Naru Taste of Freedom

Narusfeast

In August 2007 we received notification that three juveniles were ready to be released into the Kabili forest reserve which surrounds the Sepilok Centre. The previous release at Sepilok in March 2006 had encountered difficulties so it was felt that it would be advantageous to set up a tracking team to keep an eye on these youngsters until they were established in the reserve. Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD) gave authority for the Project to go ahead and Jon Levell, who has worked for the Forestry Commission in Wales for many years, was assigned by the Appeal to act as Team Leader.

Jon’s report follows:-

In August 07 I flew out to Sabah and met Dr Sen Nathan (Chief Wildlife Veterinarian) to begin planning the release and tracking of three 4 year old orangutans - Rosalinda, Anakara and Naru, who was one of the Appeal’s adoptive babies.

Important and necessary health checks had to be completed before the Orangutans could be released. Dr Sen arranged to carry out these checks the next day at the clinic. He checked their heart, lung capacity, teeth, gums and general appearance. A few hours later he emerged to tell me the good news that all three were fit and healthy but before he could agree to their release he wanted to have some x-rays completed and a final TB test. A few days later the results came back which gave all three a clean bill of health and we were ready to go.

The first stage of their release requires that the Orangutans spend a period of seven days in an enclosure at the Outdoor Nursery which is located on the edge of the reserve. This gives the releasees time to acclimatise to their new environment. Here they will experience changes in just about every aspect of their lives, from where they sleep, their surroundings and also how humans react to them. I was warned to expect coughs, sneezes and diarrhoea. So a week in the enclosure allows for them to be closely monitored. It also allows the resident orangutans in the reserve to come along and meet their new buddies but in a controlled environment.

On 19th September, after final health checks Ranger James fetched the standard method of moving Orangutans around the centre, the trusty wheelbarrow. Naru, Rosalinda and Anakara jumped in and sat happily in the barrow and the journey to the outdoor nursery began. I wondered what was going through their minds, did they wonder why all these people were there?

James steered the barrow over the narrow bridge and down the path to the outdoor nursery. The last 10m of the path climbs steeply to the enclosures and our three orangutans weighed the best part of 50kg so you can understand it was quite a struggle! James took a good run in an attempt to get up the slope but ran out of push 5m from the top. Naru, Rosalinda and Anakara decided that it was time to abandon ship and climbed the last stretch themselves. No worse for their trip in the barrow Naru, Rosalinda and Anakara were introduced to the enclosure where they climbed up the sides exploring what was to be their home for the next seven days.

Anakara & Naru at Platform ADuring the acclimatisation period we saw lots of socialisation going on as different orangutans came to visit them, some friendly some less so. Naru, Rosalinda and Anakara quickly worked out who to stay out of reach of and whom they could interact with. As we had been told to expect, both Naru and Anakara had a few days of diarrhoea but were carefully monitored and soon recovered. As the week went on, different Orangutans were introduced to our youngsters for short periods of time, such as Ann and Mico, to see how they got on with each other.

Another 10 days later, on 29th September, slightly longer than expected due to the two cases of diarrhoea, the enclosure door was opened and we waited to see what would happen. Naru and Anakara immediately came out with no hesitation and followed the ranger to the small platform in the outdoor nursery clearing where he gave them Rambutans, a local citrus fruit. Rosalinda was more hesitant but eventually followed her friends to the platform.

We fully expected them to not leave the clearing and for the three of them to stick together like glue on this first day, however this did not happen. They only stayed to eat Rambutans for a few minutes and were quickly off exploring, in three different directions!

Tuesday 2nd October was a particularly special day. Just before 3pm Naru, Rosalinda and Anakara followed the other Orangutans to the feeding at the tourist platform. Anakara and Rosalinda travelled all the way using the rope while Naru decided to come off near the end and followed me on the ground climbing to the tourist platform from its base.

When they arrived there were no large adults or Macaques to scare them so this gave them some confidence and taught them how to get to the platform, and that there would be food there for them.

It was good to see how well they reacted to having people and noise around them and it didn’t put them off eating the Jackfruit and Bananas on offer.

During the period of time that I had the privilege of following Naru, Rosalinda and Anakara I witnessed a range of key behaviours.

Learning

On two occasions’ we witnessed Naru eating plants that gave him an itchy mouth. A learning experience that had he been with his mother he probably wouldn’t have gone through.

Socialisation

They exhibited excellent social skills amongst their peer group. This seemed to be especially true of Naru as he always chose to be with others, particularly Mico and Angkung with whom he constantly wrestled. Rosalinda seems to be the most timid of the three though this doesn’t seem to hold her back. Indeed she let a young male called Oscar know, in no uncertain terms, that his amorous advances where unwelcome.

Feeding

All three visited Platform A and Ranger David’s Platform at regular intervals and were often fed at the nursery clearing. Anakara showed most maturity in this area. She seemed to appreciate that survival is about feeding and whenever food was available she would eat it whereas Naru and Rosalinda often preferred to play.

Nest Building

This was the one area where there seems to be a definite lack of skills. On numerous occasions I witnessed Naru pulling up and flattening grass or branches on the grass but never in the trees, though he did sit in an old nest on two occasions. We didn’t see Rosalinda show any kind of nest building behaviour and only on one occasion did Anakara start to construct a nest in a tree but the behaviour only lasted a few minutes. But it is early days.

Climbing and Roaming

All three spent time climbing trees and using the rope system to move around. Anakara showed that she has the most advanced skills in this area climbing much higher and spending longer periods in the trees than the others do. Rosalinda and Naru seemed competent in this area with Naru perhaps falling more often that I would have expected.

We also saw all three spend a considerable amount of their time swaying on trees using their body weight to bend the tree which allows them to reach neighbouring trees and vines and move around the canopy.

Noises

All three showed the ability to make loud noises when needed especially when upset! Towards the end of the period Naru also started to make sucking and grunting noises which he had not done at the start.

Health

Generally the health of all three was good.

I would like to thank both the Appeal and Sabah Wildlife Department for allowing me this wonderful opportunity. It is very clear from this exercise that future releases cannot fail to have their success rate increased and enhanced by having a tracking team for the first 6 to 8 weeks. I also believe it has ensured that Naru, Anakara and Rosalinda got off to a solid start on the next stage of their rehabilitation.

Jon Levell

Shortly after Jon left to return home Naru experienced an 80ft fall from a tree. The tracking team immediately went to his assistance and he was obviously winded and badly bruised. They took Naru back to the clinic where he was X-rayed and treated for shock. Naru stayed in the clinic for two weeks whilst he recovered but we are happy to say he is once again swinging free in the reserve. If our trackers had not been there when Naru fell who knows what the outcome might have been.

Latest report from Sobri and the team is they are pleased with the improvement all three have been showing. Anakara gets more adventurous by the day, climbing higher and higher and with much more confidence. Rosalinda is quite lazy - she loves company and food and as long as she has this she is happy. Naru is also gaining in confidence though still very nervous of the big orangutans and macaques - his rope work is improving but no doubt he is a little more hesitant due to his bad fall.

The Tracking Team will continue to shadow and report on our releasees for another couple of months until we are sure they are able to fend for themselves.