Unknown risk of extinction
In 2001, Sumatran conservationist Panut Hadisiswoyo founded the Orangutan Information Centre (OIC), a group dedicated to the protection of Sumatran orangutans. Staffed by Indonesian university graduates, the group aims to educate affected farmers on the plight of the orangutan and rescue those in critical situations.
The group also conducts outreach programmes, training workshops and on-ground efforts to train locals on the proper ways of resolving human-orangutan conflicts. These initiatives seek to ensure that orangutans are treated humanely, and that no extreme measures are taken against them.
Photo credit: OIC
Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS) is a firm supporter of Human Orangutan Conflict Response Unit (HOCRU), the flagship response unit of OIC.
In the event of an orangutan encounter, locals are encouraged to call the unit rather than deal with the primates themselves. This is to avoid extreme situations where locals resort to shooting the animals out of fear.
The team immediately comes to the rescue to minimise orangutan contact with humans. The orangutans found to be in harm’s way are then relocated to protected forests in Aceh province.
The team also conducts regular field monitoring of relocated and isolated Sumatran orangutan populations. Likewise, WRS deploys veterinarians for the care of these animals.
In some instances, locals have chosen to keep the apes as pets. The team also responds to such cases, educating would-be keepers that it's illegal to do so, especially as orangutans are wild animals that should not be domesticated.
At the policy level, HOCRU has been active in engaging the support of the local government. It has succeeded in convincing the local government of South Aceh to establish a human-wildlife mitigation task force and a secretariat for wildlife conflict resolution. At the same time, HOCRU has also conducted socialisation training on human-orangutan wildlife mitigation techniques for government personnel at the sub-district and village levels.
Photo credit: OIC
OIC’s work is a fine example of how wildlife conservation efforts often require the community’s support in order to make a positive difference.
To date, close to 950 people have participated in awareness programmes. One OIC-led activity saw farmers learning how to make and use bamboo cannons. Traditionally an Indonesian toy, the noise-making cannons have become an innovative means to scare orangutans away from the crops without harming them.
Seeing how OIC helps to preserve their source of livelihood, locals are also more willing to cooperate. They have learnt to play their part in orangutan conservation and are aware of the laws protecting the animals. In the last five years, HOCRU has successfully rescued a total of 126 orangutans – 65 females, 61 males and 48 infants. The mortality rate of Sumatran orangutans has also declined, while populations in viable forest blocks have increased, showing that OIC’s work is making a critical difference to ensure the survival of this species.