Orangutans have been formally protected by Indonesian law for many decades. It is illegal to capture, kill, keep or trade them. These activities continue, however, due to inadequate law enforcement. The SOCP is working closely with the Indonesian authorities to address this problem. They constantly investigate cases of illegal capture, keeping and trade in the species, and regularly confiscate those kept illegally as pets, but more prosecutions and much stiffer sentences are still needed. Often, confiscated orangutans have been very badly treated in captivity, and are frequently in poor health. Some also have horrific injuries.
Rescue and rehabilitation station
After the orangutans are confiscated from illegal captivity, the rescue and rehabilitation station of the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme (SOCP) is the first stop on their way to freedom. The station is located in the drinking water protection area of the town of Medan and is adjacent to a nature reserve. The local farmers use the surrounding seedling nurseries to provide a wide range of fruit and vegetables as food for the orangutans.
When arriving at the rescue and rehabilitation station, each orangutan is isolated in a separate enclosure for the duration of the medical examination and treatment. They are observed during a short acclimatisation period to see if they have any noticeable physical or mental health problems. After a week the animals are drugged, measured and given an extensive medical examination. This ensures that only healthy orangutans are set free. If a disease is transmitted with pathogens coming from human contacts, this could lead to an entire wild population being wiped out. The employees at the rescue and rehabilitation station therefore comply with strict hygiene regulations and take precautionary measures.
Very young infants still needing milk from a bottle are initially taken care of 24-hours a day by dedicated caretakers. As they build their strength and confidence, they are slowly introduced to each other, and learn that they are in fact little orangutans, not strange, hairy humans. As they grow they spend less and less time with people and more with other orangutans, until they are eventually old enough and ready to be released to the forest again.
After passing their health checks and quarantine period satisfactorily, the orangutans are then transferred to large socialization cages and gradually introduced to others of a similar age. Here they begin to learn what it is to be an orangutan again. In small «groups» of compatible individuals, the orangutans have the chance to learn many of the social and behavioural skills from each other that they will need when they are eventually released to the wild. Transfers of orangutans to the reintroduction sites also tend to include individuals from the same «group» so that they travel and arrive with «friends», again to minimise the stress of the move and maximise their chances of settling in well to new surroundings.