Jantho Orangutan Reintroduction Centre
Located in the Aceh Besar District of Aceh province, the Jantho Pinus Forest Reserve is one of two release sites where SOCP sends orangutans to be reintroduced back to the wild.
In 2009, a decision was made by the Aceh Government stating that they wanted all illegal pet orangutans confiscated in Aceh to be returned and released in the wild in Aceh. This was after several decades of a separatist struggle in the region. Since 1998, a civil war raged on, which only ended after the tsunami of December 2004, devastated much of the province. Shortly after, Aceh Province was granted special autonomy status, which gave the provincial government considerable sway over the conservation of its own resources, including protected areas and wildlife conservation.
In order to meet this requirement and still be able to reintroduce confiscated and translocated orangutans from the wild, the SOCP commenced construction during October 2010 of basic temporary facilities within the Jantho Nature Reserve. Staff facilities are located on one side of the river and some small reintroduction facilities for the orangutans at the other side. March 2011 marked the official first release of 4 orangutans into Jantho Nature Reserve.
The SOCP Jantho project conforms with all national regulations and conservation strategies for the species. In fact, it was instigated at the request of the Governor of Aceh Province, with the BKSDA Conservation Agency lending full support – with our work assisting them to meet goals set in the National Orangutan Action Plan. To this end, special and exclusive permission was granted by the Government to SOCP-YEL to develop this programme at Jantho. As such no community lands or resources are being restricted or negatively affected by this project. To this end, most of the SOCP staff in Jantho are from adjacent communities, with the project having been socialised to all 6 of the nearest villages, home to approximately 1,500 people, prior to its onset. The people have traditionally been highly supportive of the conservation of the Jantho Reserve, since they understand the importance of the area as their own watershed, for both domestic and irrigation supplies.
The Jantho Pine Forest Nature Reserve (hereafter referred to as Jantho), in Aceh Besar District, near the northern tip of Aceh Province, has status as a ‘Cagar Alam’ or Strict Nature Reserve, which is the highest protection status possible under Indonesian Law. It comprises over 16,000 ha of predominantly lowland rainforest, with some coniferous stands and an endemic pine subspecies on higher ridges, hence its name 'Jantho Pine Forest'. The site is a protected area of exceptionally rich lowland forest, with an unusual high density of fig trees, one of the orangutan’s staple foods. There is also a river which is at the foot of the forest, which can be crossed by people, but cannot be crossed by orangutans making it an effective natural barrier.
Several detailed and comprehensive surveys carried out by the SOCP between 1990-2009 determined Jantho to be exceptional orangutan habitat, with a particularly rich forest easily able to support in excess of 300-500 individual orangutans. Aside from the new orangutan population being established in Jantho the area is also an important habitat for Critically Endangered Sumatran tigers and Critically Endangered Sumatran elephants, with a group of over 20 elephants regularly passing near the basecamp. The Jantho Reserve is also contiguous with the mostly primary forest ‘Ulu Masen Ecosystem’ area, covering circa 750,000 ha, most of which is protected lowland forest into which the new orangutan population will eventually disperse as it expands. Thus a near limitless carrying capacity is available for the new population. A further 50 orangutans are currently housed at SOCP’s Quarantine Centre, progressing through socialization training until they are also ready for release in Jantho.
After being released, each orangutan is monitored frequently in the forest, starting in the morning once an orangutan steps out from their sleeping nest until the evening, where the orangutan has started building a new nest to sleep in. The purpose of this monitoring is to collect comprehensive data related to behaviour and survival capability of the reintroduced orangutans.
Since the Jantho programme began in 2011, over 100 orangutans have been reintroduced, with through September 2017 our team able to monitor a mean total of 16.3 individual orangutans/month. When calculated as a percentage relative to the total released, on average 44.1% of the population has been monitored each month.
While these figures are impressive, as more orangutans are released (with ~15 added annually) and the population expands and disperses further afield, along with the number being newly confiscated, to be released in time, the capacity of our post-release monitoring effort correspondingly needed to increase.
Building on this, since 2016 the SOCP has been running remote survey teams in Jantho, at distance from the main release site, to monitor orangutans that have dispersed to remote areas. By surveying remote areas, the chance of encountering at least a proportion of the more dispersed orangutans is dramatically increased, yielding considerable new data, including survival rates, behaviour, habitat use and preferences. These data expand and enhance our understanding of the dispersal of individuals and the use of the undulating and diverse forest.
Starting in April 2016, a large site-wide survey of the 24,400-hectare Reserve was initiated in order assess dispersal patterns further afield from the immediate release area (Nowak et al., 2017), conducted by experienced field teams that collected data on the presence of orangutans (direct or sign), food items, key habitat areas, and threats. In total, the teams traversed 219 km and contacted 114 orangutan nests, with some as far as 10km away from the main release site. They also encountered reintroduced orangutans in areas distant from the basecamp that had not been seen for >1 year, an indication that the population being formed is capable of surviving in the Jantho Nature Reserve without any human influence. These promising results have allowed us to identify key dispersal routes and areas of extensive use.
"After working with the orangutans in Jantho for many years now there is no better reward than to see the ex-captive orangutans given a second chance at life in the wild, and at the same time making a major contribution to the long-term survival prospects of their species! Every orangutan we release almost certainly witnessed the brutal killing of their mother when first captured. Most also endure appalling conditions, with poor diet and poor health, sometimes for many years before they are confiscated and cared for by the SOCP at our orangutan quarantine centre in North Sumatra. In fact, many first arrive in pitiful condition, malnourished, carrying heavy parasite loads, and often with major infections or wounds and injuries.
To see these animals a few years later, in the trees in Jantho, free once again, interacting with other orangutans and behaving as if they never left the forest, never ceases to be an incredibly emotional and heart-warming experience. Indeed, I consider myself extremely fortunate to be able to play a part in this process, not only to be able to help these individuals themselves, but also, as it grows and expands, the new population we are building in Jantho will play an increasingly critical role in preventing the extinction of the species."