23 July 2013

Adult orangutans on the move

By veterinarian Micah Jensen

The IAR centre in Ketapang has been a hive of activity in the last few weeks in preparation for the big orangutan move. Last week four of our largest female orangutans Mona, Huta, Mely and Cinta were moved from their housing at the old transit centre in Ketapang City to the newly built IAR rehabilitation site in Sungai Awan. This is a considerable change for the girls since they have been housed at the transit centre in Ketapang for several years. However with the construction of the new Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre well under way animals are being moved in stages from their old housing to the new site. While most of the younger individuals have already been moved to the forested rehabilitation area, it is now time to start moving the larger orangutans. Orangutans are known for their strength and ingenuity, they are the escape artist of the great apes, so special care needs to go into their enclosure preparation to ensure the areas are orangutan proof. The cages at the old centre are deteriorating with age, leaving the staff with the daunting task of trying to weld away rust as fast as tropical rain creates it. Thankfully when our handyman Dade comes to repair cages with his welding gear, he becomes great enrichment for the orangutans to watch!
Mely relaxes in her hammock!

The first step to their freedom was to move the four girls into the quarantine enclosure in Sungai Awan, which requires a general anaesthetic and a truck ride to their new home situated half an hour out of Ketapang. The quarantine enclosures at the new centre have been refreshed with new cage enrichment and a fresh coat of paint thanks to the Great Project volunteers, along with shiny new locks put in place that should keep Mona one of our craftiest females at bay.  When selecting which group of the large orangutans should be moved from transit first, Mona’s group was at the top of the list. The artful Mona had years ago been the mastermind behind an escape from her cage where she took three of her cage mates with her to raid the food room!

Clever Mona was first up for an anaesthetic as she can be the most suspicious of unusual events. Mona was anaesthetized by blow dart, while Cinta, Huta and Mely were very accommodating and all accepted hand injections of anesthesia through the bars. The girls were thankfully very co-operative, gently going to sleep, giving us smooth anaesthetics with rapid recoveries in their transport crates.
The blow dart is sometimes the safest
way to sedate these large animals

Christine thoroughly examines the
mouth for teeth issues
Anaesthetics provided a golden opportunity for the vet team to get close enough to each of the girls to give a full physical exam and collect any samples needed for health and genetics. Our team of veterinary staff and animal caretakers all worked like a synchronised sports team to get all the procedures done efficiently in a minimal amount of time. This is no mean feat considering it involved collecting blood samples, tracheal washes, hair samples, dental records, and growth measurements while giving a full general physical exam, taking x-rays and maintaining a smooth anaesthesia, all within half an hour.  After this flurry of activity the girls woke up from their unusual sleep on piles of leaves in their transport cages.  The crates were then loaded onto the back of flatbed trucks and the girls were able to watch people driving alongside, as we drove out of the town and into the rural area of the Sungai Awan Centre. They all sat watching intently with their fingers laced through the bars and Cinta moved leaves away to ensure she got a better view. The only hitch was a light shower of rain on the last ride back to the centre which was quite amusing for Cinta and Mely as they got to watch from their dry cages as the people and equipment around them got soaking wet.

A rare chance for the vets to get up close with
the adult orangutans
On arrival the girls all moved from their crates straight into their new cage and made themselves comfortable swinging in the new hammocks and bails. Within no time Mona was testing out every inch of the cage to exploit any weaknesses in the handywork. It will take a while for them to adjust to the new surroundings so we are providing lots of food, branches and enrichment to settle them in. The day after being moved Mona took advantage of her new settings and used her keen sense of timing to steal a cup of electrolytes off one of the new vets, but, rather than destroy the cup, she rested herself against the cage door and lazily used the cup of liquid to dunk her biscuits in. So she seems to be settling in nicely so far.

Photography by Thomas Burns

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