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Super vet

Greg NormanAugust 24, 2016

Ricko Jaya is no ordinary vet. Rather than vaccinating puppies, he spends his days in the Sumatran rainforest rehabilitating orangutans.

Sorge vor Aussterben von Borneo-Orang-Utans
Image: picture alliance/dpa/IUCN/Bernard Dupont

Ricko Jaya is a vet with the Human Orangutan Conflict Response Unit (HOCRU) in Sumatra. It is run by the Orangutan Information Center (OIC) and dedicated to resolving conflicts that occur as great apes are increasingly driven from their native forest habitat into farmland to forage. The ever-growing expansion of industrial agriculture in Indonesia, in particular for palm oil, means that conflict between humans and orangutans is more common than before. HOCRU has a dedicated and small team that drives great distances. Since 2010 they have rescued more than 100 of these iconic animals. Jaya explains.

"After I graduated in 2011, I worked in a zoo for a little while. But it was not for me and I left for ethical reasons. I joined the Orangutan Information Centre in 2012 when they were looking for a vet.

HOCRU have been trying to map where conflicts in Sumatra are occurring between man and orangutan and find out what community perceptions are. When we talk of translocation we are referring to moving an orangutan from an area outside a national area back within it. As keeping an orangutan as a pet or in captivity is illegal anywhere in Indonesia, we also confiscate animals.

There are two million hectares of national park in Aceh province and Northern Sumatra. Primates prefer to stay on lower land and that is also a good place for plantations, especially palm oil.

As a vet, I examine the animal and try and determine its condition. Then we try and move it to a low tree, shoot it with a tranquilizer gun, hold it with a net and then literally catch it. I make sure the orangutan is fit for release, that there are no major wounds, no major fractures.

In primates and great apes especially, we are concerned with tuberculosis and hypertension. In quarantine we make sure they have a clean bill from the disease.
Usually if an orangutan has been kept for a year then it no longer behaves as it should. They no longer know how to build a nest or to catch food. So in our rehab centre we teach them how to get the necessary life skills for survival.

Orangutan Information Center
Vets from the HOCRU tend to an orangutanImage: Orang Utan Information Center

One of the worst we confiscated was two months ago. His name is Krismon and he had been in a cage no bigger than a square meter for 18 years. There was no hanging bar, all his urine and feces were in the cage. When we confiscated him and transferred him to our rehab center he could not stand properly on his legs, because his cage was too low. He probably had not been able to straighten his legs for many years. But he has been taking medication and is now showing good progress.

The orangutan or elephant, Sumatran tiger - they are animals from my backyard. They used to be easy to find and now they are so endangered. Because I am a fan, I just want to do something with my skills to help. There is something in an orangutan's eyes that is so human. When I confiscate an orangutan myself, take it and open the crate myself to release it for the first time - that is amazing for me. You really feel in touch with your humanity, because you can save another species."