Britt and Charlie 6th April 2012
Britt, an adult female with an 18month old baby boy named Charlie is a regular at the Sepilok Visitor’s platform. She has never been the friendliest (or best looking – she unfortunately lost her right eye in an accident a few years ago) orangutan to either humans or her own species and has been becoming increasingly dominant and protective within the reserve.
Over the last few months Eyos, Anekara,Ceria, Sogo Sogo, Ganang, Anne and even Tobby have all suffered injuries – some severe – at her hands.
Britt had become more aggressive and dominant than some males, seeking out her victims and pursuing and attacking them whilst Charlie would hold on for dear life. Ceria was attacked when he was in the relative safety of a holding cage and Anekara was rescued purely by chance by Ranger Elis who found her collapsed, lying on her back, submissive but still sustaining a brutal attack.
To avoid confrontation with Britt some of the orangutans would leave the forest and return to the clinic for protection. We would then be faced with the decision of keeping them within the clinic or returning them directly to ‘the front line’. Something had to be done.
A decision was made to translocate Britt and Charlie to the extremity of the Sepilok Kabili reserve where there would not be the same concentrated population of orangutan we have closer to the centre. In the wild orangutan are relatively solitary and only 1 or 2 orangutan live in a square kilometre of forest. At Sepilok we have approximately 50 times that concentration and this inevitably leads to conflicts. By placing Britt in a new part of the protected reserve we had the hope that she may not return for some time and could even be distracted by the attentions of wild males. The rangers who had observed her closely considered that Britt is an adult female who is perfectly capable of foraging for herself and her baby.
On 6th April 2012 Britt was finally lured into our jungle holding cage by the offer of supplementary food and was sedated her by dart. Charlie was removed for his own protection and also so that we could perform necessary health checks and blood sampling of both himself and his mother. We had not previously ever examined Charlie as he had been born in the reserve e and this was the perfect opportunity to weigh him (4.5Kg) and to assess his health which appeared remarkably good.
Transport cages had been prepared with leaves as bedding and a very angry Charlie and a very sleepy Britt were placed in them on the Appeal Landrover, ready for the journey. The cages were covered with palm leaves to protect the two from the intense heat and sun and we set off.
To reach the far side of the reserve at Sepilok Laut we had to make a long detour by road and through palm oil plantations which took us over an hour to arrived at the release site just 4.9 miles from home!! With the Landrover reversed into the jungle edge a still very vocal Charlie was taken out of his travelling compartment and placed in front of his mother; Britts door was opened and to our delight she immediately clutched Charlie to her and made her way out. Orangutan mothers will reject their babies after even a short period of separation so it was a relief to see Britt’s maternal instinct so strong. She was still a little drowsey from her sedation and after venturing onto the roof of the Landrover she tumbled gracefully off the bonnet and loped into the forest edge. Climbing a tree she started to feed and rest.
The release team then settled down to a hot and uncomfortable wait in the afternoon heat as we would not leave the release site until we were sure that Britt had fully recovered from sedation and was travelling into the reserve rather than staying near the plantation at the edge of the forest.
Finally, Britt surveyed us from her tree top perch for one last time before making her way into the jungle, Charlie clutching to her side the pair disappeared into the dark interior.