Free love: Kiki, a female silvery gibbon, leaves her cage to chase after her mate, Sadewa, after being released recently in Mount Puntang, Bandung regency, West Java. (JP/Arya Dipa)
After five years of rehabilitation, a pair of Javan gibbons (Hylobates moloch), locally known as owa jawa, have been released into the wild on Mount Puntang, Bandung, West Java.
The release is expected to help increase the population of gibbons in their natural habitat.
The gibbons, named Sadewa and Kiki, were confiscated from residents in 2003, they were estimated to be three years old when they were confiscated. The gibbons were then brought to the Cikananga Animal Protection Center in Sukabumi.
The release of the tailless primates was carried out on behalf of the Forestry Ministry, state-run forestry company Perhutani and the Owa Java Foundation.
In 2008, dozens of Javan gibbons were moved to the Javan Gibbon Center, jointly run by the Owa Jawa Foundation, the University of Indonesia, Conservation Indonesia and Mount Gede Pangrango National Park. Center manager Anton Ario said that over five years Sadewa and Kiki were taught to behave according to their nature.
As part of an effort to support the program, contact between humans and animal was minimized.
As well as matching the pair, said Anton, the habits of Sadewa and Kiki had also been monitored. There are several parameters that made them eligible to be reintroduced to the wild, such as not staying too long on the floor, spending more time atop the cage, able to socialize with their partners and free of disease.
“The most important thing was their wanting to eat the natural vegetation in the area where they will live,” added Anton.
Anton said the slopes of Mt Puntang had been chosen as the release location for the gibbons because the Malabar protected forest, managed by state-owned forestry company Perum Perhutani, was home to 120 plant varieties favored by gibbons, such as the ficus tree.
Currently, the population of the Javan gibbon in the wild is believed to be on the increase. A survey by the Indonesia Primate Observers Association in 2010 showed its population stood at between 2,000 and 4,000 individuals in the wild.
Despite that, the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) at one point included the Javan gibbon on the critically endangered list, which was changed to endangered in 2006 after strenuous conservation efforts had been made.
Anton said that the Javan gibbon was subject to poaching because it was regarded as an interesting animal while still young. However, to separate a young gibbon from its mother, the poacher must first kill the mother.
Regarding the conservation efforts, Perhutani managing director Bambang Sukmananto said his firm was part of an institution mandated by the state to manage production and protected forests within a 2.4 million-hectare area.
Bambang said the gibbon’s existence in Perhutani’s protected forest area could serve as an indicator as to whether the Mt Puntang protected forest was functioning as it should.