Article by Hans Nicholas Jong.
The first baby orangutan was born at the Pinus Jantho Nature Reserve in Sumatra, a sign that the species might survive the global extinction crisis now underway.
Jantho serves as one of two release sites for the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme (SOCP), a nonprofit that rehabilitates the apes kept as pets or driven into conflict with humans. Previously devoid of orangutans, the reserve now holds an entirely new population of the critically endangered primates.
During a patrol, SOCP staff and government officials spotted an adult female orangutan carrying the newborn.
“We really weren’t expecting to see this little guy when we went to Jantho the other day, it was a real surprise, and a real treat!” Sapto Aji Prabowo, head of the Natural Resources Conservation Agency’s (BKSDA) branch in Aceh province, said in a statement.
The infant, a boy, was subsequently named Masen after the Ulu Masen Ecosystem, where Jantho is located.
Marconi, a female adult Sumatran orangutan, and her newborn son, Masen, at the Jantho reserve in Sumatra. Photo courtesy of the SOCP.
Masen’s birth marks the start of what may grow into a new population of orangutans unfamiliar with the trauma of captivity.
“After several years of hard work, by the whole team in Jantho, we are finally seeing the results,” Mukhlisin, manager of the Jantho site, said in a statement. “[Masen] gives all of us new hope that we really can prevent the extinction of these amazing creatures.”
Conservationists have struggled to find places to reintroduce the apes into the wild, with the forests of Sumatra and Borneo, their home islands, disappearing in the face of plantation expansion.
The aim in Jantho and Bukit Tigapuluh is to eventually establish new, genetically viable, fully reproducing and self-sustaining wild populations as a safety net against catastrophe elsewhere in the Sumatran orangutan’s range.
The SOCP first began releasing confiscated apes into Jantho in 2011 and to date has reintroduced 100 orangutans there.
Masen’s mother, Marconi, was confiscated in 2009 by the SOCP and the Aceh BKSDA from a police officer keeping her as a pet. Although it is illegal, not once has an Indonesian been prosecuted for the crime. Most orangutan owners are wealthy or well-connected people, such as public officials.
Prabowo decried the illegal wildlife trade. “People need to be aware that they face prosecution, fines and prison if they get involved in these criminal activities,” he said.
Banner image: A baby orangutan in North Sumatra, Indonesia. Along with habitat loss due to mining, orangutans in Sumatra and Borneo are threatened by fires and deforestation for oil palm and pulp plantations. Photo by Rhett A. Butler/Mongabay.