Post Release Monitoring Research - an update from Tabin

The Appeal is now in the second year of the Post Release Monitoring project in Tabin, a protected forest reserve in the south of Sabah. We initially ran trials of this research in the Kabili reserve which surrounds Sepilok Rehabilitation Centre (SRC) and progressed to Tabin in August 2006 along with four young rehabilitated orangutans – Tompong, Suzanna, Brock and Toby who are our focal point.

Over the years SRC have released hundreds of orangutans back into the wild but no one has ever known how well these individuals cope with life, or if the rehabilitation programme has equipped them well enough to survive and breed in the wild. This research, which is being conducted in conjunction with the Sabah Wildlife Department, is aimed at finding out exactly this and if there are any areas of the rehabilitation process that need to be changed or improved. An initial report has been compiled by Roehampton University from the data collected by our research assistants and is showing encouraging results.

Tompong and BrockHowever, it has not all been plain sailing, especially with Brock and Toby experiencing bad falls during the first few months which resulted in broken legs and having to be returned to Sepilok for treatment.

Each month Dr Cecilia (the Appeal’s vet) travels into the reserve to carry out a health check on the four youngsters and it was on such a visit in the rainy season at the end of last year that she found Tompong - a 7 year old female - had become unwell and lost an awful lot of weight. She was immediately taken back to Sepilok to recover and was placed on a weight gaining programme until the centre’s staff were satisfied with her recovery and progress.

March is the start of the dry season, and so it was decided that this would be the ideal time to return Tompong to her three friends at Tabin. Dr Cecilia, senior ranger Elis, our research assistant Alderian, our liaison officer Julie and, of course Tompong, set off on the
three hour journey into Tabin. When they arrived at camp Alderian carried Tompong, to the feeding platform, where the others were lunching. Brock was particularly pleased to see Tompong again and remained by her side the whole afternoon.

All four are now doing well and have gained weight. Suzanna is small for her age but is very active and a feisty individual, mostly finding her own food in the forest which is excellent. She is independent, an excellent climber and is able to make her own nests.

Brock also has good climbing and nest building skills, and does find some food in the forest, but still relies mainly on the supplementary feeds provided by the research assistants.

Alderian & WelsonToby, the largest of the four, is the laziest, he does not yet build nests, does climb, but not as high or as far away as the others, often preferring to stay close to the camp and wait for his next meal to arrive. Recently he went missing and as it was unlike him not to be close to camp the research assistant started to search for him. Eventually he was discovered over a kilometer away in the company of a wild female. He was following her from tree to tree, climbing high in the canopy and also eating the fruit that she was feeding on. So Toby had found himself a new friend and teacher which was excellent news, but she has now disappeared, and Toby has returned to camp. His experience with his wild friend will serve as an invaluable exercise in forest survival skills for him.

Tompong is over her illness and getting back into the swing of forest life. She ranks mid-way between Suzanna and Brock in the forest skills department, with great potential for successful rehabilitation.

We still have a lot to learn from our youngsters and so the research assistants will continue to track them daily and record their activities for some time to come