Rehabilitating and returning once captive animals to the wild is a complex process. Animals that have become accustomed to humans, whether as part of live animal performances or as a pet, will likely struggle in a wild environment. Animals that don’t fear humans are also at a greater risk of being poached, and those that have lived in a multi-species home may not recognize their natural predators. An appropriate amount of fear and caution is vital to survival, and so centers hoping to release captive animals must work hard to rehabilitate them to wild environments and carefully assess their mental and physical suitability for release.
Such a project has been undertaken with great success in Indonesia, as a team of conservationists has been able to reintroduce 30 Javan slow lorises into a national park. In collaboration with the Centre for Natural Resources Conservation (BBKSDA), the Mt Halimun Salak National Park (TNGHS) office, and International Animal Rescue (IAR) Indonesia, the project has rehomed these once-domestic animals into a natural habitat in the Mt Halimun Salak National Park.
The class of 30 slow lorises were released in two batches of 15. All the animals had been surrendered to BBKSDA by members of the community so that they could be treated and released. Each animal was given a medical check and kept in quarantine before attempts were made to return some of their natural behaviors. They were approved for translocation once they had been declared both mentally and physically fit to go out on their own.
“During the habituation process, the team in the field continues to observe and record their progress every night,” said Head of the BBKSDA, Ammy Nurwati, in a statement emailed to IFLScience. “If, during the habituation period, all lorises are active and don't have any abnormal behaviors, then they can be released into the wild. They have to go through this long process to restore their natural instincts and ensure that they can survive and reproduce in their natural habitat.”
Slow lorises are a significant animal within the TNGHS area, playing a pivotal role in balancing the ecosystem. Like many primates in the region, their numbers have been declining in recent years, but this new project seeks to demonstrate how the tide can be turned for struggling species with sustainable approaches to conservation work.
The team carried out an environment suitability assessment before deciding to translocate the animals to TNGHS. The release area is home to an ecosystem that can fulfill the needs of these slow lorises, with sufficient food, shade, and security from both poachers and predators. It’s hoped that happy in their new home, these animals may reproduce and further increase the population in this part of the world.
Under the COVID-19 pandemic, both the lorises and their handlers have been routinely tested with the whole team wearing masks and maintaining minimal contact with the animals. These practices are carried out both for the health of the translocated animals and those they may come into contact with in their new home. The importance of such caution was demonstrated by the first instance of gorillas testing positive for COVID-19 late last year.