Orangutans are one of our closest cousins on Earth. Therefore, it is tragic to see what humans are doing to our fellow apes in many regions of the world. But when one group of villagers found a wild orangutan, rather than sell it to the highest bidder, they called for help.
In October 2016 police contacted the BKSDA Nature Conservation Agency in Indonesia about the capture of a wild animal. It seemed that local villagers had found an orangutan and secured it to a tree. So, a team from the BKSDA, the Center for Orangutan Protection’s APE Crusaders and the Orangutan Foundation went to investigate.
Unsurprisingly, when rescuers arrived on the scene in Central Kalimantan, they found the orangutan, which they named Rawit, in a bad way. In fact, the ropes used to tie her were so tight that they had cut off circulation to her limbs. Her hands and feet were also unnaturally swollen.
Furthermore, images of the incident show five-year-old Rawit looking extremely withdrawn. Indeed, her almost human-like expression portrayed a sense of great despair. The BKSDA team suspected that she may have been stolen from the wild with the purpose of selling her on to the illegal pet trade.
According to the Orangutan Foundation, an oil-palm forest and human settlements surrounded the young female’s natural habitat. In fact, the expanse of palm oil forests is one of the greatest threats to orangutan populations. While the product is Indonesia’s third largest export, it is estimated that the growth of this industry has contributed to an 80 percent loss of orangutan habitat in the last two decades.
However, palm oil isn’t the only threat orangutans face. Deforestation and hunting are also responsible for the decline of orangutan populations, as is the illegal pet trade. Sadly, figures from the Orangutan Conservancy suggest that there are only around 60,000 orangutans left in Borneo and Sumatra.
Yes, humans often take young orangutans and sell them into the illegal animal trade. Mothers are heartlessly killed, too, before the poachers pull the infant orangutans away from their dead mothers’ bodies. In fact, a Center for Orangutan Protection and Nature Alert report found that as many as 20,000 orangutans have lost their lives or freedom to the illegal pet trade in the last decade.
Often these little orangutans don’t recover from the trauma of losing their moms in such a horrific way. So, in addition to mental health issues, they are also at risk of physical harm from diseases and poor treatment during their captivity. Luckily for Rawit, then, rescue teams got to her just in time.
The team released Rawit from her ropes and took her to an animal hospital where the injuries to her limbs could be attended to. Then, after a few days, the ape began to rebuild her strength. Staff constantly monitored her health, too, so that the best next step could be decided.
After a while, the foundation determined that Rawit was well enough to join its soft release program. This allows the animals to get used to their new habitat before being released for real. Hence, staff took Rawit to the Lamandau Wildlife Reserve, where they’d watch over her until she could be fully released.
The Lamandau River Wildlife Reserve is home to a number of release sites and patrol posts to ensure orangutans remain safe following their release. The reserve also has a 1,600-foot buffer zone between its forest and the surrounding palm oil forest. Therefore, it’s an adequate space from which to release rehabilitated wildlife.
So, two weeks after her initial rescue, Rawit was cleared to be freed. Indeed, incredible footage of Rawit’s release showed how a boat took the orangutan to the ideal location. Once there, staff wheeled the caged animal deep into the forest foliage to the release area.
It was then that the dedicated team opened up Rawit’s cage to allow her to get used to her new environment in her own time. Luckily for her, an older female took the youngster under her wing. Interestingly, the Orangutan Foundation had previously reintroduced this older female into the wildlife reserve.
So, under the guidance of the more experienced female, Rawit soon assimilated back into forest life. In a video posted to YouTube, the primate scales trees and feasts on bananas – just like nature intended.
Wildlife photographer Ian Woods wrote a blog post about the experience. In it, he said, “Today I’ve been working with the veterinary team of the Orangutan Foundation U.K. who have successfully released another orangutan into Lamandau wildlife reserve in Borneo. This area of forest has been a release site for some years now with hundreds of orangutans rehabilitated there.”
“The way the older female orangutan in the video comes to help her when she’s finally released was so touching. She will now be monitored by field staff to check that she is thriving in her new found freedom,” Woods added.
Through YouTube and Facebook, the Orangutan Foundation has been spreading Rawit’s story to increase awareness of the plight of these majestic creatures. And, it seems, Rawit’s story has touched a nerve with many animal lovers.
“This is disgusting. Why do some people treat… wildlife like this?” wrote one Facebook user. “Makes me very unhappy. Animals are meant to be free in the wild, just like we have the choice to be free,” the post continued.
“When we learn to take care of the environment and to respect animals, we are an evolved species,” read another Facebook comment. “Until then, we will continue to be a plague destroyer.”
So, while no animal should have to endure the things Rawit went through, it is hoped that her story will raise awareness around the threats facing the orangutan population. Indeed, through education and compassion, hopefully more apes can be freed to live in the wild as nature intended. Only then will future generations of orangutans be safe from human harm.