Dr. Ricko Jaya and Dr. Yenny Saraswati 600pxl

Veterinarians Unite to Save Orangutans

Fort Wayne recently hosted two important conservationists: Indonesian veterinarians Yenny Saraswati and  Ricko Jaya are saving wild Sumatran orangutans with the support of the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo.

Dr. Yenny is a senior veterinarian with the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme (SOCP), which reintroduces Sumatran orangutans into the wild after they’ve been confiscated from the pet trade.  Keeping critically endangered Sumatran orangutans as pets is illegal in Indonesia.

“We want to put wild orangutans back in the forest,” states Dr. Yenny, “but it’s not simple.  After they are rescued we have to screen for diseases and rehabilitate the dietary problems that human food has caused.”  Dr. Yenny’s visit to the United States helped her better understand advanced animal care.  “At the Fort Wayne Zoo and the Cleveland Zoo we observed medical procedures with orangutans.  These good medical practices are something we can apply to the orangutans we rehabilitate.”

Dr. Yenny is interested in animal care because the SOCP is developing an animal sanctuary called Orangutan Haven in northeastern Sumatra, which will hold Sumatran orangutans who are no longer able to thrive in the wild.

Dr. Ricko knows the plight of exploited orangutans all too well.  He is a veterinarian and rescuer with the Human Orangutan Conflict Response Unit (HOCRU) which responds to reports of illegally-kept orangutans and calls regarding human-orangutan conflicts.  Dr. Ricko enters potentially dangerous situations to physically remove the orangutans and literally carry the animals to safety.

“We try to mitigate conflicts between humans and orangutans with education, but sometimes the orangutans are already in need of medical treatment when we rescue them,” stated Dr. Ricko, “We work closely with SOCP to determine whether the orangutans can be released into the wild without additional human intervention.  If so, we release them into a national park.  We try to have as little human contact as possible, but sometimes medical intervention is required.”

Dr. Ricko explained that caring for captive animals differs from field work. “With wild animals, there is no medical recall.  We just have to observe and give them the care we think they need.  Seeing the treatment of captive animals has given me a new set of concerns and knowledge.”

In addition to emergency medical care and public education and outreach programs, the HOCRU works with local governments to develop stronger wildlife protection laws.

The transcontinental visit also benefited the zoo staff here.  Zoo veterinarian Joe Smith said, “Spending a month with Ricko and Yenny stimulated numerous conversations about diseases of orangutans, styles of medicine, available equipment, and even things like culture, politics, and traditions. While the main objective was for them to learn how orangutans are cared for in the United States, my staff, my family, and I probably learned just as much if not more in return.”

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