Photos of Shila and Desi and their babies.

Two Rehabilitated and Released Orangutans Observed with Babies in Indonesia

Mostly, the news featuring orangutans is very depressing. In just sixteen years (1999-2015), wild Bornean orangutan populations have declined by over 100,000 according to a recent estimate. CITES reports that the Bornean orangutan population (changed to “critically endangered” in 2016) has declined by 86% since 1950 with habitat loss being a major driver of population declines. In the midst of all this depressing news, International Animal Rescue (IAR) recently reported that Shila and Desi, two female orangutans rehabilitated at the IAR conservation center in Ketapang and then released a few years ago into the Bukit Baka Bukit Raya National Park (TNBBBR), have given birth.

Ten-year old Shila was released in June of 2017 after spending over two years in rehabilitation and 9-year old Desi was released in November 2016. In mid-2020, Shila (who has been closely observed and monitored since her release) was seen with her new baby (named Surya by the Indonesian Minister of Environment and Forestry) just days after he was born. A short while later, Desi was also seen with a very young male baby (named Dara by the Minister).

The birth of two babies to rehabilitated and released female orangs is a very significant event because it indicates that orangutan rehabilitation procedures can lead to successful releases into wild forests (IAR has released 46 orangutans to date). [A few years ago, the Chimpanzee Conservation Centre in Guinea was also very excited when a released female chimpanzee who had successfully joined a wild group was observed with a baby.]  The Director of the IAR Indonesian program, Karmele Sanchez, commented that the birth of these babies is “not the happy ending to the reintroduction programme.”  Rather, he said, it is “the beginning of the formation of new generations of wild orangutans” in TNBBBR.

Alan Knight OBE, CEO of IAR, congratulated the IAR team and the various Indonesian organizations for their part in this success story which, he said, “comes at a time when we can all do with some positive news to lift our spirits. Let’s hope it signals the start of an orangutan baby boom” in the TNBBBR.

IAR is a relatively small international animal protection group but they have a track record of identifying a program area and then sticking with it. For example, in 2002, IAR identified the dancing bear trade as a practice to target. They teamed up with Wildlife SOS in India and Free the Bears in Australia and reached out to the Kalendar community (a community who captured the bears and then took them on the road to perform for money). By 2009, IAR and their NGO partners had gained the trust of the Kalendar community and the practice of dancing bears had ended. Today, the remaining bears are living comfortably in sanctuaries in India and members of the Kalendar community have been trained in new life skills.

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