We’re thrilled to share the exciting news that Cece was released in October 2021 at the Sumatran Orangutan Reintroduction Centre in the Bukit Tigapuluh Ecosystem, Sumatra. Cece was released with her friends Iben and Laini. She is still being closely monitored and supported by trackers; however, she is now living permanently in the jungle and no longer returning to an enclosure overnight.
Cece has overcome so much, and we wanted to reminisce on her story and celebrate her forest freedom with you. Cece was stolen from her mother as an infant and kept illegally as a pet for three years in a theme park in North Sumatra. Reports were received from the public about the existence of orangutans at the theme park. After an investigation, the manager of the park agreed to hand Cece into government authorities in February 2015. She was being housed by herself in a tiny cage.
Panut Hadisiswoyo, Founder of our partner the Orangutan Information Centre, was involved in Cece’s rescue and is delighted that she has now been released. He says, “I am so happy to know that Cece is tasting real freedom now. I had an emotional interaction with Cece during the rescue operation as I could see her desperation and stress being locked in such a small cage for quite a while. Back then I was really hoping that Cece was the last orangutan being illegally trafficked and poached for a pet. I then promised myself to fight for all orangutans in life threatening situations.”
Cece’s rescue in early 2015 with Panut
Cece was estimated to be approximately five years old when she arrived at the SOCP Quarantine Centre in February 2015. She weighed 15kg and was in a healthy and stable condition. After undergoing the required quarantine period and health checks from the veterinary team, Cece was introduced to other young orangutans at the centre. Initially, Cece was a bit shy; however, she quickly settled into the infant group and became the dominant orangutan. Cece got along well with the other orangutans and enjoyed playing and using the enrichment and toys.
Cece soon joined Jungle School sessions with other young orangutans and developed her skills over the next few years at the quarantine centre. She quickly climbed very high in the canopy and persisted in developing her skills of moving from one tree to another. The keepers noted that while many young orangutans would follow another orangutan when trying to move between the trees, Cece didn’t wait for any other orangutans; she found a route by herself, which showed confidence and initiative.
Little Cece enjoying the infant orangutan playground and Jungle School
In 2018, Cece could skilfully move among the trees and even calculate if the branches would support her weight. This is a very valuable skill orangutans need to learn so they can stay safe in the rainforest canopy. She also began to plan out her routes before moving, another vital ability. Cece was observed trying to build a nest for the first time. Although the nest wasn’t very good, her carers were all very pleased and proud that she had started trying. It’s very likely she started trying after watching other orangutans building nests. This shows that orangutans learn from one another, and nest building is a skill that her mother would normally have taught her.
We were all very excited when Cece was transferred to the Sumatran Orangutan Reintroduction Centre in the Bukit Tigapuluh (BTP) Ecosystem with four other orangutans in April 2019. It was a long journey and a vet travelled with the orangutans to ensure their well being on the road trip. Cece had a strong bond with another young orangutan named Rosi, who also made the long trip to BTP. They took great comfort in one another’s company; however, they also integrated well with the other young orangutans undergoing release training at the BTP site.
Cece quickly began using leaves and branches given to the orangutans to make sleeping nests in the pre-release enclosure. She commenced Jungle School soon after arriving, and after being very nervous and unsure at first, she began to make great progress, learning a lot from a young orangutan named Citrawan, who was also in our adoption program. Cece also loved the various enrichment given to the orangutans by the keepers. This included feeder balls, leaf parcels, flowers, forest fruits and other activities to promote problem solving such as fishing for food treats with long sticks.
2020 proved to be a very challenging year for orangutan rehabilitation centres due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Orangutans share 97% of the same DNA as humans and are susceptible to human diseases including respiratory disorders. Jungle School had to be stopped for months since this involved close human-orangutan contact and we did not want the orangutans at risk. All orangutans had to remain in the pre-release enclosures to avoid human contact. It was vital during this time that the mental and physical health of the orangutans was of the highest priority. Orangutans received extra enrichment to keep them busy including natural forest food items so the orangutans continued to experience a variety of food sources they can access in the forest. These included various fruits, leaves, stems, flowers, cambium, and termites. Cece bonded with a young male orangutan named Dennis during this time and they greatly enjoyed playing together and hugging. Thankfully, Cece coped well with the strict COVID-19 protocols.
Thankfully Cece coped will with the extended enclosure time thanks to extra enrichment and her new bestie Dennis
Thankfully, after an eighth-month hiatus due to COVID-19 restrictions, Jungle School recommenced in late 2020 at the BTP Sanctuary in Sumatra. After being in her enclosure for so long, Cece had cold feet about returning to the forest and refused to join Jungle School for the first time. After some time and gentle coaxing, she was finally convinced to leave the enclosure and head to the forest with the orangutan keeper and other young orangutan adventurers. Cece spent most of her time traveling with her friends Rosi and Citrawan. She showed good progress and was observed building nests and increased her foraging time.
Cece hitching a ride to Jungle School and then enjoying time in the canopy
In October 2021, Cece was released with Iben and Laini although she became separated from them on the first day. She spent much of her time resting and her foraging activity was low. She ate various items in the forest including fruits, stem, bark, and flowers; however, she still received supplemental food to help with her adaptation. The trackers would also lure Cece to join other orangutans so she could observe and learn from their behaviours. Cece tended to follow Citrawan but she left after a few days. Cece used old orangutan nests to sleep in and wasn’t observed building her own nests.
It has now been a few months since Cece’s release and there has been a great improvement in her demeanour and forest skills. She is now more active and is in a healthy condition. Her foraging has increased, and her favourite fruits are malabai, liana and belimbing. She still receives supplement food from the trackers, but this is very normal and a part of the release process. Cece is now also building her own nests and has been reunited with her good friend Citrawan!
Cece’s story is one of resilience and hope, showing how much some orangutans can overcome and achieve when given the time and support they need to live a life of freedom once again in the jungle. We are so grateful to all our supporters for helping Cece return to the wild. Your support has helped provide her with Jungle School training, food, enrichment, and medical care when needed to ensure she is safe and thriving in her true jungle home. Cece has shown intelligence, curiosity, and excellent forest skills during her time at Jungle School, so we are confident that in time she’ll fully adapt to living in the BTP jungle. Her precious freedom has been made possible thanks to your generous support. Thank you!
(Program run by Ministry of Forestry and FZS)