are estimated to require rehabilitation. Younger animals are taught how to survive in the wild without a mother, while those too badly injured to cope in the forest are cared for.

The cost to rescue, treat and release a wild orangutan is about $3000 on average. If you would like to help to give a wild orangutan another chance in the wild or to find out more about the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation, please click here.

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