Samarinda. Three orangutans formerly kept as pets have been handed over by the East Kalimantan Natural Conservancy Office to the Samboja Lestari orangutan rehabilitation center on Thursday.
“We have handed over three orangutans who have been rescued by residents at three different locations to the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation which are concerned over orangutan protection in Samboja, Kutai Kartanegara,” said the head of the conservancy office, Tandya Tjahjana.
The orangutans, transferred to the new facility over the weekend, consisted of one male aged between 1 and 2 years, and two females — one aged 3 to 4 years and the other 4 to 5 years.
The primates, he said, had been kept as pets for at least one year, but the captivity may have lasted up to three years.
Suwardi, an official from the Samboja Lestari center, said that the three orangutans will first be put into quarantine for some time and will undergo several stages of training before they can be released into nature again.
“Orangutans whose natural traits have almost disappeared need to be taught again, including how to climb trees, prepare nests and socialize with other orangutans,” Suwardi said.
The male orangutan was rescued from a palm oil plantation in Muara Wahau, Kutai Kartanegara. One of the female orangutans was found in a private plantation in Sangatta, while the other was voluntarily released by residents in Samarinda to the Mulawarman State University, which then handed it over to the nature conservancy office.
“The essence is that these orangutans have been displaced from their habitat because of encroaching massive palm oil and mining operations,” Tandya said.
He added that if nothing was done to prevent the spread of the mines and plantations, there would soon be no more orangutans left in the wild. He added that the government should take action to protect the animals’ habitats.
Tandya said that several recent cases of cruelty against orangutans has helped raise public awareness of the need to protect these animals, as evident by recent voluntary actions by residents.
“There have been now several cases of residents handing over orangutans because they learned that it is illegal [to keep them]. They said they would report any finding of orangutans to the security officers. This is very good and needs to be continuously supported by the regional government,” he said.
Indonesian law punishes anyone caught hunting or trapping orangutans with up to five years in prison and a fine of up to Rp 100 million ($10,400).
Experts say there are 50,000 to 60,000 orangutans remaining in the wild. Indonesia is home to 80 percent of them, residing only in the rainforests of Borneo and Sumatra, with the remainder living in Malaysia.
Many conservationists have raised concerns that the country’s orangutans may soon become extinct.
A joint survey conducted by 19 organizations, including the Nature Conservancy, World Wildlife Fund and the Association of Primate Experts, recently revealed that about 750 orangutans died in 2008 and 2009, mostly due to conflicts with humans.