Conservationists save plucky orangutans after forest fire

Staff writer

Orangutans who miraculously survived devastating wildfires have been rescued in the nick of time by plucky conservationists.The great apes, both around 20, were discovered clinging to the last trees standing in the middle of a burnt area of rainforest in West Borneo, Indonesia.

A team from International Animal Rescue - IAR - found the male and female, named Bara and Arang, during a fire patrol on September 16.Together with the West Kalimantan Conservation Agency, the starving simians were sedated and evacuated to IAR's conservation centre for rehabiliation.

Dehydrated Bara and Arang - one of which had a bullet lodged in its face - are undergoing treatment and medical observation.Since wild apes don't require length rehabilitation, both orangutans may soon be released and translocated to Gunung Palung National Park.But conservationists fear this one rescue operation is "just the beginning" as "the effects of these fires will be felt long after they have been extinguished".

IAR CEO Alan Knight OBE said: "Thankfully these two orangutans are safe now but I fear for the many more in danger of death or starvation from the current fires."

Mr Knight added that his brave Indonesian team is working "round the clock to contain the problem and keep orangutans safe". Tantyo Bangun, Chairman of IAR Indonesia, warned that "it is likely that the effects of these fires will be felt long after they have been extinguished".

He said: "Many orangutans will be left stranded after their forest homes burn to the ground, triggering a wave of urgent orangutan rescues.

"The LHK Ministry and orangutan rescue centres across Indonesia will soon become overwhelmed and recovery from these fires will be lengthy, making orangutans increasingly vulnerable, pushing the species closer to extinction."

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And Karmele Llano Sanchez, Director of IAR Indonesia, said: "This is the time for us to overcome the problem of fires, which not only threaten humans by causing disease and disrupting the activities of children who cannot go to school because of the dangers of smoke, but also orangutans and their forest homes. "If we don't make efforts to overcome this problem, the orangutan population will be increasingly threatened.

"For nearly two months our team has been working hard 24 hours a day, without a break, to secure a rehabilitation site away from fires, but the work to save all orangutans threatened by fire has just begun. "With the collaboration of the team from TANAGUPA and West Kalimantan BKSDA these two orangutans have been spared a horrible fate.

"Seasonal forest fires across Sumatra and the Borneo islands since July have sparked a fierce diplomatic row between Indonesia and Malaysia.Malaysia has claimed that smoke from fires has drifted over the border, forcing the government to close schools and issue public health alerts.

Indonesia hit back, alleging that some of the fires had been spotted in palm oil plantations owned by at least four subsidiaries of Malaysian companies.