News from our Primatologist Aug 2012

2012 marked the third year of our pioneering orangutan reintroduction project in Tabin Wildlife Reserve, Sabah.  Orangutan Appeal UK is conducting original research into what happens to rehabilitated orangutans after they have been released back into the wild.  Our post-release monitoring team has sent us their latest project update from our remote camp in Tabin.
Since my last update we’ve released another three orangutans into Tabin as part of our post-release monitoring project. They are , Eyos a 13 year old female, Hope a  11 year old female and Oscar an adolescent male of  12.  Like all of the orangutans that have we’ve brought to the Tabin Reserve to monitor, they have been implanted with radio transmitters so that we can track them every day in the forest.

Eyos came to Tabin on 1st March 2012 while Oscar and Hope joined her a couple of weeks later. We have already collected many, many hours of data on these three, and they are doing well so far. Oscar is travelling huge distances each day and it looks like he will soon move far away from us and our tracking equipment, right into the most remote part of the reserve.  Eyos and Hope have much smaller home ranges and have stayed pretty much within the confines of our trailed release site. Whenever any of our orangutans venture further afield we do our very best to maintain contact by cutting more and more trails to keep up with them! A lot of the time when they travel over really steep and treacherous terrain this gets really difficult, but we’ve all lost a fair bit of weight thanks to their ranging habits, so we shouldn’t complain!

Like us - Eyos was pretty overweight when she arrived in Tabin, despite being put on a diet for weeks before she came.  As many of you will know, she has had a pretty rough time of it over the last few years, suffering from regular bullying from the other adult females at the rehab centre, while also giving birth to two stillborn babies.  Unfortunately, this led to her being held in the enclosure for quite a long period so she got pretty fat.  We were particularly delighted therefore, to give her some long awaited freedom in Tabin, where she has slowly built her confidence up and established a pretty stable home range up until this point.  She can be quite a lazy orangutan, but she absolutely loves her food, so as she has lost some of her captive weight and her energy levels have increased, she’s now able to climb higher, and access those harder to reach fruits from smaller, thinner branches in the canopy.
Hope has also found her own preferred area, separate to Eyos’.  She’ll spend hours at a time in the same feeding patches feasting on young bamboo shoots.  It’s definitely her favourite food so far. Neither of our females have interacted much with wild males,  although Oscar and Eyos have already had a romantic liaison, which may, in around 6 months time, produce the project’s first newborn!! Only time will tell.

The senior ranger at Sepilok decided to also send Miskam to Tabin earlier this year, although he is not officially part of the monitoring project.  Since then we have bumped into him a couple of times in the reserve, and he was looking well while angrily kiss-squeaking at us! This has to be considered a good sign as he’s obviously totally uninterested in being followed by humans.  Indeed given his aggressive attitude towards us, it would likely interfere with his post-release progress if we were to sporadically track him, even if he had been implanted.
I’m keen to release more orangutans to Tabin later this year, so by the next time I write I hope to update you all on who is next! On behalf of my team and I, I’d like to say a massive thank you to all of the Appeal’s generous supporters who make our work possible. Reintroducing and monitoring orangutans remains experimental and is still in its formative stages, but it is an absolute privilege to share the experience with these beautiful animals.