The Orangutan Programme Veterinarian
Like human visits to the doctor, orangutans need to visit the FZS Veterinarian for health check-ups and treatment.
Boiran presses against the bars of his cage, his bottom lip pushed forward to form a funnel. The worm-medicine that tastes like oranges is a favourite amongst the orangutans. A satisfied lip-smacking tells us that the medicine was accepted.
In fact, many tricks used in paediatrics can be applied when treating orangutans.
Because of their close relationship to humans, apes can contract most of the same diseases as we do and also transmit them to humans, often with fatal consequences for the apes. When sick orangutans return to the forest they can transmit dangerous illnesses such as hepatitis or tuberculosis to other orangutans. That is exactly the opposite of what we are trying to achieve with the reintroduction project.
All confiscated orangutans are thoroughly examined and quarantined in the station in Batu Mbelin for at least a month to curb any health risk. During this period, all examinations and tests are repeated three times before the all-clear is given for the transfer of the orangutans to Bukit Tigapuluh for Jungle School and eventual reintroduction to the wild.
Orangutan Health - Treatment and Monitoring
Orangutans receive regular health care check ups and treatment while they are in Jungle School. When they are ready for the big leap into independent life in the forest, the veterinarian implants a small transmitter so the released orangutan can be tracked through the radio signals.
This might sound a bit extreme to some, but without the little transmitter, orangutans would have no interim monitoring and care after release because they spread out into the large Bukit Tigapuluh environment. This way, we can help them make a smooth and safe transition from the jungle school sessions to full-time, independant jungle living. We can track where they are, how they are moving around and exploring territory, visit with worming tablets and check on their condition. In their first year they also sometimes need supplementary feeding and a few vitamins to get them through times when fruit is scarce.
Part of monitoring both reintroduced orangutans and those in jungle school is to collect and analyse faecal samples. These can tell us a lot about orangutan health. If an orangutan becomes sick, they are quarantined. Then, if required, blood and urine samples are taken in addition to a physical examination noting signs and symptoms.
Considerable time, expertise, financial resources and, well, love, is given to rescued orangutans and there is every focus on keeping these individuals healthy for a long life. Despite all efforts, sometimes we do lose an orangutan to illness and the loss is deeply felt. Correspondingly, when a reintroduced female orangutan gives birth to a new baby the excitement is enormous.