Sumatra Orang

Reporter: Andrea Burns

For fourteen years, Temara has lived here at Perth Zoo. She was born here, but it's not her home. That's a place deep in the Indonesian jungle she's never seen or touched. Now, in a world first, an orang-utan born in captivity will be set free. Kylie Bullo says "Temara deserves this chance"

"With the changing roles of zoos this is the apex of what we can do and achieve" Perth Zoo's Leif Cocks is one of Australia's foremost orang utan experts, Kylie Bullo's the zoo's senior orang keeper. Tamara's journey will be watched by zoos around the world. Her success or failure could hold the key to the survival of her species. Temara is being trained at Perth Zoo to survive in the wild - and it is wild. Dense rainforest in Eastern Sumatra, this is where Temara will be set free. Already, 80 orang utans live here - some, orphans like these getting ready to be released. Temara's grandmother was taken from Sumatra two generations ago. Kylie and Leif are taking Temara home.

Susan Hunt says "she's very precious but for us , part of our commitment to her being precious is to let her become part of a wild population again" Perth Zoo CEO Susan Hunt says the plan hasn't been without it's critics. Still, she believes it's the right thing to do. "It's the way zoos are going globally after being for many years places where people come to look at animals now zoos contribute back into the wild in terms of natural conservation projects"

Orang Utans are like humans. They cry, sweat, even sulk. Yet it's because of humans, orangs are critically endangered. Just like human toddlers, these littlies will have their tantrums over spilt milk , but they're the lucky ones - they're alive, and carefully protected by vigilant staff. The conservation programme in the park is the area's only employer. Locals have a vested interest in keeping the orangs safe. Camp boss Peter Prantje, "our humble hope is that this becomes like a living museum of this kind of habitat, because the next generation has no chance to go to Sumatra and see the original forest"

At night these orang-utans sleep in these cages near base camp ... by day, they're free to wander, but are watched until they're able to fend for themselves in the wild. Biologist Sabine Langer has come here from Germany, "when you look into their eyes, it seems to be looking into your eyes" It's hoped by bringing Temara here, she'll have babies of her own.

Back in Perth, Temara goes into training... quarantined, fed on tropical fruits.... given a full medical check up - she's in perfect health. Getting her on the flight to Indonesia is like a military operation. Her keepers' goodbyes are gut wrenching. While Indonesian officials give Temara the star treatment, for mere humans, getting to the National Park from Jambi, a business town an hour's flight from Jakarta, is arduous.

We've been on the road for three and a half hours now. The release site's still another 3 hours that way. Our equipment's had to be transferred to a sturdier vehicle because the roads aren't reliable. But Tamara won't be travelling this path - when you're a one of a kind orang-utan, you don't rough it. A thirty minute ride in the police helicopter... she arrives at the camp and settles into a temporary home. For us, the trek's as rough as the location is remote... but for Temara, that's a good thing - the deeper into the national park she goes, the safer she is from poachers.

Here in Sumatra, killing or keeping orangs like Mona here, as pets has been illegal for decades. Still, they're disappearing from the rainforest at a rate of 1000 every year. What that means is, if the killing continues, the species will extinct within 7 years. Leif Cocks says "it's really about ignorance, people they just see the cute orang utan, they don't see the horror that underlies how they got there"And then there is the other risk to orangs ... trees illegally felled for valuable palm oil, Australian money funds a military trained protection unit patrolling the park.

One unit caught these four poachers outside the park - they face jail or a fifty thousand dollar U-S, fine. At a local school...Aussie dollars also buy school supplies to help reinforce to these children that orang-utans are special. Back at camp, Kylie says "I'm very excited but I must admit I'm a bit nervous" after fourteen years, this is Temara's last day in captivity. The bond between Kylie and Temara is amazing. Training her fiesty protégé to look after herself in the wild has been the keeper's brief, and thrill. Kylie says "yesterday, I think it hit me and I gave her a lecture, saying she'd better look after herself and not do anything silly and we had words - and yeah, I had a bit of a cry"

For Leif too, it's a wrench. "Temara's been with me all her life, from her birth until now, so we consider each other as close friends" For three months, Kylie will live here in Indonesia, following Temara into the jungle every day. Locals have been employed by Perth Zoo to take over indefinitely, when Kylie comes home. A connection's already been made. Finally, it's time...It takes Temara just thirty seconds... back a few times... just to check in.... When you're free you can do what you want and she's gone again. Leif you couldn't have scripted that better -yeah in the end it turned out fantastic, she did exactly what she should have done, went up into the nearest tree, moving through the canopy, so a great start.

The people who love Temara know releasing her is a risk, but a considered one. For her children ... and ours. Kylie says "it is Mother Nature and we've never said 100% everything will go fine, but we still believe it's the right thing to do and that Temara should have this chance" Can Temara save them? Not alone. But it's a start. Leif says "will you succeed? We never know we're going to succeed cos the big money and the big power is often against us. But what we can guarantee is we're going to keep trying"

To donate to the Australian Orang Utan Project, a conservation organization helping fund Temara's release and ongoing care please go to

At this site you are able to either donate money, or even adopt an orang utan for just $55. The money helps care for endangered orang utans.

To track Temara's progress, Perth Zoo has this website -