Two western hoolock gibbons under long-term care at the wildlife rescue centre run by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) and Assam Forest Department were released into the wild in the Kaziranga-Karbi Anglong landscape early yesterday morning.

The gibbons underwent rehabilitation for a number of years: Makumi, the female, was rescued as an infant from Makum in the Tinsukia district of Assam in August 2009 while Karbi, the male, was rescued as an adult by the forest department from Diphu, Karbi Anglong in December 2013.

On February 25 this year, as the first step in primate soft release protocol, the veterinary team had shifted the pair to an acclimatisation site in the Panbari Reserve Forest, which is connected to the Karbi Anglong hills and is good gibbon habitat. The animals were both fitted with a silver earring for identification in the wild and were kept in adjoining compartments of a cage high in the forest canopy, able to observe and interact with one another. They were constantly monitored by veterinarians Dr Panjit Basumatary and Dr Samshul Ali, the centre’s animal keepers, and Bidyut Sarania, a PhD primate researcher from Tezpur University.

The pair had begun vocalising and replying to calls from wild gibbons within a couple of weeks of being shifted to the acclimatisation site. In early May they had their first wild visitor: A male gibbon that had been calling to the pair began visiting them at the cage, expressing a particular interest in Makumi.

A blood panel report received a few days ago declared both Karbi and Makumi disease-free. This, coupled with the positive behavioural responses the team had recorded since the gibbons were shifted to Panbari Reserve Forest more than 100 days ago, suggested that it was time to let them go free.

With Mukut Das, Assistant Conservator of Forests (Kaziranga National Park) looking on, the IFAW-WTI team opened the gates to both enclosures early yesterday morning. Karbi emerged within half a minute and while Makumi was more tentative, she too exited her enclosure a few minutes later.  The gibbons spent some time near the enclosures, grooming themselves and experiencing their first heavy rain shower as free apes. They then swung, or brachiated, into the forest.

“Both were seen moving through the forest looking for food and shelter,” said Bidyut Sarania, who observed the pair during the course of the day. “Makumi was more active in exploring her surroundings.” 

“Food collected from the forest will be made available near the release site for the next few days, in case they take shelter in the vicinity,” said Dr Panjit Basumatary, lead veterinarian. “It’s always heartening to be able to rehabilitate a wild animal into its natural habitat. We will continue to monitor the gibbons closely over the next few months and hope that they adapt successfully to a life in the wild.”


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Article source: IFAW

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