WILD MEN: Keith Bolton (left) and Nik Hyde (right) with some of the staff at the Nyaru Menteng orangutan sanctuary in Borneo.
WILD MEN: Keith Bolton (left) and Nik Hyde (right) with some of the staff at the Nyaru Menteng orangutan sanctuary in Borneo.

Serious monkey business

THE plight of the orangutan is not a happy one. Due to the clearing of habitat, Borneo's orangutans could be extinct within a decade.

But thanks to the efforts of a group called Borneo Orangutan Survival (BOS) Australia, 29 rehabilitated orangutans were released back into the wild earlier this year, with another 20 expected later in the year and a further 100 next year.

BOS Australia president Tony Gilding, who is also owner/operator of the Macadamia Castle at Knockrow, told The Echo the organisation and its partners have bought 200,000 hectares of virgin rainforest and are running the largest great ape reintroduction program in the world.

And it's no small operation, with 825 orangutans currently living in two sanctuaries and around 700 staff taking care of them.

"There's a big logistics team because it's very remote... The more remote the release area, the better the chance of protection," Mr Gilding said.

"There are scientists and release experts, animal behaviour experts, tracking and telemetry experts and in the sanctuary the baby orangutans need one-on-one care."

Mr Gilding said the typical story of an orangutan that comes into care at the sanctuary is about habitat loss due to palm oil plantations or illegal forestry operations. Once the land is cleared, they then find their way into villages where they start stealing food and becoming a nuisance, so the sanctuary is called to come and rescue them.

The 29 'graduates' recently released back into the wild have all been painstakingly taught life skills by BOS staff including climbing, nest-building, sourcing food and identifying threats. Now they are being monitored to ensure they are safe and well.

Two local businesses have also been donating their time and skills to the sanctuary. Lismore-based environmental engineers Ecoteam Australia and Dunoon-based plumber Nik Hyde have designed and built a new wastewater management system because the old one was discharging raw sewage.

"Our brief was to come up with a solution to treat the water to a level where it wouldn't cause health issues to the young orangutans," Ecoteam's managing director Keith Bolton told The Echo.

"What we did over three visits was design and construct an on-site sewage treatment system, like a big septic tank with a constructed wetland that's planted with local paperbark trees."

Tony Gilding said although the rehab-and-release program is off to a flying start, the battle is far from over.

"The journey for each orangutan back into the wild - including airlifting each primate to the release site in an effort to minimise the trauma of their relocation - encompasses a ticket price of AU$9450," he said.

To let people know about their work and fundraising activities, BOS Australia is bringing two of its senior staff to Australia for a series of public lectures.

Program manager Anton Nurcahyo and senior scientific advisor Simon Husson will be at Lismore Bowling Club next Thursday, October 11. The talk begins at 7pm and tickets are $20/$10. Bookings can be made at www.orangutans.com.au.

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