Nick Boyd is the new monitoring coordinator in the conservation forest Bukit Batikap. A job that makes him feel extremely privileged and optimistic about the future of orangutans.
Hello! My name is Nick and I have been based at the Batikap conservation
forest for the past two-and-a-half weeks. My role is to support the dedicated Batikap team and decide where we should focus our searches and which orangutans are most in need of our attention.
The journey here was a 48-hour trek by road and river, of which the final stretch revealed the tall, pristine dipterocarp forest that the orangutans have been released into. After seeing so much of Borneo’s cleared lowland forest from which these animals have been displaced, it was a breath of fresh air to be reminded that forests like this still exist on the island.
As I arrived at the BOS Foundations newly-built camp I met Cindy, one of the orangutans released in November last year, with her infant Riwut, just a few metres off the ground. Everyone else here knows each orangutan well, so I need to learn who each of them are very quickly! She looked healthy, and
soon started eating fruit on an adjacent tree. For every one of the eighteen adult orangutans that we’ve followed since I arrived here, I’ve been amazed at their ability to find food and survive by themselves, given so many had never lived independently in the wild before release: a testament of how effective Nyaru Menteng’s rehabilitation program has been.
High on the menu here is rattan, a plant found throughout the forest with vicious thorns that rip through clothes and skin alike; in the last month all the orangutans have fed several times per day on the plant’s nutritious pithy core. Also popular are ripe fruit and termites (sucked out from their nests with a satisfying “pop” sound!).
Unlike previous forests where I have seen orangutans, many emergent trees here reach as high as forty metres. Sometimes it is just impossible to view and take accurate data on an ape if they are near the top of one of these giants, with such a thick mid canopy layer in-between. But if they are keeping such distance it is a good sign, as it means they are not curious about or seeking food from humans, which will keep them out of harm’s way.
Getting used to my new role has meant I often stay in our camp for the day while the monitoring team go searching elsewhere in the valley or hills, but that hasn’t stopped me seeing my fair share of orangutans. Reno, a
15-year-old male released in February this year, has come to camp several times, sometimes playing with the transport cages stored away from our living quarters. He is clearly brave and used to people, reflecting his upbringing, but we need to make sure he doesn’t get too used to us.
In recent days he has been accompanied by Kitty, a female from the same release. A week ago our monitoring staff observed them mating three times while recording behavioral data on Kitty. We will continue watching her closely: Could she become our first ex-rehabilitant confirmed to have conceived since release?
Cindy still frequently visits camp with Riwut, who is too small to move very far from her mother. All of these camp-visiting orangutans are often followed by Charlie, a five-year-old released with his mother Chanel two years ago, but now living on his own. In recent months he has been travelling without her, but clearly enjoys the company of the others he meets round here, and has even been seen cuddling Cindy.
What a privilege to be a small part of this amazing conservation project. Our field assistants are learning more every day, each of them eager to hear the others’ stories of what they’ve seen. With the dedication and commitment our team members show and the resilience and survival capacity of these orangutans roaming wild, I am filled with an all too rare optimism for the future of this captivating species.
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