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Click to enlargeOrangutans are the largest tree living creature on earth. They also have the longest inter-birth interval of any land living animal, producing a single infant only once every 8 or 9 years. A female maybe only get a chance to raise 4 or 5 babies in her lifetime. Today there are only app. 6.600 wild Sumatran orangutans (Pongo abelii) left. These 6.600 are fragmented into at least 10 smaller sub-populations, all of them in the provinces of Aceh and North Sumatra. There are app. 40.000 Bornean orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus) left, all on Borneo. It is since decades by Indonesian law forbidden to capture, kill, keep or trade orangutans. Unfortunately the law enforcement is inadequate. Ironically, 70% of all confiscated orangutans so far were kept by government officials and members of police and military. Most orangutans in captivity are also kept under very bad conditions.

The orangutans were once living in almost all of Southeast Asia, between South China and Java. Today, however, they are only left in Borneo and Sumatra. 90% of the total orangutan population lives within the borders of Indonesia. Habitat loss and illegal pet trade seriously threaten their existence. The orangutan has, as a species, recently been re-classified. The two former sub-species are now considered to be two distinct species of orangutans. There are several sub-species. The densest area for orangutans is in Aceh Singkil, in the part of Leuser National Park called Singkil Barat. In this area the orangutans use tools (sticks) to open fruits, a sign of basic culture. The word orangutan is from the Malay (Indonesian) Orang (Person) and Hutan (Forest). The Indonesian word is orang hutan. In many areas in Sumatra orangutan is also called Mawas. In some areas, like in South Tapanuli, the word orang hutan is often confused with other types of monkeys.


In 1973 Regina Frey and Monica Borner from Switzerland supported by Frankfurt Zoological Society and WWF started an orangutan rehabilitation center in Bukit Lawang. The idea was to reduce the number of orangutans killed and captured by returning captured orangutans back to nature, or to move them from deforested areas. In 1980 the Indonesian Forestry Ministry took over. The operation was partly financed by entrance fees.

Click to enlargeToday this activity in Bukit Lawang has stopped, as the risks of introducing diseases into the original orangutan population is too high. Instead the orangutans are since 2002 rehabilitated in a new modern quarantine facility at a different location not so far from Medan. Note that that is is a quarantine and strictly off-limits to others than directly involved staff. All new orangutan arrivals stay a minimum of 30 days in quarantine where they undergo full medical checks and rehabilitation. Orangutans share 97% of human DNA and can catch and pass on the same illnesses and diseases that people can. In addition to medical checks all the orangutans are also photographed, fingerprinted, tattooed with a number and micro-chipped. This is in order to identify and monitor the released orangutans.

After quarantine the orangutans are moved to socialization cages where they will meet and learn to interact with other orangutans. They will with other words learn how to behave as an orangutan. This process is also carefully monitored. Finally, rehabilitated orangutans are released in either the Bukit Tigapuluh National Park in Jambi in southern Sumatra, or in northern part of Aceh. These two areas have no former recent orangutan population.

This rehabilitation and also other activities such as habitat conservation is carried out by Paneco's Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme (SOCP) together with Yayasan Sistem Lestari (YEL), Frankfurt Zoological Society, and the Indonesian Government’s Directorate General of Forest Protection and Nature Conservation. Visit the SOCP website for more information:




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