Borneo foundation to create a forest island for albino orangutan


The Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation (BOSF) is appealing for funds to create a forest island for an albino orangutan rescued in April.

The primate, who has been named Alba, is believed to be the only albino orangutan alive in the world.

It would be too risky to release Alba into the wild for health reasons, and because she could easily fall prey to poachers.

BOSF CEO Jamartin Sihite says five-year-old Alba has poor sight and hearing and her albinism could lead to her developing skin cancer later in life.

“To ensure that Alba can live a free and fulfilling life we are making her a forest island home, where she can live freely in natural habitat, but protected from threats posed by humans.”

The forest island will be enclosed by a moat and cover a minimum of five hectares, Sihite says, and Alba will share her new home with three other orangutans with whom she has bonded.

Once on the island, the group of orangutans will be protected, monitored, and observed by a full-time team, who will assess how they are adapting to forest island life.

When Alba was rescued by a BOSF team, working with the Central Kalimantan Natural Resources Conservation Agency (BKSDA), she had been held captive by local residents for two days and still displayed wild behaviour when confiscated.

“She was stressed, dehydrated, weak, suffering from a parasite infection, and displaying a poor appetite,” Sihite said.

“During her first few days at our orangutan reintroduction centre at Nyaru Menteng, she would only eat sugarcane.”

On arrival, Alba was cared for around the clock by a veterinary team. ”Because of her sensitivity to sunlight, she was kept in a dimly lit, enclosed quarantine facility,” Sihite explained.

Alba gradually started to accept more varied foods, and milk, and her condition improved.

There was an international campaign to choose a name for the orangutan, and the name Alba, which means white in Latin and dawn in Spanish, was chosen.

Sihite says Alba has been showing exciting progress. “She now weighs 17.4 kilograms, and has completed her quarantine and health tests.”

He added: “Given her uniqueness and the associated risks to her survival in the wild, our risk assessment concluded that, although an orangutan of Alba’s age and skills would be best translocated to a safe area of forest, the threats that her special situation places her in – notably her contrasting colour and the health-related issues albinism poses – are too significant.”

The deputy CEO of the BOSF, Jacqueline Sunderland-Groves, says that, in addition to their health-related issues, albino animals like Alba are likely to face more threats in the wild than animals of normal colouration.

“Her contrasting colour makes her more visible so increased predation is a significant risk, coupled with the fact that her rarity and uniqueness would make her a valuable prize to a hunter.”

The BOSF has launched an appeal, and hopes to raise about US$ 80,000 to buy land to create the forest reserve.

This is an extract from Annette Gartland’s article on Changing Times. Click here to read more, including the story of the first orangutan birth at the Jantho release site in Aceh on the Indonesian island of Sumatra.

Featured image courtesy Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation.

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I am an Irish journalist, based mainly in Southeast Asia. I produce a website, Changing Times, which is focused primarily on environmental issues and human rights. Click to see author's profile.

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