Nest in Peace, Nadya…

30 July 2018 — It is with a heavy heart that I write this post, but we have some very sad news to report from Sumatra. Nadya has passed away....

Nayda was a beautiful little orangutan and we are absolutely devastated from this unexpected news. She was confiscated by the authorities in June 2014 and was estimated to be around 2 years old at the time. Her mother had been murdered when their forest home was cleared and she was being kept illegally by villagers in Aceh, Sumatra.

Over the past four years we saw Nadya develop from a timid baby into a confident young lady. Together with her friends she progressed steadily through the stages of rehabilitation. This past April, Nadya and her best friend Bulan were taken from the SOCP quarantine center near Medan to the remote Jantho release site so they could continue their Forest School rehabilitation in a natural setting. To date, more than 80 orangutans have been successfully released into Jantho from the main quarantine so there is a strong track record to build on.

Upon arrival at the Forest School site, Nadya and Bulan quickly began to adapt to life in the trees. They were monitored daily by experienced SOCP staff and both were seen to be foraging for wild foods and moving steadily through the treetops. They were seen eating more than 15 distinct wild foods— a very good sign of adjustment to life in the wild.

Bulan was the more confident of the two when it came to brachiating and Nadya would follow him through the trees in a roundabout route. However, as they both lacked a full experience of growing up wild in the forest, it was clear that each of them needed more time to learn how to be wild.

The staff and field veterinarian were always on hand to assist or provide extra food if necessary. Nadya was actively learning from Bulan, who was experimenting and foraging on different forest fruits, which she would then also follow suit and try herself. One exception was in nest-building, where Nadya was the expert and Bulan the student. Nest building is an extremely important daily activity in a wild orangutan's life which helps keep them safe in the forest.

Throughout the month of May 2018 the staff noticed that Bulan and Nadya weren't making new nests every night, as wild orangutans do. Instead, they would sometimes sleep in ferns down below. In a wild setting this is extremely dangerous behavior as there are dangerous predators roaming around the forest at night. Staying high in the canopy also keeps orangutans away from many insects.

The staff continued to observe their nest building habits and in June they were once again seen making new nests and even re-using old nests, so the issue seemed to have resolved itself. Otherwise there were no signs of illness or any other unexpected behavior. All regular fecal tests in June came back negative for any parasitic infections for both orangutans.

Bulan and Nadya were once again observed to be healthy and physically active. Then, on July 8th, Nadya suddenly appeared weak and inactive. (Bulan was fine.) The monitoring team quickly brought her to an on-site treatment cage so that she could be cared for and observed by Jantho Field Veterinarian Dr. Pandu.

When her condition did not improve, the decision was made to evacuate Nadya back to the SOCP Quarantine and Rehabilitation Centre in Medan. This is standard operating procedure and has been done in the past with other orangutans who have been released in Jantho.

Nadya arrived at the quarantine on the morning of July 15th and immediately began receiving intensive care by SOCP's veterinary team. The treatment was not enough, however, and her condition began to rapidly deteriorate.

On July 17th at 6:30 in the evening Nadya passed away. A post-mortem was conducted by the SOCP veterinary team, accompanied by staff from the Government BKSDA Conservation Authority. The resultant diagnosis was bronchopneumonia and malaria.

While malaria is not common in either the areas surrounding the Jantho orangutan reintroduction center or the main quarantine center near Medan, it is always present, and while the chances of orangutans contracting the disease are small, it is an ever-present risk—as it is for the human population.

We always recognize that not every orangutan who is rescued and eventually released back into the wild is going to survive, and however hard it is sometimes, we are always aware that we will lose some along the way. Death is in fact a very real part of life— even more so in the case of wild orangutans.

Nadya's death has to be balanced against the larger picture of orangutan conservation. The orangutans who are confiscated almost always ended up as pets due to the killing of their mothers, which most commonly occurs in areas where there is large scale destruction of their habitat, typically during conversion for palm oil plantations, which ultimately results in the death of most of the orangutans (and other species) that were living there. Those orangutans who end up as pets are, therefore, the “lucky survivors” of habitat loss.

Illegal pets are also normally kept in extremely poor conditions, either in tiny cages or chained by the neck, with extremely poor diet and nutrition, and zero veterinary care. Those who are confiscated and later cared for at the SOCP quarantine center are, therefore, fortunate and, again, the "lucky survivors”.

Of these, the vast majority do extremely well at the quarantine, quickly regaining their health and fitness in addition to a renewed enthusiasm for life, especially when they are introduced to other orangutans again. When later released to the wild, again, most of them do very well.

Some take to the forest like they never left, especially those who have not been in captivity too long. Other may take many months or even years to gradually get used to being wild orangutans again. And sadly some do not make it, succumbing to illnesses or injuries during this new learning process.

The fact that the majority do make it, though, and go on to live full lives and even have several infants of their own, making a significant contribution to the new wild orangutan populations we are gradually creating, must therefore be balanced against the fact that many die along the way, either during the loss of their habitat, while being kept illegally as pets, and regrettably a few like Nadya, during the process of rehabilitation and reintroduction.

For us at Orangutan Outreach and SOCP, witnessing the continued destruction of forests and mistreatment of captive orangutans, those few ‘orangutan pioneers’ who don’t make it are the price the species has to pay for those who DO, and become truly wild orangutans— the founders of new wild populations of their species.

There is no greater thrill, and reward, than to see an orangutan high in a tree, several years after they were released, looking down at you without caring if you are there or not, and especially if they happen to be nursing an infant of their own, conceived and born in the wild— knowing that the only reason they and their infant are there, is because you made it happen! When viewed in this context, extremely sad and bitterly disappointing as it always is, the benefits of all the hard work that goes into the reintroduction work we do, for those free individuals, their infants and their species as a whole, far outweigh the costs that some individuals must bear to enable it to happen.

So, while the loss of Nadya is extremely heartbreaking on so many levels, the benefits of the reintroduction program for those who do make it— and for the species as a whole— helps lessen the pain of the few losses on the way...

Nadya is now nesting in peace. We choose to believe she is in a better place now, once again where she belongs: in her mother's arms, high in the forest canopy, invisible to anyone who might do her harm.

Thank you again for adopting Nadya. It is only through your generous support that we were able to give her the best possible chance at life in the wild.  We are grateful and hope you will choose to continue your support for SOCP's valuable work by adopting one of Nadya's friends....

Please contact us to discuss how you would like to proceed.

Orangutan Outreach & SOCP {:(|}