Surviving the Odds: Olbert the Orangutan Gets a Second Chance
June 14, 2017 — In April 2016, 11-year-old Olbert was released by BOS into the Bukit Batikap Conservation Forest in Central Kalimantan, after more than a decade of rehabilitation. Olbert arrived into the BOS Foundation’s care when he was still a baby, and under the guidance of our dedicated team was prepared as well as possible over the years for reintroduction back to the wild. However, the ‘new’ natural environment of Bukit Batikap was ready to test Olbert, and present situations he had never encountered during his rehabilitation.
In late September, 2016, the Post-Release Monitoring team from Camp Batikap found Olbert looking thin and suffering from a worm infection. Time passed, and the team, unable to track him for a while, hoped he had recovered and moved far off into the distance. Several missions were undertaken to try and track down Olbert, but all ended unsuccessfully. That was until late November 2016, when the team spotted him again in a poor condition and still suffering from the same worm infection. Medical intervention was needed to help Olbert, who afterwards disappeared again into the forest, leaving the team concerned that he might need additional support.
The team’s worries were affirmed when Olbert was found badly injured with wounds clearly inflicted by claws and fangs. Olbert was moving on the ground, feeding on whatever he could find, but barely able to carry his own weight. His scalp had a large gash, his shoulders were hunched and his back was covered in scratches – it was clear Olbert had endured several violent bouts, we assume from the same attacker. It was a heartbreaking sight to see.
The team rescued Olbert and our vet was able to clean up his wounds. It was evident that a strong animal, most likely a leopard - in particular, an exotic Clouded Leopard (Neofelis diardi), which is one of the smaller cats of the leopard family found in Borneo’s forests – had attacked him. Olbert had learned a tough lesson indeed, but he had survived.
Olbert was taken back to the rehabilitation centre to recover from his injuries. He made positive progress over the following months; his wounds healed and he was soon ready to return to the forest. On April 23, 2017, Olbert was taken back to the forest to be released for the second time. Under a cloudy sky, the team hauled his transport cage from a boat and carried it to a pre-determined release point. Once more, Olbert passed that familiar gateway to freedom; but this time armed with a lot more experience.
Rehabilitated orangutans, like Olbert, must quickly adapt to life in the wild after their release. Foraging for food is only one aspect of survival in the wild; learning to defend oneself is indeed another. While our rehabilitation centres can help orangutans learn the many survival skills they will need for life in the wild, there is no way to fully prepare them to defend themselves in the event of actual physical attacks from predators in the forest.
We have released a total 167 individuals to the Bukit Batikap Forest in Central Kalimantan since 2012. Many of these orangutans have become undetectable over time, mainly due to the battery lifespan of their transmitter chips. Olbert’s case, however, gives evidence to support other theories that suggest some orangutans may have been chased out of range by natural forest predators, or even died in an attack.
Luckily for Olbert, he has been given another chance at making it in the wild on his own. We will be monitoring to see how he progresses over the coming months.
Text by: Gregg Poetra, Vet at Nyaru Menteng
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