The SOCPs Orangutan Quarantine Centre
After confiscation, all orangutans are first brought to the SOCP’s Quarantine Center in Batu Mbelin. The centre meets all the requirements for a facility of this nature. It is just one hour from the large city of Medan, meaning it is well connected for land, air and sea transport, and well-equipped hospitals and medical laboratories. It is surrounded by smallholder farms that provide a constant and varied supply of fruit and vegetables for the orangutans. The site itself has three freshwater springs, meaning all the water use by the orangutans and for cage cleaning is perfectly clean and safe. Despite this, it is also in a very green, lush and secluded location, off the beaten track (to avoid unwanted visitors, as it is after all a quarantine facility and closed to the public), and fully supported by the local communities.
The local communities were very interested in the project from the outset. The facilities were mostly built by local villagers and most of the current staff of the quarantine grew up nearby. Furthermore, the majority of the orangutans food stuffs comprise locally grown fruit and vegetables, for which we pay a very reasonable price, since the farmers know they don’t have to go far or wait all day at the roadside to sell their produce. By nurturing these close ties with the local communities we have managed to foster an excellent ‘community spirit’ and can count on the full support of the indigenous Karo Batak people.
Facilities at the SOCP Orangutan Quarantine Center include:
- One fully equipped and comprehensive clinic complete with examination room, laboratory, office, operating theatre, x-ray and anaesthesia equipment, staff bedroom, autopsy room, store and dark-room (for developing x-rays).
- Five units of four isolation cages (20 cages in all) for housing orangutans during their initial full quarantine period. These are designed to be as flexible as possible. We can shut down the doors to create four small cages or open them up to create one large one, and any combination in between.
- One set of socialisation cages. This unit comprises 6 cages in total: two very large, two medium and two small. Each is interconnected so we can have any combination of large or small cages we choose. The design allows orangutans to be introduced to each other very gradually, first visually, then via ‘touch’ contact through the barwork, before eventually being mixed in the same cage together. This minimises the stress of new introductions for all concerned
- Four long-term holding cages and one large ‘bachelor pad’ for orangutans that cannot be released to the wild in the foreseeable future. This includes may suffer disabilities or carry potentially contagious illness. To date these cages house Leuser, blind due to being shot 62 times with an air rifle, Tila, who harbours Hepatitis B but shows no symptoms and Dek Nong, who suffers from a persistent arthritic condition. Note: the SOCP has plans for an innovative new project that will provide all 3 orangutans with a much improved quality of life in the coming years, see Orangutan Haven.
- Additional facilities that are required for the management and operation of the station such as staff accommodation, an orangutan food storage and processing building, a composting facility, staff canteen, and generator housing, among others.
New arrivals at the quarantine station have to undergo extensive medical checks and a minimum 30-day quarantine period to ensure they carry no illnesses. Only healthy orangutans are allowed to have any contact with other inhabitants of the station, and to be eventually released to the wild.
For the first few days after their arrival we observe the orangutans closely to assess their general health condition and take a number of faecal or other non-invasive samples, to check for parasites and other ailments. This initial settling in period also allows the orangutans to get used to the center’s staff and their new environment, its sights and smells, with minimal stress. Once they are settled, however, we must then anaesthetize them for full medical checks. The samples and standard tests and procedures we normally carry out include:
- Chest x-rays to check for Tuberculosis and other bronchial problems
- Blood samples to test for Hepatitis A, B and C, Herpes simplex virus and routine blood tests (as a good indicator of overall health and any potential ‘hidden’ problems)
- PPD tests, a routine under-the-skin injection to test for tuberculosis that is commonly used in humans and other primates.
We also take this opportunity for a close look at any other wounds and injuries or medical conditions that we may have noticed, and record body measurements and weight.
Each orangutan then undergoes a kind of ‘ID process’, in which portrait and dental photos are taken and a tattoo of the individuals’ “SOCP number” is made on the inner thigh, and a tiny transponder chip (the same as commonly used with dogs and cats) is placed under the skin. This chip can be read by a special reader and stores a unique serial number. These are all important means of future identification, and also part of the standard procedures adopted by the government for keeping track of confiscated animals.
All of the findings of these tests and the unique ID details are then recorded in the individuals own behavioural and medical record files, that continue to be updated as long as the animal is at the quarantine or one of the two SOCP reintroduction centers, and even long after they have eventually been released into the forest, whenever they are encountered and there is useful information to be recorded.
Once fit and healthy, the orangutans are gradually introduced to other orangutans. They learn to interact with each other and “groups” are established which can later be transferred to one of the reintroduction sites together. For most, this is the first contact they have had with another orangutan since their capture, and the death of their mother.
After they have been pronounced fit, the orangutans are transferred to the center’s large socialisation cages. Here they begin the process of learning to be an orangutan once again, after knowing only humans for the duration of their captivity. First they are placed in a small “satellite” cage, where they can see other orangutans (visual contact). but without physical contact. A few days later, we let them into a larger cage, that is next to the main group. Here they can finally touch and interact with other through the barwork, but can also get away from each other too, as they still have their own separate cage. During this time, SOCP staff observe and monitor their behaviour for a few days and once the staff are satisfied that there is no aggression, and the orangutans are likely to get on okay, the door can finally be opened to give them full physical contact with each other. By taking this very gradual, step-by-step approach we keep stress to a minimum and reduce the risks of any serious fighting among the orangutans, as they jostle for status in the new group hierarchy.
This stage in the SOCP process is a very rewarding one. Often when an orangutan meets another orangutan at the quarantine center it is the first time they have done so since their own capture, and the death of their mother. Frequently you can see a new sparkle in their eyes and a renewed enthusiasm about life in general when they first figure out that they can play with other orangutans again, and that they are not in fact just weird hairy humans!
By following these procedures, small ‘groups’ of compatible individuals can be established and the orangutans have chance to learn many of the social and behavioural skills from each other that they will need when they are eventually released to the wild. Transfers of orangutans to the reintroduction sites also tend to include individuals from the same ‘group’, so that they travel and arrive with ‘friends’, again to minimise the stress of the move and maximise their chances of settling in well to new surroundings.
Adopt an Orangutan
Only 1 out of 6 orphans are lucky enough to be rescued – over 1,000 orphaned orangutans are living in rescue and rehabilitation centres. Care of these infants is costly and requires 24 hr staff, veterinary, and nurse care to ensure they are in a healthy condition and have the best chance to survive – and possibly even return to the wild.
From as little as $65 you can make a real difference and help these infants survive.
For more information on our orangutan release program in Jantho, Aceh Province Indonesia, please fill in the form here.
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To counteract the explosive extinction of the Sumatran rainforest, the Orangutan Coffee Project supports coffee farmers in the highland of Gayo, Aceh province to manage their plantations in an ecological and sustainable way.
Special premiums from Orangutan Coffee reward both local coffee farmers and also support the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme.