The Jakarta Post
Fifteen hundred meters up the slopes of Mount Puntang in Bandung, West Java, Jowo, a 15-year-old male owa jawa (Javan gibbon) leads his family into the wild after years of rehabilitation.
Jowo came out of the cage as soon as the door was opened from afar, leaping around from one tree to another checking the surroundings to ensure that it was safe enough for his family to follow his steps.
A few minutes later, Bombom, Jowo's partner, also came out of the cage, leaping around the trees nearby also surveying the local environment.
Their offspring, Yani a 4-year-old female and a year-old male, Yudi, were still playing in the cage, probably too afraid to play outside because of the dozens of people watching them from around 20 meters away.
Bombom made a sound, as if trying to tell the little ones that it was okay to play outside. Then Yani timidly stepped out, but Yudi remained in the cage.
It was not until all the observers had left the site and Jowo made a territorial call did Yudi finally come out.
The release of the gibbons was initiated by the Forestry Ministry, state-run forestry company Perhutani and the Javan Gibbon Center (JGC) to increase their population in the wild.
'Owa jawa cannot be released individually as it is feared they can't survive without companions,' JGC manager Anton Ario said.
The family spent a month in the area before the release to adjust to the weather and their new surroundings. They stayed in a spacious cage so they could move freely and comfortably.
Unlike other animals that are released into the wild, owa jawa require as little human interaction as possible during the process in order to maintain their wild behavior.
Anton said that the team had chosen Mt. Puntang for the location of the release because it was part of the Malabar protected forest, which is home to 120 plant varieties favored by gibbons.
The owa jawa family is the first to be sent back into the wild. Last year, a pair of owa jawa, Kiki and Sadewa, was also released in Mt. Puntang. Now, they have traveled approximately 4 kilometers from the place they were first released.
Jowo and Bombom were brought to the JGC in Lido in Bogor, West Java, in 2008 after being confiscated by the West Java Natural Resource Conservation Agency (BKSDA) from residents who kept them as pets.
'They were in a very bad shape ' so skinny because they did not eat well. But what shocked us was when we found a bullet in Bombom's stomach,' Anton said.
'That could mean she was shot during the capture.'
Owa jawa are subject to poaching because when young they are regarded as a cute pets. However, to separate a young gibbon from its mother, the poacher must first kill the mother.
In the center, they were taught to behave according to their nature. And to help increase the population, JGC also matched the gibbons during the rehabilitation.
'Jowo and Bombom were attracted to each other very quickly, after only around two weeks. They got along very well soon after we put them side by side. They flirted just like a couple when we put them in the same cage,' Anton said.
Two years after the couple got together, Yani was born and was then followed by Yudi.
Anton said it was usually hard to match gibbons, whose average lifespan is 25 to 30 years, because they took quite a while to get along. But if they find their soul mate, they will be loyal to their partners for the rest of their lives.
'And they can only have one child in three years,' he added.
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the owa jawa are categorized as an endangered species. It is also listed by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, as a species which may not be traded, including its body parts.
A survey by the Indonesia Primate Observers Association in 2010 showed the population of the gibbons stood at between 2,000 and 4,000 individuals in the wild.
They live mostly in forests in West and Central Java, such as in Ujung Kulon National Park, Mount Gede Pangrango, Mount Halimun Salak, Mount Slamet and Mount Dieng.
'They can move very quickly. But thanks to their morning calls, we can detect their whereabouts,' Anton said.
The monitoring will also be conducted by members of the military who are posted around the area.
'Through this opportunity, we will participate in protecting the owa jawa. I have also told my men not to damage the environment, and that includes protecting the owa jawa, during their training in the jungle,' Siliwangi Military Commander chief Maj. Gen. Dedi Kusnadi said.
' Photos courtesy of Javan Gibbon Center