Timtom is a young rescued orangutan who lives at a rehabilitation centre in Indonesian Borneo, in south east Asia, run by our friends at the Orangutan Foundation. Sadly, wild orangutan populations are under increasing threat from habitat loss, caused by activities such as mining, logging, palm oil development and hunting. The Orangutan Foundation aims to keep orangutans safe by protecting the lush green forests where they live. They also rescue and release orangutans, and rehabilitate infants like Timtom who was being kept as a pet, until they are ready to return to the wild.
Orangutans are now only found on two islands in the world – Borneo and Sumatra – previously they were widespread across south east Asia. Tragically, over the last three decades an estimated 80% of orangutan habitat has been lost. Their numbers have declined, and Bornean, Sumatran and Tapanuli orangutans all officially listed as ‘critically endangered’ by the ICUN*.
Born Free supports the Orangutan Foundation which has been working hard for over two decades to protect critical orangutan habitat in Central Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo. Here, the Orangutan Foundation ensures protected areas stay protected, creates new conservation areas to safeguard orangutan populations and prevents deforestation. To achieve long-term success, they ensure local communities who live alongside orangutans are involved and support conservation initiatives.
Dr Liz Greengrass, Born Free’s Head of Conservation, says: “Habitat loss is the orangutan’s biggest threat. If we fail to protect their forests, we will fail the orangutans.”
The Orangutan Foundation has had great success in reducing the number of illegal activities in the forests of Tanjung Puting National Park and Lamandau Wildlife Reserve by maintaining a high visible presence. Guard posts have been constructed in strategic locations and daily foot patrols deter unwanted visitors. Drone footage also helps to monitor the forests. Fire-fighting teams have been trained and are ready to respond to any reports of forest fires in the critical orangutan habitat.
In 2016, the Orangutan Foundation planted 15,000 fire-resistant Ubar tree seedlings after forest fires destroyed 11.000 hectares of the Lamandau Wildlife reserve. Slowly, the forest is regenerating, species are returning, and the natural ecosystem is being restored.
Little Timtom’s story highlights just how important the Orangutan Foundation’s work is to conserve wild orangutan populations and their habitat. Timtom is lucky, she lives at Camp JL, one of the Orangutan Foundation’s four release camps in the 158,000 acre Lamandau Wildlife Reserve. The reserve is estimated to be home to around 500 orangutans and is one of the few sites where rescued orangutans can be released back into the wild.
“Orangutans, like all great apes, are extremely clever and can suffer particularly badly when kept in captivity. Wild animals have complex needs and never make good pets,” adds Dr Greengrass.
Infant orangutans are nursed by their mothers for four to five years, and stay with their mothers for another seven to eight years thereafter. Timtom was just nine-months-old when she was rescued – the youngest orangutan to enter the orangutan’s soft-release programme – so you can imagine how distressed she was to be separated from her mum.
With expert treatment, she has slowly recovered from her ordeal. Today, Timtom is starting to explore the lower level of the forest canopy, but seems to prefer rolling in the sand on the ground which results in her needing a good wash afterwards! She rarely moves far from the field assistants but under their watchful eye, she is starting to look for food in the forest and is learning the skills she will need when, one day, she is ready to return to the wild.
Dr Greengrass adds: “Orangutans primarily eat ripe fruit and play a vital role in seed dispersal. Like elephants, they are a keystone species playing a crucial role in how the forest ecosystem functions.”
By adopting Timtom, you are supporting the Orangutan Foundation’s vital conservation work to protect Central Kalimantan and safeguard the future of the precious orangutans.
*International Union for Conservation of Nature