Animal rescuers attended to Rose the orangutan as soon as they found her. The poorly ape was malnourished and weak, so the workers rushed her into emergency care. But things went from bad to worse after medical staff examined an X-ray and saw just what was inside of her.
Rose’s story began at Gunung Leuser National Park (GLNP), part of a World Heritage Site located in a mountain range in Sumatra, Indonesia. Authorities there protect the park’s grounds against hunters and poachers, so it plays an important role in conservation.
GLNP hosts many species of indigenous wildlife, such as the critically endangered trio of Sumatran elephant, Sumatran tiger and Sumatran rhinoceros. In addition, the park is also home to a sanctuary and research center for the similarly threatened Sumatran orangutan. The same species as Rose, in fact.
There are only two habitats left for Sumatran orangutans, and GLNP is one of them. Considering this, it’s fortunate that park officials spotted Rose when they did. They observed her wandering around a farm – possibly looking for food – in early March 2018.
Moreover, not only was Rose starving and conspicuously underweight, but she also appeared to be injured. She was also allowing locals to get close to her, which may have been a consequence of her ill health. Either way, the orangutan needed immediate attention, and fast.
With this in mind, GLNP workers contacted the Orangutan Information Center (OIC). Staff there arranged for a rescue party to visit the scene. Time was of the essence, of course, since Rose was in a precarious position. Besides her deteriorating health, she was vulnerable to attack from local farmers.
You see, deforestation and widespread farm expansion has shrunk the orangutan’s habitat, thus limiting their food sources. As a result, the apes feed off the crops, or damage them during their wanderings. Consequently, some farmers now view orangutans as pests and have been known to open fire at them.
OIC’s founding director Panut Hadisiswoyo orchestrated Rose’s rescue in collaboration with several other local outfits. When the collective parties arrived at the scene, they found Rose in a tree. From her lofty vantage point, it became apparent that lack of food was just one of the orangutan’s problems. Rose was also suffering from some painful-looking injuries, including severe damage to several of her fingers.
“We observed that the orangutan was malnourished, and indeed looked very weak,” Hadisiswoyo told The Dodo. “Our team was aware that her condition cannot be fixed in the field. So our vet recommended to bring her to quarantine for further intensive treatment.”
The first step to getting Rose to quarantine was enticing her down from her perch. A complicated procedure you might think, but the rescue teams arrived prepared. To begin with, they used a dart gun to fire a tranquilizer into Rose’s hide. Then they employed a safety net to catch her when she tumbled from the tree.
“This is always the critical moment in every rescue situation,” Hadisiswoyo told The Dodo, pleased that things went to plan. “I’m glad we managed the net very well, and that she felt right into the net.” It was only good news up to a point, though, as the rescuers then discovered that Rose was far worse off than they initially thought.
In a cruel twist to proceedings, it turned out that someone had already shot the orangutan, only not with a tranquilizer gun but with what appeared to be an air rifle. The severity of her wounds convinced the rescue team to immediately deliver Rose to the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme (SOCP)-owned quarantine center. And further tests there revealed the extent of Rose’s condition.
Worryingly, an X-ray showed that Rose had five bullets inside her body that needed treating. There was some good news, though: despite the orangutan’s wounds, the projectiles had failed to hit any of her vital organs.
In addition to her gunshot wounds, medical staff noted that Rose’s teeth had an unhealthy amount of tartar on them, so that also needed attending to. This build-up of calculus was possibly a consequence of her eating habits. A member of the SOCP’s vet team, Yenny Saraswati, told The Dodo that it didn’t look as though the orangutan had enjoyed a particularly healthy diet.
“Rose was not feeding on natural food from the forest,” Saraswati explained. “It seems like she had been feeding on human food for quite a long time.” To counter this, going forward the SOCP plan to put Rose on a more appropriate food regime.
Apparently, Rose weighed a mere 37 pounds when the SOCP came to her aid – that’s at best half an orangutan’s usual weight. Still, rescuers have stated that they hope to reintroduce Rose to the wild when she’s healthy. Though sadly that may not be possible.
That’s because the SOCP fear that, if released, Rose would return to her crop-raiding ways. Clearly, that would be dangerous for her, but there is an alternative; the authorities could move Rose to a sanctuary. That way, she could live as close to a natural life as possible.
Rehoused in a sanctuary, Rose would be free from the threat of poachers and the wrath of farmers, something she would do well to steer clear of. After all, at the start of the year 2000, the Sumatran orangutan was among the world’s most endangered primates. However, since then, thanks to breeding programs and conservation efforts, their situation has improved.
Tragically, large swathes of orangutan habitats continue to be destroyed. The blame for this lies partly with the palm oil industry, which continues to chop down trees used by orangutans at an alarming rate. Sadly, deforestation has had a devastating impact on orangutan numbers.
So the war to save the Sumatran orangutan goes on, but Rose is proof that there is hope for her species yet. Encouragingly, the SOCP team are also confident that they can continue making a difference, something Saraswati made clear. “We are optimistic that every orangutan [we treat] has a chance to get back to the wild,” he told The Dodo.