International Animal Rescue Saving animals from suffering around the world

Our team witnesses unspeakable cruelty towards orangutans in Borneo

The mother orangutan was beaten into submission (Photo: Feri Latief)A female orangutan and her infant have suffered unspeakable cruelty at the hands of villagers in a remote part of Borneo after straying there in search of food. The starving mother and baby had been spotted in the village of Peniraman after there was a landslide in the surrounding area which swept them over a cliff edge. At first there was also a male orangutan with them but he was driven away by the angry mob.

The forest surrounding the village has been converted into palm oil plantations and any small patches of remaining woodland are occupied by humans. Deforestation in the area surrounding Peniraman has led to landslides of the small hills around the village, further shrinking the orangutans' habitat and food supply. If orangutans venture into palm oil plantations they are killed and an orangutan would only enter a human settlement if it was starving and desperate. The female orangutan was subsequently found to be very thin and malnourished, so was clearly desperate for food.

When the villagers came across the orangutans they swung sticks and threw rocks at the terrified animals. The adult female was very weak and probably injured from the fall, so it was easy for the villagers to pursue her and her infant. The male orangutan saw what was happening and tried to protect the mother and baby, but the villagers chased him off. They beat the female with sticks until she submitted on the ground, then tied ropes excruciatingly tightly around her arms and legs. Five men held on to each of her limbs to carry the mother and baby once the ropes were attached, and still she tried to fight back and defend her screeching infant.

The villagers were frustrated that the female still had strength left to try to escape and would not submit to them. They ambushed her again with a large net, took her infant away and tied it up by one foot. The mother panicked and struggled all the more to get back to her baby and so the villagers did something even more unspeakably cruel - they held her down in a pool of water until she was drowning. It must have taken several men to pull her into the pool and hold her head below the water until her body went limp and her lungs filled with water.

The infant orangutan clings onto her dying mother  (Photo: Feri Latief)Once the mother was unconscious, they dragged her to a makeshift pen. She was still alive but could barely sit up. As she no longer posed any threat to the villagers they dragged the infant by the rope attached to her foot and tossed her into the cage with her dying mother. A large crowd of people gathered around the cage and took amusement in their suffering. The mother used what strength she had left to wrap her arms around her terrified baby while her infant desperately tried to chew through the ropes still tied to her mother's arms and legs.

Then the crowd grew restless and began yelling and poking at the orangutans with sticks. Thankfully at this point IAR's vet Anita Herawati arrived on the scene and witnessed the cruelty as the frenzied crowd cheered. Anita acted fast to rescue the tortured orangutans as quickly as possible. Anita first sedated the infant, who was still quite strong and defensive and then sedated her mother. Both were taken to the forestry department for temporary housing before translocation.

The infant awoke from the anaesthesia without a problem but the mother was barely able to move even her fingers. It had been days since mother and baby had eaten a meal. Anita gave food and examined them both and desperately tried to hook up an IV line to the mother. Anita encouraged the baby into her own temporary cage to eat and sleep while she treated the mother. But every vein Anita tried was collapsed and she could hear liquid inside the orangutan's lungs.

As time went on the mother orangutan began snoring and breathing unsteadily and within fifteen minutes she was dead. Anita had done everything she could to save the poor animal but in the end oedema and haemorrhaging of the lungs caused her death. There was nothing more Anita could have done and she wept in despair when she called everyone back at IAR's rescue centre to break the horrific news of the orangutan's death.

The infant was now frantically looking for her mother and was certainly traumatised but she had no immediately life-threatening injuries. Anita brought the baby to the rehabilitation centre in Ketapang because she is too young to be translocated to a forest by herself. She arrived without a problem and is now safe in Ketapang. The team have called the infant Peni and are doing all they can to help her recover from her terrible trauma.

There are still seven remaining orangutans living in unsuitable forests surrounding the village of Peniraman where this tragedy took place, including the male who came down to the village with the mother and Peni. IAR's team is committed to doing everything they can to rescue and translocate all these orangutans as soon as they can raise sufficient funds to do so.

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