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Getting ready for the jungle: Story of Rambo and other orangutans at Samboja Lestari

Muthi Achadiat Kautsar
Muthi Achadiat Kautsar

The Jakarta Post

Samboja, East Kalimantan  /  Mon, September 16, 2019  /  10:05 am
Getting ready for the jungle: Story of Rambo and other orangutans at Samboja Lestari

A female orangutan named Ani is seen roaming around a man-made island in the Samboja Lestari Center of Samboja subdistrict, Kutai Kartanegara regency, in East Kalimantan in late August. (JP/Muthi Kautsar)

Those who are into road trip should consider exploring East Kalimantan. A short road trip to and from the cities of Balikpapan and Samarinda, for instance, is relatively convenient and both ends offer you a culinary adventure as well as other possibilities in between.

A stop worth considering that lies between Balikpapan and Samarinda is Samboja Lodge of Samboja subdistrict in Kutai Kartanegara regency. Aside from providing a place to escape and surrounded by lush greenery and fresh air, Samboja Lodge is also the home of the Samboja Lestari Center, part of Borneo Orangutan Survival (BOS) Foundation.

Samboja Lestari Center is a rehabilitation facility and sanctuary for orangutans that had been rescued from unfortunate situations. It aims to prepare the orangutans to be released back to their natural habitat, albeit not every orangutan is eligible for release due to handicaps, illnesses or behavioral disorders.

Imam Muslimin, animal welfare supervisor at Samboja Lestari told The Jakarta Post in late August that the facility observes the orangutans every day, and it relies on the observation data to decide whether or not an orangutan is capable of being released.

Samboja Lestari comprises 10 man-made islands where the orangutans are placed. Each island is bordered with a water feature to prevent the orangutans from escaping.

“One of our education programs is to teach [the orangutans] to never cross the river. If an orangutan falls into the water, especially deep waters, he or she has no chance of surviving unless there is help,” said Imam, also explaining that orangutans have legs that are shorter than their arms, hence longer and heavier upper bodies that makes it difficult for them in the water.

Regarding “education”, the orangutans are also encouraged to socialize with their counterparts, so that they will be able to get along well with wild orangutans once they are released.

Samboja Lestari’s island 6 is where a female orangutan named Ani dwells. Ani shares the island with Rambo, a male orangutan. The animal keepers arranged this settlement with hopes that Rambo, a release candidate, could encourage Ani –who is severely traumatized- to improve her behavior so that she becomes eligible for release.

Imam, speaking of Rambo in manners of a doting father, said that the male orangutan was taken over from Ancol Dream Park.

Rambo is said to be active and territorial, showing the ability to survive in the wild. On the other hand, Ani would only wait for her food, eat, sleep, repeat, failing to master survival skills.

“Orangutans have the habit to imitate each other. That is why we arrange for orangutans with different skills to live on the same island, so that they can learn from each other,” said Imam.

At the time of writing, Ani still hasn’t changed although she has lived close to Rambo the role model for some time.

Regardless of sharing an island together, the orangutans are not expected to mate to produce babies.

Samboja Lestari firmly states that it is not a breeding facility. Therefore, the female orangutans are put on birth control before being sent to live with their male counterparts. With a similar reproductive system as humans, orangutans could be put on a human birth control program.

At times, birth control could fail, leading to the birth of a “baby by accident”. One of the babies of this category is called Marlon, and seeing him swinging from one tree to another gives the understanding of why some people would take orangutans as pets. These animals are too adorable to ignore. But above all, their place is in the wild.

“How do you feel when the day has come for an orangutan to be released?” the Post asked Imam.

“If I want to be selfish, I am sad. I interact with the orangutan every day, and then we have to part. But this is what’s best for them. Orangutans are destined to be in the wild,” answered Imam.

Shortly afterwards, we let the orangutans return to their heat-avoiding nap and proceeded to the sun bear sanctuary. While the former live behind the boundaries of water, the latter are kept behind metal fences that surround their vast green playgrounds.

A sun bear lazes around in the afternoon at Samboja Lestari Center in Kutai Kartanegara regency, East Kalimantan, in late August.A sun bear lazes around in the afternoon at Samboja Lestari Center in Kutai Kartanegara regency, East Kalimantan, in late August. (JP/Muthi Kautsar)

Imam said that all the bears in Samboja Lestari are confiscated from individuals or companies.

Read also: Who owns land in new capital city?

Unlike the orangutans that are prepared to be released, however, the bears in the sanctuary will stay inside the fence for the rest of their lives.

The bears don’t seem to mind though, as we saw one of them excitedly eating a frozen pineapple stuffed with oats, another one walked back and forth energetically and another moved its head to the right and left as if listening to its favorite song.

The sun bear playground at Samboja Lestari center in Kutai Kartanegara regency, East KalimantanThe sun bear playground at Samboja Lestari center in Kutai Kartanegara regency, East Kalimantan (JP/Muthi Kautsar)

According to Imam, the wilderness nowadays may become too challenging for the bears, as food has been scarce and their natural habitat is declining.

On our bumpy way back to the main road from Samboja Lestari, I was relieved for the orangutans and honey bears that have been rescued and taken care of in loving hands. But I realize that for orangutans to return to the wild would mean an arduous journey for themselves as well as their caretakers.

The Post’s journey to meet the orangutans had been made convenience with a local, experienced individual who drove a car that was in prime condition, booked using the rent feature courtesy of Grab Indonesia.