Orang utans released into the wild

Free at last: Rangers releasing Strada, one of the 10 orang utans being released to their natural habitat, at Bukit Batikap Protection Forest in Murung Raya regency, Central Kalimantan province. — Reuters

Ten orang utans have been airlifted back to their natural habitat on Borneo island, in the first release of the apes into the wild for a year due to the dangers of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The animals were flown by helicopter earlier this month to keep them away from days-long land and sea routes that could expose them to the virus.

Orang utans share 97% of humans’ DNA, so conservationists have been on high alert for signs of infection. The pandemic has thrown up unprecedented challenges for conservation efforts.

“For an entire year, we have not been able to release orang utans due to the pandemic, ” said Jamartin Sihite, chief executive of the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation (BOSF).

“We have implemented strict health protocols and introduced mitigation plans to be enacted in the event of an orang utan contracting the virus. The use of a helicopter... helps reduce the risk of spreading Covid-19.”

The fuzzy-haired creatures were sedated with tranquillisers before their flight and were shuttled inside transport cages encased in netting.

The apes took a short boat trip after touching down, before arriving at the Bukit Batikap Protection Forest in Central Kalimantan where they took to swinging on vines.

Several apes were also released into another forest in East Kalimantan.

Poaching and habitat loss decimated the nation’s orang utan population before the Covid-19 emerged as another potential threat to the critically endangered species.

“If an orang utan shows symptoms of respiratory problems, it’s possible that it has been infected with Covid-19, ” said Vivi Dwi Santi, a veterinarian with BOSF.

“Also, if one of the staff tests positive... we will conduct tracing on an orang utan that’s been in contact with them.” — AFP

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