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Endangered Borneo Orangutans Find Relief at Indonesia's International Animal Rescue [INTERVIEW and VIDEO]

Nov 11, 2015 12:54 PM EST

Mining operations and illegal logging as well as palm oil and rubber plant farming – which call for frequent, intentionally set fires to remove large quantities of trees – are causing a devastating domino effect for endangered Borneo orangutans. As companies push their industrial projects, orangutans are forced out of their natural habitats and are encroaching on local communities where they are more susceptible to poaching and being sold into the illegal animal trade. That spells death for the majority of these majestic animals who often fall ill and suffer malnutrition.

In attempt to save the endangered animals, organizations like Indonesia's International Animal Rescue (IAR) are setting up rehabilitation centers to care for sick and orphaned baby orangutans that poachers have separated from their mothers.

After meeting with a veterinarian from IAR, Nicola Gunary – who is a biologist from The Operatives, an adventure series featuring a wildlife protection group that travels around the world to expose criminals responsible for endangering natural environments and wildlife – observed the effects of deforestation and illegal logging.

In this exclusive interview with Nature World News, she recounts the four-step rehabilitation process orangutans go through before being returned to the wild, Essentially, each stage is meant to mimic a wild orangutan's natural development, but in a controlled setting. Orangutans must meet the requirements of each stage before graduating to the next. The entire process takes about eight years to complete. (Scroll to read more...)

Stage 1: Quarantine

While the length of each step varies based on an individual orangutan's progress, quarantine generally lasts about 90 days. During this stage orangutans are treated for a variety of diseases or viruses. For example, many abandoned orangutans suffer from malnutrition and dehydration.

"A lot of the orangutans brought in have developed in the care of humans, who are completely uneducated in how to feed an orangutan," Gunary said. "For example, Budi (a rescued orangutan) had edema, or fluid buildup in his joints because he was being fed condensed milk for the first ten months of his life. You know, it (condensed milk) is full of sugar and doesn't provide nutrients babies need, so a lot of them will come in completely dehydrated, not having had the food or type of milk they need."

Tuberculosis is also a common disease that can be spread between humans and orangutans. TB is caused by a bacterium called Mycobacterium tuberculosis, which generally attacks the lungs. Also, pet orangutans are often kept in ground-dwelling cages and exposed to a series of soil parasites they are not used to since they have evolved living in trees.

Stage 2: Forest school

Young orangutans are split into groups based on size, age and level of skill. During this stage they remain in cages to sleep at night but are taken to dense jungles with climbing platforms so they can act more like wild orangutans.

"They (IRA) will plant food in the trees and try and encourage the babies to climb trees and start acting like orangutans in the wild," Gunary explained.

However, the young animals are still kept close to IAR trainers, similarly to how babies would remain dependent to their mothers at this age in the wild.

Stage 3: Advanced High School

During this stage, older orangutans are given the opportunity to explore a larger area with denser jungles. Trainers also have less direct contact with the animals as a way to encourage independent behavior.

Stage 4: No human contact

The final stage of rehabilitation involves almost no human contact. Basically, orangutans are released onto an island where they are encouraged to forage entirely on their own, although the IAR still supplements their feeding, just not as much as during other stages.

"They [the handlers] more or less leave them to themselves and then they can assess whether they are ready to be released back into the wild," Gunary added.

But this is not as simple as it sounds. Releasing an orangutan requires a permit, which are not easy to acquire. Deforestation has reduced viable forests where orangutans can be released, so acquiring a permits for each rehabilitated orangutan isn't always possible at the time they are mature enough to release into the wild.

A video of Gunary's recent visit to the International Animal Rescue is below. The Operatives airs on the network Pivot Sundays at 10 ET/PT.

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-Follow Samantha on Twitter @Sam_Ashley13

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