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Inhouse Training at Sumatran Orangutan Reintroduction Centre

To increase the monitoring skills of our orangutan trackers, we organised a one week training course at the Sumatran Orangutan Reintroduction Center from 7 to 13 July 2019.

Andhani Widya, the FZS veterinarian. Photo in the Field station at Open Orangutan Sanctuary, near Bukit Tigapuluh, Sumatra, Indonesia. © Daniel Rosengren
Andhani Widya's new project focuses on reintroduced orangutan mothers and infants.

By FZS veterinarian Andhani Widya

The population of reintroduced Sumatran orangutans in Bukit Tigapuluh National Park is growing constantly. Every year, orangutan trackers encounter 20 to 30 orangutans around FZS‘ release site Sumatran Orangutan Reintroduction Centre (SORC). Moreover, the number of orangutan babies born in Bukit Tigapuluh is increasing since more and more released orangutans reach sexual maturity and reproduce. Therefore, intensive monitoring needs to be conducted to support their post-release adaptation and follow their progress in the wild, especially for mother and baby orangutans.
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Orangutan tracking requires numerous skills, which were refreshed during the training course.

Post-release orangutan monitoring requires skilled orangutan trackers at the release site. Every day, the trackers must follow orangutans from the early morning until nest-building time in the afternoon („Nest to Nest Monitoring‟). Several orangutans travel long distances in the forest (sometimes more than 2 km per day). This means the trackers must be ready to follow them, even through difficult terrain and be able to find their way back to SORC station in the afternoon. During monitoring, trackers must obtain behavioural data without losing the orangutan in the forest.

To further the trackers’ knowledge and skills for working in the field, Frankfurt Zoological Society (FZS) held a one week inhouse training for orangutan trackers at the SORC station on 7to 13 July 2019. This time on the agenda: ‘orangutan protocols’ (an inventory of behaviours or actions exhibited by orangutans) and land navigation training. 11 orangutan trackers joined the training which was supervised by FZS Programme Manager Dr. Peter Pratje.

A new "mother and infant orangutan protocol" was introduced to the trackers.
On the first day of training a new mother and infant orangutan protocol was introduced by FZS management and trackers had the opportunity to discuss orangutan behaviour and share their experiences. They discussed lively the many complex social interactions of orangutan mothers and babies, such as clinging, suckling, and food sharing. In the afternoon, trackers were divided into 4 groups to observe 2 mother orangutans with their babies for the following 2 days: Sam with her baby Sule and Violet with her baby Vanilla. Vanilla and Sule were very active and spent most of the time exploring the canopy independently while their mothers stayed in the same tree foraging for food. The trackers’ task was to record their behaviour in protocols. After this exercise the results were evaluated and discussed. 
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Trackers need to be able to follow orangutans in the forest without getting lost.

The following days, the trackers refreshed their land navigation skills, which is an extremely relevant skill if you need to follow orangutans in the forest. Bukit Tigapuluh is known for the hilly terrain and dense tropical forest so the trackers risk getting lost during the daily monitoring. The trackerscannot rely on GPS alone, as the devices could break or run out of battery. The 3 day land navigation training was conducted by Yudi Adriansyah and Hendra Kuswara from the FZS Forest Protection Division. 

They taught compass-maps navigation and route planning. During a 2 day practical exercise 3 groups tried to make their way to a coordinate in the forest. Along the river, up the hill, and down the cliff into the forest they ventured to reach the point. The groups were very motivated and they raced to reach the point first. In the end Group B won but everyone had a good time and learnt a lot. FZS’ Mobile Education Unit (MEU) staff also took part part in this training. 


All the participants gave a positive feedback on the training course, which not only increased their skills and knowledge but also their communication and teamwork. Now, all orangutan trackers are fit to continue their important work of supporting our orangutans in the wild.