One of the things that I like about the JRC and the reason why we ended volunteering here is that they do have a strong philosophy of rescue and release. So much, that one of the reasons why they bought the nature reserve is to have a piece of forest where they can use to release animals. The pre-release cages that are spread around the reserve are used to help the animal getting used to the jungle, while finally severing their link to humans. We still need to feed them and clean their cages, but it is done in such a way to minimize our contact with them.
The center favors strongly a type of release that is called soft release. The core idea of the soft release is that animals are placed in pre-release cages located close to the location where it will be released. After some time, the animal is allowed to go out, but it is given the option of returning to the cage for shelter, water and food. This support is being reduced over time until the animal stops coming back and is able to survive without support.
There is a second version of the soft release, which is often used with primates. In this case, the animals are regularly taken out to a place where there are wild groups of their same species, thus allowing them to start interacting with them and eventually, join the group. The animals are left to roam free in the forest, while their caretaker stays in the area observing their behavior. At the end of the day, the caretaker calls the animals and they usually descend to be taken to their cages and fed, until the day that they feel ready to join the wild group. This strategy has been used successfully in the center specially in relation to monkeys, particularly howler monkeys (Alouatta palliata).
In addition to the soft (gradual) releases, the hard release does not use pre-release cages or visits to the forest, but the animal is released in an area where it can get food and water on its own, without any human support. This form of release is also used in the center, but normally only in relation to animals that have been in the center for a very short period of time (usually hours) and thus are inherently wild. This is the type of release that is often used with snakes, iguanas and sometimes sloths.
The center argues that the soft release is better for the animal in the long term as it increases the chances of survival in the first days of being back in the wild. It makes sense. They will be released in an area where there will be competitors and predators, where territories might have been claimed. The released animal needs some time to build a shelter or nest or to find out where the food is. But there is also a danger that the animal will get too comfy with being served food and water and get shelter, and then will not abandon the cage…or will resort to go to houses & human settlements when they feel hungry, thus increasing their chance to get into conflicts with humans again.
While I can understand the logic of the soft release and the expected survival, I would like to have some data. It would be great to be able to follow up released animals over time and to link it to variables related to their pre-release time, to really be able to conclude on which factors are more influential in the rate of survival of the released animal. Ha! I guess that the researcher mind never goes to sleep after all…it has just been dormant for a while 😉