In Sumatra, Zoo Zurich, in partnership with the PanEco Foundation and local partners, is committed to nursing orphaned and injured orangutans back to health. The goal is to release the animals back into the wild and to create two self-sustaining populations there which contribute to the preservation of the endangered species. In addition, research and international publicity work make an important contribution to preserving the rainforests on Sumatra.
Overview of the Sumatra conservation project (short version). Video: Zoo Zürich, naturemovie.ch
It is prohibited by law in Indonesia to capture orangutans. Despite this, very young babies are often illegally kept as pets. They are a by-product of the destruction of the rainforests whereby large companies burn giant areas along with everything living inside. Sometimes a mother with its young survive on a single tree. While the workers kill the mother, they taken the young animal with them and keep or sell it. The biggest driver and the real cause of the loss of animals and habitats is therefore the palm oil industry. The orangutan population has been estimated as 14'000 animals and they are therefore threatened with extinction according to the Red List of Threatened Species.
The Sumatra conservation project (long version). Video: Zoo Zürich, naturemovie.ch
At the rescue and care station in Batu Mbelin, an experienced team looks after the confiscated orangutans. The animals, which are often only a few months old, suffer from malnutrition and illnesses. In a first step, the team provides medical attention for the rescued orangutans and looks after them, if necessary, around the clock. On the one hand we finance the medical care and on the other we train wildlife veterinarians at the University of Aceh.
At the rescue and care station, more than 380 animals have been in part extensively looked after to date. Photo: Stiftung Paneco, Maxime Aliaga
In the next phase, the looked-after animals will be prepared for an independent life in the wild. The young animals usually acquire knowledge of the rainforest from their mothers in the first seven years of their lives. Depending on the animal, the preparation phase before release into the wild can last for several years at Batu Mbelin too.
Survival in the rainforest also includes being able to correctly assess the strength of a branch. Photo: Zoo Zürich, Claudia Rudolf von Rohr
The care team practices climbing with the orangutans in the rainforest school and introduce them to animals of the same species. The animals can learn mutually from one another in this way. The orangutans also practice to build their nest for the night, to search for appropriate food and to process this.
Insight into the rainforest school for orangutans at the sanctuary in Batu Mbelin. Video: Zoo Zürich
As soon as an orangutan is ready to return to the wild, he travels to Jantho 800 kilometers away. Here – and also in a second region in the south - it is the goal of our project to established a new orangutan population with at least 250 animals which can sustain themselves. To date, more than 120 animals have already settled in Jantho.
Marconi and Masen are a symbol of hope for the new orangutan population. Photo: Stiftung Paneco, Maxime Aliaga
It was a moment of great joy in 2017 when the research assistants discovered the first fruits of their endeavors: After seven years in which orangutans were reintroduced to the wild in Jantho there was the first offspring and shortly after that followed a second - a male and a female named Masen and Mameh. The first generation from parents reintroduced into the wild was therefore born.
Retrieved orangutans in the Jantho Nature Reserve. Video: Zoo Zürich
Our commitment does not end where the animals are reintroduced to the wild and left to themselves, however. During the first few months in particular, a research team carefully observes the behavior of the orangutans. The so-called Post Release Monitoring Team, the training and salaries of which we finance, follows the newly released animals and documents behavior throughout the entire day.
The research assistants document the condition of the animals and their habitats. Photo: Stiftung Paneco
The data acquired provide important insights into the still largely unknown lives of orangutans which have been reintroduced to the wild. Therefore, the further development of the reintroduction of orangutans to the wild, whereby PanEco and its partners are performing important pioneering work, is a part of the overall project.
An additional focus of our project lies in fighting against deforestation of habitats for the orangutans and other threatened species. Every year, an area as large as a quarter of Switzerland is lost in Indonesia. 80% of all rainforests in Sumatra have been destroyed in the last 30 years. Our commitment concentrates on the environment of the Gunung Leuser National Park. This region is also called the Leuser Ecosystem. The forests are not only habitat for the orangutans. They also provide enormously important ecosystem services for the local population, such as protection against storm surges, erosion and floods and ensure clean drinking water.
With their high level of biodiversity, Sumatra’s rainforests are a UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site. Photo: Zoo Zürich, Claudia Rudolf von Rohr
The last connected swamp rainforests on the coasts by Aceh in norther Sumatra are particularly worthy of protection. These peat swamp forests have the greatest density of orangutans in the world. Among other things, a large palm oil company has illegally cleared the land in this region. PanEco and its partners have managed to have legal action taken against the company and, under international pressure, the judgment was also executed with legal force. The fine for illegal slash-and-burn is 26 million US dollars, which will be used for reforestation.
Illegal slash-and-burn for palm oil is unfortunately a daily occurrence in Indonesia. Photo: Stiftung Paneco, Carsten Stormer