KOTA KINABALU: Orangutans that have undergone rehabilitation at the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre in Sandakan still need support after they are released to the wild.
Primatologist James Robins, who has been studying the rehabilitated orangutans that have been released in small numbers in Tabin, found that among the plight faced by the primates after their release to the wild, was that they struggled to provide themselves with sufficient nutrition.
Some of the orangutans take a long time to settle down, and some never really do, he said.
“Recently, we had to return an orangutan to Sepilok because he left Tabin and was found outside a plantation. He was being fed by the plantation workers. It is fortunate that we have good relationship with plantations and the Sabah Wildlife Department,” he said.
And last year, Robins said they found a couple of the orangutans that had been released back into the wild, dead.
“It was a sad event,” he noted.
Robins added that prior to this, no one had done any research on how the rehabilitated orangutans were faring once they were released into the wild.
“After they are released, no one actually knows what happens (to them). But I guarantee, if you stay long enough, you would know what eventually happens to each of the orangutans (released). We release small groups of them in Tabin so that we can stay in regular contact with them. We follow them 13 hours a day in the forest,” he said.
So far, a total of 11 orangutans have been released to Tabin, four of which have been returned to Sepilok for their inability to adapt in the wild. Some died last year.
“We are finding that it is not as easy as people think it is. You release them but it is not the end of the story. They need support after they are released. That is why we work closely with Sepilok, and at the end of this research, we will work with Sepilok to try to formulate their rehabilitation strategy and try to adapt to it and produce more viable candidate for release in the future. This is important and that is partly why the project was made in the first place – to create a rehabilitation principle,” he said.
“When we have collected sufficient data from enough animals towards the end of the research period (it’s still early and we need to release more orangutans to get a clearer picture), I’m looking to compare the behaviour of the rehabilitated orangutans that we have released in Tabin with wild orangutans, who will always be the benchmark. Then, if there are any major deficiencies or abnormalities, our results put us in a position to be able to advise rehab centre managers everywhere on how to most appropriately rehabilitate these orphans, so that all of their developmental needs are met. We want to make these animals wild again, in doing so giving them the opportunity for a natural quality of life that they deserve.”