The high frequency of orangutan rescue, translocation operations and confiscations of illegally-held captive orangutans by the HOCRU team over the last year confirms that human-orangutan conflict is an ongoing problem in and around the Leuser Ecosystem, exacerbated by destruction of orangutan habitat mainly for plantation development.
Our HOCRU programme is the only active initiative directly tackling human-orangutan conflict in the field in Sumatra with the team’s vital work also linked to forest-adjacent communities. This initiative has been responsible for preventing conflict incidents such as the killing and poaching of orangutans, through communities being exposed to a specialist service they can report at-risk animals to, rather than taking matters into their own hands. HOCRU are a lifeline to reduce the rate of orangutan mortality as a result of either community intervention or starvation due to being isolated in condemned forests within plantations or farmlands. Many orangutans that are isolated in fragmented forests benefit from the work of HOCRU as the team continues to monitor them, and undertake a translocation when the orangutans are deemed to be under serious threat.
Throughout 2015, the team rescued 29 orangutans: 16 females and 13 males, with 19 orangutans evacuated from plantations and farmlands and 10 confiscated from the illegal pet trade. Eighteen orangutans that were evacuated from farmlands and plantations were all still exhibiting typical natural behaviour as they were still living in the wild (albeit in a conflict situation) and were translocated and released back into protected forest blocks in the Leuser Ecosystem. Unfortunately, one orangutan died due to severe injuries caused by serious infection as a result of a brutal attack and air rifle gun shots. The injuries led to a shocked hypovolemic condition caused by septicaemia and metabolic acidosis.
The 10 orangutans that were confiscated from the illegal pet trade were transferred to the specialist orangutan quarantine and care centre managed by the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme (SOCP), to enter the rehabilitation process and one day be released into the protected forests in Jantho, Aceh. In total 1,907 individuals participated in education and awareness raising activities conducted by the HOCRU team during 2015.
Furthermore, the HOCRU project has been supporting the government in their law enforcement efforts for wildlife and ecosystem conservation as law enforcement is still a major challenge in Indonesia and the improvement of law enforcement by the conservation agency will help mitigate and prevent conflict incidents. Through HOCRU efforts, a major wildlife trafficker in Aceh who attempted to sell three orangutan babies was arrested. This was a significant milestone for law enforcement and conflict mitigation works by HOCRU. The case was the first time when an orangutan trader was arrested and brought to the police custody and the court in Aceh for prosecution. We sent a letter to the Attorney General to make the case as a national issue in order to monitor the case intensively and as a result, the Attorney General responded confirming that the case has become a national issue, asking the Aceh attorney to follow the case and prosecute the criminal accordingly. As a result, the court in Aceh finally sentenced the trader to two years in jail and a fine of 3500 USD in November 2015. This is a huge step to showcase good precedents and accelerate improved law enforcement for the protection of orangutans and other wildlife in Indonesia.