Fidelis E. Satriastanti
In an effort to deter people from keeping orangutans in captivity, animal activists and researchers have demanded tough sanctions for anyone keeping the animals as their pets, even after turning them over to the authorities.
“It is most effective if there is an agreement that they [violators] will get a heavy punishment next time,” said Sri Suci Utami Atmoko, an orangutan researcher at the National University in Jakarta. “Otherwise, there will be no deterrent.”
Suci said that people who live in and around plantation and mining areas find the orangutans and keep them. The animals most likely wandered out of their habitats because of encroachment due to growing plantation and mining activities.
The researcher added that the process of releasing orangutans back into the wild takes a long time, costs a lot of money, and that steps must be taken to prevent their being recaptured or returned to captivity.
She added that it costs about $3,500 per year to care for an orangutan that has been in captivity, and prepare it for a life in the wild. That cost does not include health care.
“We are also very disappointed that while we are releasing orangutans back to nature, defendants in orangutan killings are only given sentences of between eight and 10 months,” Suci said. “Where is the deterrent effect?”
Experts say there are 50,000 to 60,000 orangutans remaining in the wild. Eighty percent of them are in Indonesia and the rest are in Malaysia.
Many conservationists have raised concerns that the country’s orangutans could become extinct.
A joint survey by 19 organizations, including The Nature Conservancy, WWF and the Association of Primate Experts, recently discovered that about 750 orangutans died in 2008 and 2009, mostly because of conflicts with human beings.
The Orangutan Reintroduction Center of the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation in Nyaru Menteng, Central Kalimantan, has released 23 of the 40 orangutans scheduled to be released this year.
At the Reintroduction Center in Samboja Lestari, East Kalimantan, only six of the projected 30 primates have been released.
Jamartin Sihite, BOS chief executive, said recently that the problems and high cost of releasing back orangutans to the wild was due to a shortage of suitable land for a habitat.
“There isn’t enough land that’s suitable and free from disruption,” he said.
In trying to secure more land, the foundation had to obtain land concession rights from the Forestry Ministry.
It paid Rp 13 billion ($1.4 million) for the rights to 86,450 hectares of land for the next 60 years, Jamartin said.