VET’S NEWS Feb 2013

Toby Thumbs Up

Back at Sepilok for another tour of duty with a list of
essential "to do's" from our Chairwoman Sue and a welcoming committee of Tobby, Mico, Sogo and Ann on patrol at Sepilok.

It has been a busy time since arriving, getting back up to date with routines and planning new projects. The wet season is here and with it comes the general increase in illness that we see - malaria, diarrhoea etc. In the laboratory we are busy checking samples for parasites to ensure that our worming programme is adequate. In addition we have the task of the routine quarterly blood tests on at least 80% of the semi- wild orangutans. Luckily I have the assistance of a volunteer UK vet who has been helping for a couple of months, I am sure she had no idea how busy we might be when she offered her services!

I am pleased to report that the general health of the orangutans is good and we have also had some successes. Tompong had been getting very thin and investigations revealed a deficiency of intestinal enzymes. We have been treating her for the last month with a supplement and I am delighted to say she is gaining weight. She also seems to have a new lease of life and is currently zooming around in her enclosure using a pink plastic bowl like a dodgem car so she is obviously improved enough that we can release her back into the reserve. Orangutans love to play and sleep in the rubber skip buckets that we introduced to the Centre last year as well as playing with the hessian sacks which came with them.

Earlier this year we designed and made some new feed cages which are being used successfully at the outdoor nursery.

As part of their rehabilitation process, the orangutans at 'outdoors', whose next step will be release into the reserve, can now only get their food by climbing into the trees to where the cages containing fruit and vegetables have been hauled up by the rangers. Since the introduction of this method we have found that after feeding, the orangutans do not immediately return to the ground but instead remain high in
the branches playing and exercising. This creates a much more natural behaviour pattern and encourages the orangutans to forage in the canopy.

Part of my duties is to make the monthly five hour journey into Tabin to the Appeal's Post Release Monitoring Project and after my absence of a few months I was anxious to see our released orangutans.

After a night spent in the rudimentary camp, which is set in a clearing in the forest some 25km from the road, we set off into the jungle long before dawn. The truck dropped us at the end of a marked trail and we started on the hard, hour long trek uphill to the GPS marked spot that Otan had used to nest the previous night.

The sight of an orangutan that you have known in captivity emerging from its nest high in the trees and moving with complete freedom in its natural environment was a wonderful sight.

Otan and Eyos were both looking healthy, strong and totally at ease. We performed routine vet checks and left them to continue to enjoy their freedom. Our primatologist, and his researchers are collecting important information that is allowing us to make positive changes which will improve the orangutan's chances of success in the wild.

The rehabilitation process is constantly under review as we look for new ways to improve it. In conjunction with the centre we are reviewing general nutrition and attempting to provide a similar diet to that encountered in the wild.

We have been attempting to add some extra iron into their diet to reduce anaemia, this idea was based on previous findings published in journals I had seen. To do this we introduced Kankung and Bayam (types of local spinach) into the orangutan's daily diet.  This was viewed by some of the rangers as "mad orang putih (English) doctor" but I was undaunted. Unfortunately, the rangers were proved correct when Selemat sniffed the pile offered to him and was obviously unimpressed, and would only consider using it as nesting material. Oh well back to the drawing board!

There are still many things to do and every day brings new challenges but as I look out of my office window and see forest and young orangutans learning to climb on the jungle gym there is no doubt that we are all helping the long term survival of these magnificent creatures.

Thanks everyone for your support. Tobby and I give you the thumbs-up!