Dramatic Tree Rescue 100ft in the Air

Tree_climber Upon departing from the release camp along the Mantangai River, the IFAW team split in two. One group would follow the BOS firefighters to the canal and one would follow the orangutan rescuers into the forest, along with the Department of Forestry. We all managed to cross the river together and began trekking on the same path, but soon split. Waist deep in peat swamp water and with 50+ pounds of camera equipment, I am guilty of secretly laughing while watching some of our team members cross while trying to combat their fear of falling. Anyways, I followed the rescue team.

Indonesia is always hot, you can’t escape it (and I love it!). But Borneo is very hot right now. The newly burnt ground that we were trekking on was still releasing heat, making our trek very steamy. The only green left in this peat swamp area are the green leaves high up on the trees around the perimeters. What was once lushly packed with plants, fruits and shrubs, is now a mix of ash, burnt wood the color of coal and brown dead leaves. Trekking was very difficult given that all the tall trees that once stood high in the jungle now cover the ground. Two rescuers, experienced in this area, walked ahead looking for any signs of orangutan inhabitants. They were out of sight for about 30 minutes when we heard, “Oy!” (and another noise that can’t be written with letters, but sounds like a gibbon call). The two rescuers had found two orangutans, one adult female and one juvenile. We moved quickly to catch up with them.

The next step would be to capture the two so that they could be transported into a new forest area, still threatened by fires, but temporarily better suited for orangutans. The tranquilizer gun shot once, then twice, three, four, and then five, finally! The female, sitting in the only tall tree standing high in the area began to get sleepy.

This is where the amazing rescue begins! As we all watched on, waiting to see how this female could possibly and safely fall from the tall tree, within seconds we saw human arms and legs hugging the base of the tree, inching their way to the top. “Oh my God”, is what I said, someone is climbing the tree. And then another!

These two rescue team members climbed about 100ft straight up, with no branches to rest on, to allow the female orangutan to have an easy fall to the bottom. They wrapped ropes around her and slowly lowered her to the bottom as she continued to sleep. That is dedication. Without harness, without a concern for their own lives, the rescue team selflessly rescued this female. Because of the passion for what they are doing, the BOS rescue team has managed to save hundreds of orangutans.

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