Our Latest Project, Samarinda

Hardi with untung

Regular supporters will know that Orangutan Appeal UK actively supports the work of Hardi Baktiantoro and his COP group in Indonesia with the rescue of displaced orangutan.

In early 2010 Hardi alerted us to the situation at Samarinda Zoo, East Kalimantan, Indonesia and the particular plight of seven orangutan held  in captivity there. As the Appeal’s veterinary surgeon Sue Sheward asked me to embark on a fact finding visit. In January 2010 Hardi and I made the three hour road trip from Balikpapan to Samarinda; we had hoped to use the Ape Crusader but it was on yet another rescue mission three days north near the Sabah border.

First impressions of the zoo were not good: the few keepers were disillusioned and had no enthusiasm, the whole zoo had a ‘run down’ appearance and the various animal exhibits were neglected. It was a sorrowful place. We found the seven orangutan, along with several other species, being kept in very poor conditions. Cages were small and in need of repair, their occupants bored, lethargic and hungry. One young five year old orangutan named ‘Ogi’ was being kept in solitary confinement in a small cage clinging to a tyre on a chain, chewing his hands in boredom and staring unseeingly into space. A handsome adult male ‘Ambon’ and two adult females were in a deteriorating cage with a broken concrete floor with no enhancement and the three other juvenile orangutans were in a separate empty cage. All of the cages were accessible to the public who were able to touch the orang-utan, were taunting them and feeding them ‘junk’ food and sugary drinks. From a veterinary viewpoint particularly the juvenile orangutan were malnourished, hairless and had the typical pot-bellied appearance of animals with a severe worm burden. To our knowledge they had received no veterinary attention.

Hardi and I had stopped en route at a roadside stall and purchased fresh fruit to feed the orangutan when we arrived at the zoo. Using a parang Hardi cut up melon and we started offering the fruit to the waiting animals. The orangutans were excitedly accepting our offerings– it was like Christmas: they took pieces of melon, papaya and apple with obvious delight and retreated to a corner, protecting their gift and savouring it! Neighbouring gibbon and a poor chained macaque were equally appreciative and clamoured for attention. Some of the orangutan had been kept in these cramped conditions on public display for six years. Yet such is the nature of these wonderful creatures, that they remained inquisitive and gentle as they waited patiently for the fruit.

Realising the severity of the problem Sue and the Appeal immediately resolved to try and improve the conditions and over the last twelve months we have been working constantly behind the scenes with COP to make significant changes. Through the help of its supporters the Appeal has been able to:

  1. Pay and train the keepers to look after the orangutan, set up barriers to distance the public from the cages and patrol and maintain the areas around the cages.
  2. Provide a good regular supply of fresh food and raise the nutritional standards.
  3. Provide a veterinary check up, blood tests and worming treatment.
  4. Construct / modify an outdoor enclosure so that the juvenile orangutans do not have to be confined in small cages. This enclosure has tree branches, ropes and other enhancements and is nearing completion so it is hoped that the smaller orangutan will soon be relocated to this area giving them more space and stimulation.

Not all news is good and sadly, despite our intervention, one adult orangutan has died but two more juveniles have been ‘rescued’ at Samarinda in the last few months. The keepers now work with real enthusiasm and care and have started to give the juveniles some jungle school training at the edge of the surrounding forest.

As a result of a small legacy which has been left to the Appeal for the specific purpose of benefiting captive orangutans, we are able to continue with our support at Samarinda for another year.  In 2011 The Appeal is hoping to establish a more permanent presence at Samarinda to continue the good work that we and COP have started. We want to work with the zoo owners to improve conditions and to educate the public and visitors. Our primatologists will be inputting knowledge and helping train the keepers in best practice management and we hope to provide a veterinary presence with an on-site clinic to help both inmates and potential rescues.

East Kalimantan is still being subjected to illegal logging and clearance of huge areas of rainforest for palm oil plantations. In 2010 COP rescued more than 25 orangutan from this area alone.  Existing facilities for rescued orangutan in Kalimantan are already full to capacity so it is hoped that the Appeal’s planned presence in Samarinda will help the situation.

It may be early days but I have seen that we have already made a very positive difference at Samarinda. I would personally like to thank our sponsors and supporters; without their help we could not continue to do the work we do. As a vet, it is a real privilege to work with these beautiful creatures and your continued support is greatly appreciated. You can rest assured that everyone at the Appeal will continue with every effort to aid the plight of the orangutan in 2011.


Veterinary Surgeon. Orangutan Appeal UK