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Kalimantan Orangutans Sactuary and National Park


Kalimantan Orangutans Sactuary and National Park

(1) Tanjung Puting. Tanjung Puting National Park, just inland from the south coast of Borneo in Central Kalimantan, currently offers rehabilitation at several sites along its main river, the Sekonyer.

Tanjung Puting is coastal lowland, sitting on a peninsula jutting into the Java Sea. The peninsula is low-lying and swampy with a spine of dry ground that rises a few feet above the ever present swamp; nowhere does its elevation rise above 100 ft (Galdikas & Shapiro, 1994). About 205,000 ha of this region was declared a game reserve in 1935, much of representing good orangutan habitat (Aveling & Mitchell, 1982). It was made a National Park in 1982. The park officially covers 3,040 km2 of lowland dipterocarp and peat swamp forest. It is the largest protected forest in Central Kalimantan, one of the largest protected areas of tropical heath forest and peat swamp forest in Southeast Asia, and one of the most important wild orangutan areas in Borneo (Galdikas & Shapiro, 1994; Payne & Andau, 1989).

Camp Leakey, a site on the right branch of the Sekonyer River, was the main base for orangutan rehabilitation in Tanjung Puting from 1971 until the early 1990s. Camp Leakey was initially established by Dr. Biruté Galdikas for research on the resident wild orangutan population. Rehabilitation at Camp Leakey began informally in 1971, when Galdikas agreed with local authorities to accept ex-captive orangutans and assist them to return to free forest lives (Frey, 1978; Galdikas-Brindamour, 1975; OFI website, 1999).

Galdikas began using other sites within the park for orangutan rehabilitation from the late 1980’s (Tanjung Harapan, and briefly Natai Lengkuas). As of 1991 the intent was to cease rehabilitation at Camp Leakey because the camp had become increasingly crowded with rehabilitants, their offspring, and tourists. The crowding caused by the rehabilitants and their offspring probably stressed the wild population. The tourist influx undermined the rehabilitation process and increased the risk of introducing serious human diseases to the rehabilitant orangutans, who could then transmit disease to the wild orangutans.

The Indonesian government, via the national park authorities (PHPA), took over management of all orangutan rehabilitation in Tanjung Puting late in 1991. Since then, two new rehabilitation sites were opened for operation, a first at Tanjung Harapan and a second at Pondok Tandui. In 1995 new regulations came into law in Indonesia that prohibit the reintroduction of rehabilitant orangutans into areas currently supporting wild orangutan populations. Tanjung Puting supports an important wild orangutan population, so the aim is to terminate orangutan rehabilitation in the park. To handle the continuing influx of ex-captive orangutans in Central Kalimantan, a new rehabilitation site is under development at Nyaru Menteng, near the provincial capital of Palangka Raya.

(2) Bontang. A very small center specifically devoted to orangutan rehabilitation, but little known, operated for several years at Bontang on the edges of Kutai National Park in East Kalimantan. Bontang welcomed tourists, although relatively few visited because of its inaccessible location. It was closed in the mid 1990s when Wanariset took over all orangutan rehabilitation in East Kalimantan.

(3) Wanariset. Wanariset is a research centre dedicated to conservation-oriented research on tropical forests. It was established in the 1980’s by the Indonesian Department of Forestry, the Indonesian association of forest concession holders, and the Tropenbos Foundation of the Netherlands. It is part of the Forestry Research Institute, Samarinda, which reports to the Agency for Forestry Research and Development of the Indonesian Ministry of Forestry. Wanariset is not situated in a national park or reserve, but on land protected for research purposes 38 km north of the oil city of Balikpapan in East Kalimantan, along the main road to Samarinda.

Willie Smits, Wanariset’s Dutch team leader at the time, initiated an orangutan rescue and rehabilitation project at Wanariset in 1991 with the help of children at the local international school. The project was named the Orangutan Reintroduction Project. ORP’s focus remains the confiscation and rehabilitation of illegally held captive orangutans, but it increasingly devotes effort to a broader range of orangutan protection activities including surveys to identify good orangutan habitat, surveying wild orangutan populations, education, supporting wild orangutan protection efforts, etc.

ORP follows a rehabilitation program developed by Herman Rijksen, which emphasizes extensive medical screening and treatment, strictly limiting human contact, resocialising ex-captives to orangutans, and release into areas free of wild populations. ORP releases ex-captive orangutans in the triangle east of the Barito River and south of the Mahakam River, an area believed to be free of wild populations of orangutans. The reasons for orangutans’ absence are unknown, because the habitat resembles that of adjacent areas that do support wild orangutan populations (IBN-DLO, 1995). To date, ORP has released orangutans into two areas of protected forest—Sungai Wain and Gunung Meratus (Beratus)—that are distant and disconnected from the Wanariset facilities.

Sungai Wain is a water catchment forest with Protection Forest status (hutan lindung) located about 15 km north of Balikpapan and 20-25 km south of Wanariset. Wild orangutans have been absent from this forest since at least 1938 (Westermann, 1938). Officially protected is an area of ~11,000 ha (~ 27,000 acres) of lowland mixed dipterocarp rainforest with extensive swamp areas in the southern part. Around the protected areas of Sungai Wain forest lie another 10,000 ha of logged-over forest and swamp. The forest is bounded on the south by a canal, reservoir, and fencing; on the north by an uninhabited logging concession; on the west by the bay of Balikpapan; and on the east by farmland and the main Balikpapan-Samarinda highway (Smits et al., 1994). Despite its protection status, the forest has suffered considerable encroachment from adjacent human settlements and fires early in 1998 destroyed about 50% of the remaining good forest so that by mid 1998, only about 3500 ha of good forest remained.

The Meratus (Beratus) forest-block is a larger, more remote site. It constitutes an area of State forest land covered by lowland to hill rainforest with some swamp that lies some 30 km NW of Sungai Wain. Its centre has Protection Forest status (hutan lindung) but it was affected by logging incursions from the timber concessions that surround it until 1993. Its periphery is logged-over and has been abandoned by the concessionaires. On one side it borders onto the concession area of a timber production company. It is distant from human settlement, the nearest community being 50 km distant. In ecological terms, the Meratus forest-block is part of the hill and mountain rainforest covering the Pegunungan Meratus region, and the contiguous forest cover of the adjacent concessions.

The Ministry of Forestry accorded 1,200 km2 of this forest-block to the orangutan reintroduction project with Protection Forest status. The area allocated is covered with good quality lowland and hill forest that should offer excellent habitat for orangutans, although much of the area is at elevations greater than 500 m. Elevations in the area reach 1200 m; permanent wild orangutan populations are very rarely found this high. Negotiations are currently under way to increase the protected area available for orangutan reintroductions.