26 April 2013

Creating enrichment for macaques

by biologist and M.Sc student Wendy Gomez, in Ciapus

Being able to do my dissertation project on macaques at the International Animal Rescue centre in Ciapus, Indonesia has certainly been a privilege, not only because it is a great opportunity to grow academically and professionally, but mainly because it has given me the chance to appreciate the magnificence of these animals while I help their rehabilitation process.
One of our rescued macaques has a snack
When it comes to any reintroduction programme, it is fundamental to assure the animals’ ability to obtain food in the wild since it is one of the main challenges they will all have to overcome in order to survive and thrive after release.

Now, taking into consideration that most of these macaques come from the pet trade and have spent years in captivity (either as pets, street beggars or performers), it is very important to make sure they know how to forage for food in their own habitat - which is very different from finding food in a plate or in a human hand - so they don’t starve to death once they’re released. For this, the keepers at the centre are always trying to come up with creative ways to present the food, using puzzle feeders and feeding devices (made of natural materials such as bamboo branches and other trees) so the amount of time spent by the animals in foraging activities increases, and their foraging skills improve.
Adding the secret ingredients
As part of my project and after talking with the keepers, we decided to make a foraging box to give the animals a small representation of what they would find in the wild. Since macaques spend some time foraging on the ground, and besides fruit they also eat insects, leaves and small vertebrates, we thought we could put some of these “ingredients” together in the box, in a way that resembled the natural appearance of their habitat: some soil covered with a thick layer of foliage, branches and rocks that they would have to manipulate to find the fruit and the insects.

Once the first box was made, we put the soil, rocks, insects, seeds, leaves and small pieces of fruit inside, put one box in a cage and then waited for the animals’ reactions...

Even though I really wanted the box to work (that would mean seeing the animals forage for at least more than a few minutes on it), I was somehow expecting them to break the box or just take everything out in a second. However, they were carefully moving and manipulating the branches, leaves and rocks to find the crickets, worms and pieces of fruit that were hidden inside. The box was big enough to let 3 macaques use it, and they didn't forage for a few minutes, but for more than 2 hours! :)

This not only gave us a clue that we were on the right direction with this new enrichment and it’s something we might be able to use in the long term, but it also showed me that I was underestimating the intelligence and abilities of these animals.

So, we are still working on some improvements for this box to see if we can increase the amount of time the animals use it, but we are excited to know we had a good start with this idea and we are looking forward to testing the new version and see if we can use it with other groups of macaques!

The foraging box certainly went down well with the residents!

18 April 2013

International Animal Rescue's Primate Diaries: Dramatic rescues

Four more are safe...

...For now.

This mother tried to hide up the only remaining tree. The
team searched desperately for her baby but without success 
International Animal Rescue and the local foresty department (BKSDA) in Ketapang received reports of several orangutans trapped in the fragmented areas of forest near a palm oil plantation in Tanah Merah, which is about 3 hours by car from the new rescue and rehabilitation centre in Sungai Awan. With their forest home destroyed, the animals scattered and began to wander the area in search of food and a new place to live. The palm oil company asked for help to move the orangutans, who had become a nuisance because they were eating the young fruits from the palm oil trees.  A collection of forestry department workers, assisted by individuals from IAR, had already begun conducting environmental surveys in the bordering forest to find an appropriate place to relocate the orangutans. They found evidence that the orangutans were eating bark and stems, as there was little fruit and few leaves available.

Our team worked fast on a general health check while
the animals were sedated
In the third week of March, the rest of the IAR/BKSDA team arrived to see the desolate and depressing landscape, which is the product of the destruction of the forest within the borders of the plantation. Workers from the palm oil company helped the team to locate the individuals in need of rescue. The first was an adult female who had been spotted with a baby. When the rescue team arrived, the baby could not be found, and it is suspected that it was taken to be kept as a pet, sold to the highest bidder, or worse. The mother, who was still lactating, scrambled high into a single bare tree, so there was no good way to sedate her at that time. The group waited for her to come down and followed her across the apocalyptic terrain before she was safely captured.  

This orangutan and her baby were starving to death due to
A second female was caught while traveling along the ground, and she was found to be pregnant. It was already dark when she recovered from the sedative, but she had to be released that night as she was very stressed in the transport cage.

The last two to be moved came together as a mother-baby pair, which complicated the darting process because the baby was clinging tightly to her mother’s back the entire time.  Both were very thin, but the mother handled the drugs well, and the baby silently watched while still clinging on.

The baby clung tightly to his mother throughout the entire
Heavy rain fell on the team and the animals during the transfer, but everyone made it safely to the forest at the border of the plantation. The future remains questionable for all in the forest, and saving the land from further industrial use is of utmost importance for the orangutans.

3 April 2013

International Animal Rescue: Good news from the slow loris team

Good news from the Salak Mountain slow loris monitoring programme

By vet Wendi Prameswari

Arjuna has his tracking collar changed
On 30 March, Arjuna, a released male Javan slow loris, was caught by the monitoring team because his collar was due to be changed. Arjuna had survived seven months in the forests of Mount Salak, displaying extensive ranging and active behaviours. The medical team went too in order to give him a health check whilst the collar was being replaced. Arjuna was found to be in good condition with a body weight of 840 grams. His body weight had dropped slightly since he was first released, but this is always expected owing to the increase in foraging and travelling requirements once back in the wild. A new collar was fitted and monitoring will now continue for another six months until he has successfully survived across the two seasons (wet and dry).

Arjuna poses for the camera beautifully before his
release back into his jungle home
There are close to 100 slow lorises at our rescue centre in Ciapus, Java – all victims of the illegal wildlife trade which in recent years has been fuelled by YouTube videos depicting them as cute, cuddly pets. Eighty per cent of the rescued lorises have had their teeth cut out by the pet traders before they are sold – a cruel and painful practice which frequently leads to infection, septicaemia and death.

Our team in Ciapus continues to investigate whether slow lorises that have lost their teeth can still survive and fend for themselves in the wild.