Jantho, Sumatra, Indonesia – Wednesday, August 26, 2020, the Post Release Monitoring (PRM) team at the Orangutan Reintroduction Center, in the Jantho Pine Forest Nature Reserve, Aceh, Sumatra, found an orangutan mother along with her baby estimated to be 3-5 months old on the FB1200 trail. The baby orangutan is male and is the third baby orangutan born in Jantho since the Orangutan Reintroduction Program began in 2011. The baby orangutan was given the name “EJA” by the Minister of Environment and Forestry, Siti Nurbaya.
During the Covid-19 Pandemic, orangutan data collection activities in Jantho using the nest-to-nest method have been temporarily put on hold to minimize the risk of spreading Covid-19 between staff and the orangutans, or other animals. However, monitoring activities are still carried out by implementing health protocols, that include wearing masks and maintaining distance from the animals. Adopting these protocols the field staff re still able to check on the orangutans in the area using the trail system to search for and locate them. On one such survey along trail FB the team encountered the new mother and her infant. Mother and baby both appear to be healthy and are behaving just like wild orangutans would. The infant is being carried properly by his mother and has been seen breastfeeding without difficulty on numerous occasions.
Manager of the Jantho Orangutan Reintroduction Center, Mukhlisin, explained that based on the results of observations made by the team they are confident the mother is an orangutan named ‘Edelweiss’, who was one of the first orangutans to be released at the Jantho Orangutan Reintroduction Center back in 2011. After her release she immediately moved away from the cage area and deep into the forest. On February 11, 2020, a female orangutan who was strongly suspected to be Edelweiss was observed not far from the orangutan Reintroduction Center and at that time she was showing signs of being pregnant, with an enlarged stomach and swollen genitalia.
YEL Conservation Director, M. Yakob Ishadamy, said that the birth of the baby was very encouraging news, especially in the midst of the current pandemic. This is only the third time we have encountered a mother with a new born infant in Jantho since we started releasing orangutans there in 2011. The first was born to orangutan Marconi, a male infant named Masen, around 11 months old when first seen in September 2017. The second was Mongki and her young daughter Mameh, only around 3 weeks old Mameh, seen just a couple of months later in November 2017. Although we realize there is still a lot of work to be done in order to build a new, independent and self-sustaining orangutan population in Jantho, so far we are very satisfied with our progress and achievements.
Head of Ex-Situ, drh. Citrakasih Nente added that the aim of the orangutan release program in the Jantho Nature Reserve is to build a new, wild population of Sumatran orangutans as a “safety net” or “backup”, should some kind of catastrophe befall the remaining truly wild populations in and around the Leuser Ecosystem. This is increasingly important today, especially in the midst of the Covid-19 outbreak as we do not yet know the extent of the threat of the virus to orangutans and their populations. To date, more than 120 individual orangutans have been successfully released into the Jantho Nature Reserve, but for us to be confident that the new population we are establishing there will be viable and self-sustaining in the long term, we need to continue to increase their numbers. For this reason, every orangutan released or born in Jantho’s forests is extremely significant and important, and gives new hope for the future of this critically endangered species.
Director of the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme, Dr Ian Singleton added “We always knew it would be several years before we really started to see infants being born on a regular basis among the new population of orangutans we are creating in Jantho. This is because most the orangutans we release here are between 5 to 8 years old, whilst wild orangutan females tend to be around 15 years old on average when they have their first infant. Its great to see these new infants starting to appear though, and its especially rewarding when you think about all the hard work, often spanning many years, that goes into reintroducing each and every one of the orangutans we have released to date. That these new infants have never known captivity and human contact is also extremely heart-warming, and hopefully they never will, unlike their parents, whose own mother’s were almost certainly killed during their original capture and some of whom have endured years chained by the neck or kept in tiny cages at the hands of their illegal owners. The orangutans we are releasing in Jantho, and those now being born there, really are the founders of this entirely new wild population, and its never been more important to have these ‘back up’ populations as we face the extremely worrying prospect of SARS-CoV-2 infections passing from humans to orangutans, both in captivity and in the wild.”