Julia and her group were seen as pests by the locals because they destroyed the farmers' cassava plantations in Sungai Kali area in Barito Kuala District of South Kalimantan. While they roamed around in the village, two groups of Bekantan - each group comprise of 10-15 monkeys – consumed at least 10 tons of cassava, bananas and other fruits.
The dwindling habitat for the Proboscis monkey (Nasalis larvatus) due to change of land use to palm oil plantation forced the endangered species to migrate and enter villages. In that situation, conflict with humans became unavoidable.
"Julia suffered from severe trauma at the time. She even rejected her baby when we gave her for breastfeeding," chairperson of Sahabat Bekantan Indonesia (Indonesia's Friends of Bekantan/SBI) Amalia Rezeki said.
The SBI is a non-profit organization that focuses on Bekantan conservation.
The shy animal also turned her back on anybody who approached her, Amalia said. Julia and Cykita are still under veterinarian observation at the SBI's Bekantan rehabilitation center in Banjarmasin since they were evacuated in late 2016.
Not only were they chased by hunting dogs, but the long-nosed monkeys were also beaten, poisoned and shot at by angry villagers for destroying their crops.
A team of the SBI and the South Kalimantan's Natural Conservation Agency (BKSDA) immediately came to their rescue after received information from the village head and residents through social media.
However, the team has only managed to rescue one group, while another group and could not be monitored.
Cykita is ready to be released to her habitat by now, as she already learned to eat food and not depend on breastfeeding anymore. The SBI will have to wait for recommendation of the veterinarian and the BKSDA, Amalia said. However, the story does not end here for conservationists in the SBI.
Since late 2014, when it actively conducted rescue operations for the protected animals, the SBI has evacuated at least 45 Bekantans in South Kalimantan. Some of them were voluntarily handed over by residents who found them separated from the group.
They are Ben, Lestari, Lucky Boy, and Titi, and all of them were rescued and released to conservationist areas in the province.
"The SBI has begun the evacuation process after it obtained permission from the local government. Before it was officially launched in 2013, the SBI since 2010, has focused on education and socialization in Bekantan conservation," she said.
Public awareness to hand over or report any finding of Bekantan to the SBI or BKSDA was seen as a tireless effort.
This year, the SBI which is the only non-government organization that focuses on Bekantan conservation has targeted illegal trading of the rare species.
Illegal trading that previously was conducted openly in a market in Banjarmasin, still exists, only it is conducted secretly.
"After we educated them on Bekantan conservation, telling them that illegal trading of the endangered species would face legal sanction, they began to operate secretly," she added.
The extreme dry season in South Kalimantan is another problem for the Bekantan's survival during the past few weeks as its favorite food, the leaves of the Rambai trees dried up. Dutch monkeys love to eat the leaves.
A task force was established to address the impact of extreme drought on the species, Deputy Chairman of SBI Zainal Abidin said. They served bananas at feeding stations prepared for the Bekantans.
"We prepared additional food because the leaves of the Rambai trees, their favorite food, were dying due to extreme drought," Abidin said.
The move is aimed at preventing the endangered species from migrating and entering nearby villages which could again spark another conflict with villagers.
Abidin's team has also provided a drinking basin because the unfavorable weather has increased the river's salinity.
Regarding the impact of land and forest fires in the province, Abidin said that he has yet to receive reports of any death or illness of the Bekantans due to fires.
Irony of the mascot
Bekantan or Dutch monkeys, as the locals call them, were declared mascots of South Kalimantan in 1990. However, many people became aware of this only after SBI conducted socialization in 2013.
The foundation's effort to educate people has received the local government's full support which then built a statue of the mascot in downtown Banjarmasin, near the city's icon of Menara Pandang (observation tower).
"This is part of the education, to raise people's awareness of Bekantan conservation. Lest we let the statue remain," Amalia who recently has awarded ASEAN Youth Eco-champions Award (AYECA) 2019 said.
South Kalimantan has 11 Bekantan conservation areas, including those in Bakut Island, Kaget Island and Kuala Lupak in Baeito Kuala District.
Their population in Bakut Island – a 15.58 hectares delta in the middle of Barito River – is expected to reach 60, divided into four groups. Each group of Bekantan usually consist of 10 to 15 species.
Bekantan is one of the 25 species protected by the government whose population must be increased. In less than five years, its population should be increased at least by two percent.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has put Bekantan on its red list or endangered species in 2000. It was also put in Appendix 1 of CITES that prohibits the trading of the species.
The Dutch monkey's preservation has been threatened by the massive change of land use as well as land and forest fires that have shrunk its habitat. Illegal trading has worsened the situation.
Research in 1987 showed that the Bekantan population in Kalimantan Island had reached 250 thousand, of which 25 thousand lived in preserved areas.
Its population has drastically dropped in 1995 to only 114 thousand, and only 7,500 were found in conservation areas.
According to data of South Kalimantan BKSDA, in 2013 there were only 3,600 Bekantans left in the province. The number is expected to dwindle further with massive illegal trading and forest fires.
"In South Kalimantan the population has only reached some 2,500," Amalia said.
The SBI has recorded that the Bekantan population in preserved areas has increased significantly by 50 percent, to 887. However, the population could hardly increase outside the preserved areas, she continued.
This has forced the SBI to develop a research station in 2018 in a three-hectare island located near Bakut Island, not far from Curiak Island.
"We aim to protect the Bekantan outside the conservation areas. This is a pilot project," Amalia said. (INE)
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