Last month, conservationists released three rehabilitated orangutans into Indonesia’s Bukit Baka Bukit Raya National Park. While monitoring one of the primates, whose name is Unyu, the team was happy to encounter a familiar and unique face. Alba, the world’s only known albino orangutan, made an appearance amid the rainforest—and one year after her own release into the wild, she seems to be doing just great.
With her bright blue eyes and pale fur, Alba is a rarity among rarities. The three species of orangutan—Bornean, Sumatran and Tapanuli—are critically endangered, and today exist only on the Indonesian island of Sumatra and on the island of Borneo, which is shared by Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei. These great apes are threatened primarily by habitat loss, as huge swaths of their native forests have been cleared for agricultural purposes, particularly palm oil production. Orangutans are sometimes hunted for food or attacked when their diminishing habitat pushes them into contact with humans.
Orangutans, particularly young ones, are also captured for the illegal pet trade. According to Gizmodo’s George Dvorsky, Alba, a Bornean orangutan, was rescued in 2017 after being captured and caged by villagers in the Indonesian portion of Borneo. Officials with the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation (BOSF) and the Central Kalimantan Natural Resources Conservation Agency found her dehydrated, parasite-infected, and distressed.
Alba, who was five years old at the time of her rescue, was sent to the Nyaru Menteng Orangutan Rescue and Rehabilitation Center. She spent nearly two years under human supervision. It was a slow recovery—because she is albino, Alba is susceptible to numerous health conditions, including poor vision and hearing and sensitivity to light—but she showed “excellent climbing and socialisation skills,” according to BOSF. In December 2018, Alba and another rescued orangutan named Kika were set free in Bukit Baka Bukit Raya National Park, a protected area that is playing an important role in the fight to save orangutans.
The BOSF and the Bukit Baka Bukit Raya National Park Office continue to monitor rehabilitated orangutans after their release. Their observations suggest that during her first year back in the wild, Alba spent much of her time feeding, travelling through the forest and resting. Agung Nugroho, head of the Bukit Baka Bukit Raya National Park Authority, said his team’s reports indicated that “Alba is capable of extensive exploration, skilful foraging, and deft nest building. She also socializes with other released orangutans within the national park.”But it was particularly special to see Alba crossing paths with Unyu; the two had been housed together at the rehabilitation center.
Experts will keep monitoring Alba for the next three months to ensure that she continues to thrive. But her progress so far has been “truly positive,” Nugroho says. “We all hope that Alba continues to survive in this forest, and live wild.”