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KOTA KINABALU, Sept 13 — Baby orangutans, with their big eyes and clinginess, may seem like the cutest creatures on earth, but can prove to be wily and elusive when threatened.
In the penultimate instalment of the web series, Sabah’s Wildlife Rescue Unit (WRU) and their rookie TV presenter-turned-ranger Aaron “Bertie” Gekoski, fresh from a successful bull elephant capture and relocation, are now tasked with rescuing a mother and baby orangutan from an oil palm plantation.
“The first and biggest challenge that the team faced upon arriving at the scene was the location; the topography of the area” said senior ranger WRU ranger Hasni Kounig.
“The height of the trees, the thickness of the forest in terms of shrub density and weather factors” — all these can prevent a team from accessing the orangutan, long before one can even consider rescuing it,” he said.
A plantation owner notified the WRU that the orangutan had built a nest in a ragged, remote tree stump. An orangutan in a plantation is not ideal, as they feed not only on oil palm fruits but also leaves and wild fruits from the bushes growing in the area, said WRU veterinarian Dr Laura Benedict.
“They will also be exposed to threats from irresponsible individuals but also diseases due to the proximity to humans,” she said.
However, the WRU were thankful that the plantation owner called them instead of chasing away or attacking the orangutan.
“This call alone is testimony to the increasing effectiveness of the WRU’s strategy in Sabah. Alongside rescue operations the WRU also carries out public awareness work among local communities, so Sabahans can understand the importance of wildlife and reporting human-animal encounters to the WRU, instead of taking action on their own,” said Kounig.
Meanwhile, the situation on the ground has swiftly escalated. The mother orangutan’s resistance to capture was remarkable; for hours, she hid herself and her baby in the heart of the plantation and bushes, ducking and diving through the maze of trees and losing the rangers.
Finally, despite enormous pressure to avoid darting the baby, the team managed to fire an tranquiliser dart into the mother orangutan and retrieved her, but the baby orangutan who had been clinging desperately to its mother till then was able to flee.
In the ensuing struggle, Gekoski said “even as babies, orangutans are remarkably strong, and this one was desperate to bite and lash out,” adding that it may have thought its mother to be killed.
For the last year or so, the Wildlife Rescue Unit has allowed a film unit from Kota-Kinabalu based production company SZtv to join them, as they bend themselves to the task of wildlife care and conservation in Sabah. Gekoski has been a ranger in training, helping to guide and assist the veterinarian to rescue and treat wildlife before being taken in or released.
This six-part series reaches its finale in next week’s episode, released today on SZtv's website, YouTube and Facebook. All episodes have Bahasa Malaysia subtitles.
For more information, check out Borneo Wildlife Warriors on SZtv.