Sumatra:: Bohorok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center

Indonesia, Sumatra. Bukit Lawang. Gunung Leuser National Park. The orangutan sanctuary of Bukit Lawang is located inside the park. A young orangutan. (Photo Bjorn Grotting)

Indonesia, Sumatra. Bukit Lawang. Gunung Leuser National Park. The orangutan sanctuary of Bukit Lawang is located inside the park. A young orangutan. (Photo Bjorn Grotting)

The Bohorok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center was started in 1973 by two Swiss zoologists, Regina Frey and Monica Boerner, and funded by Frankfurt Zoological Society and WWF. The intention was to help orangutans that had been displaced due to land clearing or recovered from captivity. In the first years they had great success in the four steps of rehabilitation; removal from captivity, a quarantine of at least three months, release into the forest around the center and finally taken deep into the rainforest to be released into the wild permanently.

Indonesia, Sumatra. Bukit Lawang. Gunung Leuser National Park. The orangutan sanctuary of Bukit Lawang is located inside the park. At the feeding platform, taking a nap. (Photo Bjorn Grotting)

Indonesia, Sumatra. Bukit Lawang. Gunung Leuser National Park. The orangutan sanctuary of Bukit Lawang is located inside the park. At the feeding platform, taking a nap. (Photo Bjorn Grotting)

More than 200 orangutans have been released since 1973, today the centre care for about 35 orangutans that live in the forest nearby, and about 8 that are quarantined. Upon arrival at the centre each ape is checked for any disease that can be passed on to other orangutans, like common flu that they can pick up from people. The quarantine time is also used to observe what kind of skills they have, if they know how to climb and find food by their own. Some have to be thought almost everything that is necessary to survive in the wild. The minimum time in quarantine is 2-3 months, but often much longer, some may even never be ready for release.

Indonesia, Sumatra. Bukit Lawang. Gunung Leuser National Park. The orangutan sanctuary of Bukit Lawang is located inside the park. (Photo Bjorn Grotting)

Indonesia, Sumatra. Bukit Lawang. Gunung Leuser National Park. The orangutan sanctuary of Bukit Lawang is located inside the park. (Photo Bjorn Grotting)

If and when an ape is ready for a life as a semi-wild, it is released into the forest surrounding the feeding platform. Now they must have minimum contact with people, except for the feeding times which are twice a day. The diet is milk and bananas, and kept as monotonous as possible to encourage them to look for their own food in the forest. The visit at the feeding platform allows the rangers to check the condition on each individual orangutan. Apes that no longer need these free meals to survive are supposed to be relocated to more remote areas, sadly this almost never happens anymore, as the expenses are large and also because there are not many areas left where this is suitable.

In 1980 the center was taken over by the Indonesian government, and have since then received no outside funding. The main income today is a percentage of the access permit money paid by visitors to the center and the national park. The rest of the permit money goes to the government, which have cut down on maintenance and improvements. No new orangutans has officially been admitted to the centre since 1996, and it’s obvious purpose today is to serve the tourist industry, not necessarily the orangutans. Still it continues to care for apes living in and around the quarantine station, and will need to continue to do so.

The center today no longer meets the standards of re-introduction, as the area is already over-populated with orangutans, and the number of tourists have exploded, increasing the exposure to human beings. The focus has therefore been turned towards tourism, and there are plans to develop Bohorok into an Eco-Tourist Viewing Area. In this way the centre will still be a lasting source of income for the locals, and hopefully educate the population about the benefits of preservation, and reduce the illegal logging in Gunung Leuser.

Indonesia, Sumatra. Bukit Lawang. Gunung Leuser National Park. The orangutan sanctuary of Bukit Lawang is located inside the park. At the feeding platform eating bananas. (Photo Bjorn Grotting)

Indonesia, Sumatra. Bukit Lawang. Gunung Leuser National Park. The orangutan sanctuary of Bukit Lawang is located inside the park. At the feeding platform eating bananas. (Photo Bjorn Grotting)

The centre will continue to stay open for tourists, and for viewing semi-wild and the occasional wild orangutans this is one of the most accessible places in Indonesia. To see the orangutans during feeding time you need to buy a permit from the rangers office, it is valid for one day and for two visits during feeding times, which are 8 to 9 am and 3 to 4 pm. These are the only times you can visit the park without a guide. You have to walk uphill, led by park rangers, for about 10-15 minutes from the quarantine area to the feeding platform, which is just some wooden planks suspended in the trees.

Indonesia, Sumatra. Bukit Lawang. Gunung Leuser National Park. The orangutan sanctuary of Bukit Lawang is located inside the park. At the feeding platform. (Photo Bjorn Grotting)

Indonesia, Sumatra. Bukit Lawang. Gunung Leuser National Park. The orangutan sanctuary of Bukit Lawang is located inside the park. At the feeding platform. (Photo Bjorn Grotting)

These days there are normally only 5-6 orangutans who show up, depending of the abundance of food in the forest. It is impressive to see how quiet and easily the big animals maneuver from tree to tree, and also to watch the more clumsy infants, who can be very entertaining. You are not allowed to touch or feed the orangutans, as they can easily catch many of the human diseases.