Ten Successful Years
Since the start of SOCP in 1999, over 190 orangutans have been brought to the quarantine center and more than 125 have already been transferred to the rainforest for reintroduction. The SOCP is also at the forefront of surveys, research and monitoring of wild orangutan populations in Sumatra.
The SOCP first began activities in 1999 with the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between the PanEco Foundation and the Indonesian Ministry of Forestry's Directorate General of Forest Protection and Nature Conservation. One of its first targets was to establish a modern, state-of-the-art quarantine facility for confiscated illegal pets and a reintroduction programme to release these animals back to the wild. In 2002 the Batu Mbelin orangutan quarantine center was finally completed near Medan in North Sumatra. In January 2003 the first orangutans were transferred to Bukit Tigapuluh National Park in Jambi Province, and reintroduced shortly after. Since then, over 190 orangutans have been treated at the quarantine center and over 125 of these have already been transferred to Jambi for reintroduction. At least 3 infants have also been born to reintroduced mothers, these infants being the first to be conceived and born in the forests of Jambi possibly for more than 100 years.
Research and Education
After getting the orangutan reintroduction project up and running SOCP's next priorities included re-establishing long-term field research on orangutan conservation ecology and establishing a comprehensive education and awareness programme, to promote improved conservation of orangutans and their habitat as widely as possible. Field research had virtually ground to a halt in northern Sumatra by 2001/2002 as a result of a heightening of hostilities as part of the armed separatist conflict in Aceh Province. In 2003, however, SOCP field staff managed to resume observations and data collection at the world renowned Ketambe Research Station in South East Aceh. That same year, SOCP established its first education programmes, including both "static" and "mobile" units. The static unit produces outreach materials (films, brochures, posters and other campaign materials) and attends conferences and exhibitions. The mobile units visit village communities, schools and local governments in areas at the forest edge, adjacent to remaining wild orangutan habitat, giving talks and seminars and distributing materials.
In 2007, after a peace accord was signed ending the Aceh conflict,
research work was also able to resume in the Suaq Balimbing Research
Site, in the Kluet peat swamp forests on Aceh's west coast, after it
was forced to cease in 1999 due to safety concerns. This was the site
of Dr Ian Singleton's (SOCP Conservation Director) own PhD research in
the 1990's and also where complex tool using behaviours were first
observed and reported in wild orangutans. It is also the location where
the highest densities of orangutans in the world have been recorded, at
as many as 8 orangutans per square kilometer. Since then a number of
overseas and local students have been able to get back and start
studying this fascinating orangutan population once again.Habitat Conservation
research is also now underway in a new area: the Batang Toru Forest in
the Tapanuli region of North Sumatra. Aside from a few quick surveys by
SOCP over the last 10 years this most southerly natural orangutan
population in Sumatra has never before been studied in detail. The
research now underway in the Batang Toru Forest is part of a larger
programme, with local governments and other regional stakeholders, to
develop a long term management strategy to conserve this population of
orangutans and its forest in the future.
SOCP has set up
orangutan patrol units to protect the forests of Bukit Tigapuluh
National Park, where the new reintroduced population of wild orangutans
has been established. These patrol units are highly trained and well
equipped and patrol both within and along the edge of the forest
keeping illegal loggers and hunters out, and reporting on the
orangutans, elephants and other wildlife within. We are also developing
a comprehensive new programme, again together with local governments
and other stakeholders, to improve protection and management of the
three remaining peat swamp forests on the West coast of Aceh Province,
that are home to around 30% of the remaining wild Sumatran orangutans.
SOCP continues to take a leading role in surveying and monitoring the
status of all remaining wild orangutan populations in Sumatra using
remote sensing and field surveys to record presence or absence, density
estimates, and threats and population trends. Furthermore, we are also
looking in to the increasing problem of human-orangutan conflict, where
orangutans at the forest edge are increasingly persecuted for raiding
the fruit crops of local farmers, by supporting research into the
precise costs this incurs for the local communities.