Orangutan populations are in rapid decline in both Sumatra and Borneo due to increasing habitat loss and fragmentation. One tool being employed by the SOCP to address this is the reintroduction to the wild of confiscated ex-captive orangutans. The goal is to establish entirely new genetically viable, self-sustaining wild populations of this Critically Endangered species, as a ‘safety net’, should catastrophe befall the remaining naturally wild populations in Sumatra. Two such new populations are being established, one in the Bukit Tigapuluh National Park in Jambi province and one in Jantho. Both sites lie within the historical range of the species but outside its current distribution, and both are legally protected under Indonesian law.
Once groups of compatible orangutans have been established in the socialization cages, they are then transferred to one of two Reintroduction Centres, at the edge of Bukit Tigapuluh National Park in Jambi and in the Jantho Pine Forest Nature Reserve in Aceh.
These transfers normally include orangutans that have spent a lot of time together and know each other well, so that they travel and arrive with friends. This helps to minimize the stress of the move and maximizes their chances of settling in well to their new surroundings. At their new location they are temporarily housed in holding cages again, only this time deep in the heart of the rainforest.
Once settled, the orangutans are at last released and begin to become accustomed to their new forest homes.
SOCP staff continue to monitor their progress on a daily basis until satisfied that they are managing to cope by themselves. Even then, they continue to monitor them in the forest and remote survey teams venture further afield to locate orangutans not seen for some time and check on their progress too.
"The ultimate aim at the Reintroduction Centres is to release at least 250 individuals at each, to ensure the new populations being created will be genetically viable and self-sustaining over the long-term, creating two entirely new wild populations of this Critically Endangered species."
It is important to note that both of Jantho and Jambi lie within the historical range of the Sumatran orangutan but outside the current species distribution.
According to currently accepted guidelines for the quarantine and reintroduction of great apes, such as the IUCN Guidelines for the Reintroduction of Great Apes, and an Indonesian Governmental Ministerial Decree from 1995, confiscated orangutans should only be released in areas where there is no existing wild orangutan population.
These regulations and guidelines are extremely important to avoid the risk of reintroduced orangutans competing for resources with, and possibly spreading diseases to already Critically Endangered wild orangutan populations.