Only 6,300 Sumatran Orangutans are left in the wild. They are under serious threat of extinction due to illegal logging of their rainforest habitat and poaching for the illegal pet trade. Without human intervention to halt the disappearance of their habitat and repopulate remaining rainforests, the species is likely to become extinct.
The Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme in Bukit Tigapuluh in Sumatra, Indonesia, reintroduces ex-pet and orphaned orangutans into the wild. Bukit Tigapuluh National Park and its surrounds are located in the province of Jambi in eastern Sumatra. It contains the most intact examples of the entire mega fauna of Sumatra (Sumatran Tiger, Sumatran Elephant, Sun Bear, Tapir, possibly still Sumatran Rhinoceros and, now, reintroduced Sumatran Orangutan).
Eight Wildlife Protection Units are employed to protect the Bukit Tigapuluh ecosystem as well as prevent poaching of the orangutans and other animals.
Many local people are employed by the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme and local school programs are also funded through it. The Indonesian Government supports the project.
More than 135 orangutans have been released at Bukit Tigapuluh since the program began in December 2002 and there have even been some births in the rainforest, a sign that the population is growing. Orangutans had been extinct at Bukit Tigapuluh since the 1830s. The reintroduction program aims to re-establish a new population in the area.
Perth Zoo Orangutan Releases
Perth Zoo is part of a regional breeding program for the critically endangered Sumatran Orangutan and is considered a world leader in breeding this highly threatened species. Since 1970, 29 orangutans have been born at Perth Zoo. As well as its excellent breeding record, Perth Zoo makes a significant contribution to the conservation of this species in the wild.
In 2006, Perth Zoo made history with the release of 14-year-old, Perth Zoo-born Sumatran Orangutan Temara into Bukit Tigapuluh as part of the reintroduction program. Temara was the first zoo-born orangutan in the world to be released into the wild.
This was followed in 2011 with another world-first, the first release of male zoo-born Sumatran Orangutan Semeru into the wild on 1 November. He became the first male zoo-born orangutan to be released into the wild.
The release of Perth Zoo born orangutans provides the opportunity to increase the numbers and genetic diversity of the reintroduced population. All of the other orangutans released at Bukit Tigapuluh under the reintroduction program are rescued ex-pet and orphaned orangutans.
The rescued ex-pet and orphaned orangutans in the program are kept in a large complex in the rainforest where their personality and potential forest skills are assessed. Some orangutans are involved in ‘jungle school’ where they are taken into the forest daily with keepers and encouraged to climb, feed on forest fruits and leaves and build nests.
After release, orangutans are monitored by trained Indonesian trackers who gauge their adaptation to living in the wild. Their return to the wild is considered successful if they meet five criteria:
- ability to make a nest
- ability to find food and water
- ability to navigate their territory
- stay up in the trees
- have appropriate interactions with other orangutans.