Following a significant portion of her life in captivity, Alba, the only albino orangutan ever identified, currently lives in the Borneo wild in freedom.
On December 19, the striking orangutan was released deep within the Bukit Baka Bukit Raya National Park, nearly 20 months after being rescued from a village in the island’s Indonesian portion by representatives of the Borneo Orangutan Survival (BOS) Foundation and the Central Kalimantan Natural Resources Conservation Agency (BKSDA).
She was five years old, dehydrated, infected with a parasite, and had a very low appetite at the time, according to a statement from BOS. However, thanks to the diligent veterinary team and orangutan carers at the Nyaru Menteng Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, Alba gradually recovered and demonstrated her superb climbing and socialization skills.
Alba pictured at the Nyaru Menteng Orangutan Rehabilitation Center. Björn Vaughn/BPI/BOSF
Alba, whose name means “white” in Latin, developed a bond with Kika, another rescued orangutan, while the knowledgeable team cared for her recovery and prepared her to live in the wild. Kika had lived in her natural environment before, just like Alba. When the two gorillas were brought to the rehabilitation facility, they also exhibited wild behaviors and indications that they “firmly disliked humans.”
To give Alba the best chance of surviving, she was maintained for a longer period than is typical for a semi-wild orangutan. She is more susceptible to hunting or predation due to characteristics brought on by her albinism, such as poor eyesight, low hearing, and a propensity for skin cancer.
The BOS team first had trouble deciding whether Alba was a viable option for release into the wild. It was probable that the other orangutans wouldn’t accept her due to her odd features. Although female orangutans are far more reclusive than other great apes, they frequently live close to their families and interact with people in nearby home ranges.
“Alba has no inferiority complex as we imagined before. She is very confident compared to other orangutans,” veterinarian Agus Fathoni told the Associated Press. “I think the real threat comes from humans. We’re worried about poaching where this special condition makes her a target,” he added.
The day had come on December 18 for Alba and Kika to return to the jungle. Staff from the BKSDA and BOS Foundation drove the orangutans through the night to the park’s boundary, located in the park’s 1,810-square-kilometer (699-square-mile) reserve at the southwest end of Borneo’s Schwaner mountain range. After arriving at dawn and exchanging trucks for boats, the gang started a four-hour upstream journey to the discharge site.
The orangutans were finally released from their cages and placed in the forest 16 hours after leaving the rehabilitation facility. Kiki’s was the first to be opened, and she exploded out and shot into the woods. Alba’s was inaugurated a short while after that. Before swinging into the canopy to join her friend, she took a moment to survey her surroundings.
Field workers from the BOS Foundation will keep a close eye on Alba and Kika over the next six months to ensure they are adjusting properly, and BKSDA and park officials will conduct anti-poaching patrols.
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