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Indonesians join efforts to save endangered orangutan

Tapanuli orangutan is world’s rarest and most threatened species of great ape

Nanda Fahriza Batubara and Nani Afrida  | 27.11.2020 - Update : 27.11.2020
Indonesians join efforts to save endangered orangutan

JAKARTA, Indonesia

Veterinarian Evi Fitrana said she never thought she would be involved in rescuing a critically endangered orangutan.

As she was getting ready to go to her office at the Orangutan Sumatera Lestari Foundation (YOSL) - Orangutan Information Center (OIC), she received a report about an orangutan in a residential area.

"Someone called and reported that a Tapanuli orangutan had entered the residential area last Sunday," Fitriana told Anadolu Agency.

Along with the OIC team, she headed straight to Marsada village, the Sipirok subdistrict of the South Tapanuli Regency in North Sumatra province, and found an orangutan perched in a jackfruit tree behind a house.

Based on her observations, the orangutan was an adult male with a large build and red hair.

“According to residents, the orangutan has been going back and forth around residential areas for four days. He has been moving from one tree to another to find food,” said Fitriana.

The Tapanuli orangutan (Pongo tapanuliensis) was recognized as a species separate from its closest relatives in other parts of Sumatra (Pongo Abelii) and Kalimantan (Pongo pygmaeus) in November 2017.

Initially, the OIC team planned to escort the Tapanuli orangutan to the nearest forest, but the area was quite far from the conservation forest.

Fitriana believes the orangutan she found was separated from his mother, left the nest, and went off in search of his own territory.

The OIC team sedated the orangutan. After being examined, the orangutan, which weighed about 63 kilograms (139 pounds) and was estimated to be 35 years old, was declared healthy.

"It was in a healthy condition, so we decided to immediately release it back," said Fitrana.

The OIC together with the Natural Resources Conservation Center (BKSDA) released the orangutan in the Dolok Sipirok Nature Reserve the next day.

The Tapanuli orangutan is a species of orangutan restricted to South Tapanuli Regency on Indonesia's island of Sumatra.

It is listed as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) due to hunting, conflicts with humans, illegal wildlife trade and rampant habitat destruction for small-scale agriculture and mining.

Compared to other species, Tapanuli orangutans have frizzier hair, smaller heads, and flatter and wide faces.

Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Andoko Hidayat, spokesman for the North Sumatra Natural Resources Conservation Center, said the Tapanuli orangutan is a great ape species found only in the forest areas of three districts in North Sumatra, including Central Tapanuli Regency, South Tapanuli Regency, and North Tapanuli Regency.

The government has taken various steps to preserve the endangered species.

"Most of the local residents understand that it is a protected endangered species," said Irzal Azhar, head of the center’s technical division.

Irzal said the center has only evacuated and released the Tapanuli orangutan once this year.

*Writing by Maria Elisa Hospita and Rhany Chairunissa Rufinaldo from Anadolu Agency's Indonesian language services in Jakarta

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