The world’s only known albino orangutan has been released into a remote Borneo jungle more than a year after conservation officials found her starving and dehydrated in an Indonesian village.
The great ape, called Alba after thousands worldwide responded to an appeal for a name, has tripled in weight since being rescued in April last year, the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation said.
Her name means “white” in Latin and “dawn” in Spanish.
Alba and another rehabilitated orangutan, Kika, were released inside Bukit Baka Bukit Raya National Park after a more than 24-hour journey from their rehabilitation centre by vehicle, boat and hiking.
The foundation originally planned to create a five-hectare (12-acre) “forest island” for Alba rather than a release into truly natural habitat because of health issues related to her albinism, including poor sight and hearing and the possibility of skin cancer.
But the government’s Natural Resources Conservation Agency and other agencies decided it was appropriate to release Alba into the wild because of her strong physical condition and intrinsically wild behaviour.
She will be electronically tracked and regularly monitored by a medical team.
“Alba has no inferiority complex as we imagined before. She is very confident compared to other orangutans,” said veterinarian Agus Fathoni.
“I think the real threat actually comes from humans. What we’re worried about is poaching, where this very special condition makes her a target,” he said.
Patrols of Alba’s new home by national park and conservation agency staff will aim to deter poachers, though they admit the number of personnel is limited.
Orangutans, reddish-brown primates known for their gentle temperament and intelligence, are critically endangered and only found in the wild on the Indonesian island of Sumatra and on Borneo, which is divided among Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature, which declared Borneo’s orangutans critically endangered in 2016, said their numbers have dropped by nearly two-thirds since the early 1970s as plantation agriculture destroyed and fragmented their forest habitat.
The Sumatran orangutan is a separate species and has been critically endangered since 2008.
Alba, approximately five years old, was given final medical tests and anaesthetised for the journey to Bukit Baka Bukit Raya.
Workers shouted “Alba’s going home” as her cage was lifted on to a truck at the Nyaru Menteng Rehabilitation Centre in Central Kalimantan province on Borneo.
“It’s true this is a big gamble but we hope that with our collaboration we will win the big bet we have made today,” said the orangutan foundation’s chief executive Jamartin Sihite after releasing Alba from her cage.