BOS Foundation: “Unreleasable” Orangutans

Text by: BOS Foundation Communication Team

May 1, 2020 — At our orangutan rehabilitation centers, we continue to prepare hundreds of rescued orangutans for release to natural forests where they can live wild and free. The long rehabilitation process is necessary to help orangutans to develop the natural skills and behaviors required for survival, but it can take many years to complete.

However, not all orangutans complete the rehabilitation process as expected. Those who were in captivity for too long prior to rescue or who have spent too long in human care generally have difficulty in developing their natural behaviors. There are also some orangutans suffering from infectious diseases such as tuberculosis or hepatitis B and C that are susceptible to relapse at any time. Then there are orangutans who we care for who have physical disabilities that inhibit their development, thus eliminating the possibility of their release in the forest.

Hercules the Orangutan in an enclosure

We refer to these orangutans as the ‘unreleasables’. Those with underdeveloped natural skills are placed on our sanctuary islands where, under our watch and with supplementary food provided twice daily, they get the opportunity to live in a forest-like environment. Due to limited space on our sanctuary islands, some of our unreleasable orangutans have to be placed in enclosures. Meanwhile, those orangutans suffering from recurring diseases are cared for in our special quarantine complex, to prevent transmission to the healthy orangutan population.

Badak Kecil Island

Island #6

The unreleasable orangutans are representative of the other side of animal rehabilitation. While we aim to reintroduce as many orangutans as we can back to the forest, the reality is that, of the 430 orangutans we currently care for at our two rehabilitation centres – Nyaru Menteng in Central Kalimantan, and Samboja Lestari in East Kalimantan – around 170 individuals will likely never be able to return to natural forests.

Many of these orangutans have health problems such as obesity, psychological disorders, or exhibit stereotypic behaviours; all attributed to their past trauma prior to rescue. In addition to their daily care, we are also preparing larger island sanctuaries, so that these orangutans get the chance to spend time in habitats that closely resemble a natural forest and live as nature intended – in the treetops.

An unreleasable orangutan in an enclosure

There is always the possibility, however small, that some of these orangutans make behavioural progress significant enough to warrant their release in the forest. We continue our work, hoping for this miracle so that every orangutan can live free in their true home, the forest.

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