Holly Thompson, the Primate Supervisor at Perth Zoo, was able to share insight into Perth Zoo’s support for introduction of orangutans into the wilds of Sumatra, protection and monitoring and community education and development. Working with Frankfurt Zoological Society the aim is to return rescued and captive bred orangutans to the rainforest.
Perth Zoo has bred 29 orangutans since 1970 as part of an Australasian breeding program and has released three into the Bukit Tigapuluh habitat since 2006, the most recent release being Nyaru. Perth Zoo is the only zoo in the world releasing zoo-born orangutans into the wild.
Preparing orangutans for life in the wild starts with an indefinite term at Jungle School in the Open Orangutan Sanctuary, a stimulating and progressive series of lessons to learn the skills they will need to survive and thrive in the wild. Social interaction and nest building are just some of these skills, and becoming accustomed to native diet is also covered at this time; jungle food like termites, nuts, berries and rattan palm.
After graduating from Jungle School, the orangutans are relocated into the jungles of the national park. They are supported with their reintroduction and observed and monitored for many weeks until they demonstrate they have demonstrated the sufficient skills to survive in the forest without help. Learnings from this period are fed back into the Jungle School program to strengthen the training.
Perth Zoo’s Nyaru has been on this journey but having been released into the jungle showed he is susceptible to the same threats all orangutans face and sustained injuries from a large male. More Jungle School was required and he is now being prepared for reintroduction to the wild. It is not uncommon for Jungle School graduates to return to the Open Orangutan Sanctuary for respite, support and additional lessons which enables them to ultimately thrive in the wild.
The work of Perth Zoo not only supports introduction / re-release of this species to their natural habitat but also generates learnings to bring back to our regional program and Primate TAG. Increased knowledge on habitat, diets and social interactions can only improve the positive welfare of these animals in our local care.
A big thank you to Holly for your time and good luck with the upcoming trip to Bukit Tigapuluh.