Gibbon Relocation - A Moment of Pride for IFAW
The International Fund for Animal Welfare's Emergency Responder Tania Duratovic filed this detailed report yesterday on her experiences relocating 5 Sumatran Agile gibbons and 8 siamangs from Cikananga Animal Rescue
Centre (PPSC) to Marak island off the west coast of Sumatra, Indonesia.
After a long & bumpy drive from Jakarta, we arrived at the confiscation centre where the animals were being housed. We were taken on a ‘tour’ of the grounds & facilities, which in many ways were quite impressive, though in other ways, quite depressing.
The centre was set up as a transit centre for confiscated wildlife. It was never intended to be a long term home for animals yet many animals had been there for years, some like the gibbons & siamangs, languishing in small, dirty cages. The funding which was needed by the centre to relocate these animals in the appropriate manner was withdrawn, and now, with these financial problems, the place had a look of neglect and almost abandonment about it. Had it not been for the recently disregarded banana skins around the cages, one could easily think that these forlorn animals were totally forgotten.
Recognizing the awful situation in which the animals were in, the current manager called the gibbon/siamang cages the “houses of horror” and indeed they were. Fortunately, with the help of those few still involved in the centre, we were able to get them out of there. But this was not as simple as it sounds.
Firstly, one of the permits we had been waiting for months was not yet ready and secondly, the boxes to transport the animals in had not yet arrived. We really needed to get these animals out as soon as possible so we spent a lot of time on the phones trying to get things moving fast.
The next afternoon the boxes arrived – 2 single boxes, and 3 lots of 4 sections, looking very small and flimsy to me. When moving animals you don’t actually want the box too big as you don’t want the animal to move around and get hurt, or try to break out. You obviously don’t want them too small either. But then you try to ensure that they spend as little time as possible in the boxes. Not quite as we had planned…
Upon reinforcing the boxes with more timber, the task of catching the animals began. It was now about 4 o’clock in the afternoon. The first animal to be caught was a siamang. This was the one who to me looked like he was really affected by being in captivity. He had been at the centre since July 2006. He would always look past you with this empty gaze, and would spin around the cage. Very distressing. Luckily he was relatively easy to catch. But he did not like being in the box. He banged about continuously, almost for the entire journey.
The next one was Ayun, the siamang I reassured throughout the journey,
and the last to come out of the box at the rehabilitation centre. (He’s
the one I am talking about in the video). He wasn’t so easy to catch.
Very scared and so had to be tranquilised using a dart. The day before
I would go up to his cage and he would sit there and stare at you. He
had the most dejected look in his eyes. He looked very sad. It was
hearbreaking. Ayun had been in that place since 2002 so it is no wonder
he was miserable. And who knows what conditions he lived in before he
Catching the remaining 11 animals was not that easy. They could all see
what was going on so when it came to their turn, they were not willing
participants. The last animal to be caught was the gibbon who was going
to Borneo. I felt a little like I was betraying him as the day before
all this, he would hold his hand out of the cage for me to hold. He
tried to snatch my hand initially, but then relaxed, particularly when
I gave him a little massage! But by the time it came to catch him, he
was very, very stressed and fought back. When the men from the centre
finally got the net over him, he was ripping it ferociously with his
sharp teeth so they had to put another over him to get him into the
box. Fortunately when he finally got into the box, he was quiet,
probably too exhausted and stunned. By now it was 7pm.
We had to wait until midnight to drive them to Jakarta. It is very hot
during the day and there is a lot of traffic on the roads so night is
much better. Not so good for us who had to squeeze into a single car –
the driver and Indonesian cameraman up front, my colleagues Michael
& Anand in the back seat with an Indonesian forestry officer who
had to accompany us squashed in between them, and myself in the very
back with some luggage.
We drove all night reaching the customs post at Jakarta airport at
dawn. There we had to have our papers in order and the authorities had
to check whether the animals were still alive. They did this by shining
a flashlight into each box. I pointed out that Ayun was still alive as
I was stroking his little finger that he poked out.
We finally arrived at the cargo area at the airport but were not able
to get on a morning flight to Sumatra. This was not good. Fortunately
our little friend going to Borneo was able to go at 9am, but for the
rest, the earliest we could get on was 1.30pm. By now the sun was out
and the temperature rapidly rising. We tried all avenues to get them on
an earlier flight but to no avail. I was not happy.
We accompanied the animals into the cargo area, whilst just about
everyone that walked by had to have a poke and try to make gibbon
noises. I chastised a group of young men at one point telling them they
were behaving like children, not men. They apologised saying “Sorry,
Miss”. We had to explain to the workers that they needed to be gentle
and quiet. These animals were scared and stressed and we didn’t want
them to die. We also explained what had happened to these animals and
why it is important to protect them. This seemed to make sense to them.
Although I think the tactic from one of the Indonesians with us worked
best – ie, that the workers may catch a disease from the gibbons so
they should stay away!
Seeing them loaded on the plane was another headache. We had to talk to
the ground staff as first they were waiting in the sun, then they were
packing luggage all around them to the point where you couldn’t even
see the boxes.
Our arrival at Padang and seeing Channee, from the Kalaweit Foundation,
was a relief. We knew we were almost there. We gently loaded them onto
a police pickup but had to stop just outside of town to buy some rope
to secure them. We had a very steep road to go up and didn’t want them
By the time we reached the village where we were to get a boat to the
island, it was dark. We quickly loaded the animals onto Kalaweit’s fast
boat whilst we negotiated with the villagers for a boat for ourselves.
At the rehab centre, the animals were immediately unloaded and taken to
their new enclosures. Kalaweit has over 100 gibbons & siamangs at
the centre so IFAW provided funds for new enclosures to be built for
some of these guys.
It took us up until midnight to get all the animals out of the crates
and into their new temporary homes. The last 3 animals were difficult
to get out. When you looked into their box you could see they were
exhausted and their eyes barely open. Ayun was one of these.
We darted two of the animals as we couldn’t get them out of the box and
we did not want to stress them by forcing them out. But as Ayun would
place his hand out, we decided to use a syringe on him to tranquilise
him. A hole was made in the side of the box and when he put his hand
out, Chanee grabbed it and held on to it. The hole wasn’t very smooth
as it was made with a crowbar and not much space to manourvre as Ayun
was still in the box. So there were sharp edges that we had to keep his
arm away from. We then had to pull it out further so we could inject
him. Ayun was obviously scared and exhausted. I could see his arm
trembling and could hear him whimpering. I will never forget that
image. We acted as quickly as we could and within minutes he was
sedated. A couple of us then carried him to his new enclosure through
the forest in the dark. He was fighting to keep his eyes open as we
placed him gently into the side section. We teamed him up with another
siamang so had to keep them separate for the night. Once we secured the
wire, we gave him a drug to reverse the effects of the tranquiliser.
The next morning we awoke just after dawn (and as I’d slept in my
clothes to keep the malarial mosquitoes off me, it didn’t take me long
to get up and out!). We could then see the animals in their new
enclosures. And didn’t they look happy! Some looked a bit shell shocked
as if to say “Hang on, is all this space for me??!!”
The enclosures are very tall and have the forest ground as flooring.
The forest here is primary forest in top condition and is moist so
keeps the gibbons off the ground, which is what they are meant to do in
the wild. Very important.
One gibbon I watched for some time was so full of glee, he was
literally bouncing off the walls! He would jump and run all over the
enclosure. One minute he’s be up in the top corner, next he’d be down
the front sitting and staring at me with what looked like a huge smile
(gibbons have that type of face!), then he’d rush over to where the
resident gibbon was being held temporarily in a small section on the
side, sit by him, stare at him then dash off, or poke his arm through
at him, then jump off just as the resident went to grab it. Watching
him filled me with joy and I felt so proud to work for IFAW at that
moment. This is what it’s all about.
But I still hadn’t seen Ayun. So I asked to be taken to where he was
(there was no way I could find my way through that jungle on my own).
And there he was with a new ‘friend’. (Well, at least they weren’t
fighting!). He looked a little confused – all this space, a new
flatmate, vegetation surrounding, and a choice of two lovely little
shelter boxes to hang out in. But he soon began to swing around the
enclosure. His flatmate showed him that he need not be shy nor quiet! I
felt that I just had to say goodbye to him and show him that I hadn’t
forgotten him. I was now content that we could leave.
The animals are in good hands, being cared for with the love and
respect they deserve. All things going well, hopefully, I will return
in a year when they are ready for release into the wild from whence