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Pelangsi, the orangutan who lost his hand after being trapped in a snare, is given the gift of freedom for Christmas

A young male orangutan that spent days trapped in a snare, resulting in the amputation of his right hand and half his arm, has been released back into the forests of West Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo after months of treatment and rehabilitation at IAR’s orangutan centre in Ketapang.

A team from International Animal Rescue Indonesia (Yayasan IAR Indonesia) and the Agency for Natural Resources Conservation (BKSDA) Ketapang have released Pelangsi in Pematang Gadung forest.

As his original home in the forest has been completely destroyed and converted into palm plantations, Pelangsi has had to be reintroduced into a different area. After the release, a team of experts will follow and monitor Pelangsi closely to see how he is coping.

Pelangsi climbs to freedom

Pematang Gadung is one of the forests in Ketapang Regency with the richest biodiversity. Many endangered species can be found in the forest which is patrolled and monitored by a volunteer group of local villagers from the community of Pematang Gadung. Yet this area is not currently officially protected. “With the release of this orangutan and by raising awareness of the condition of orangutans and their habitat in Ketapang, we also hope that Pematang Gadung will be given the protected status that it deserves” states Adi Irawan, Manager of the Yayasan IAR Indonesia programme in Ketapang.

In April 2012, Yayasan IAR Indonesia and the BKSDA in Ketapang mounted a rescue operation to free Pelangsi after he had been caught in a snare near a palm plantation. He had been trapped for days without food or water. The tissue on his hand had become necrotic as a result of the snare around his wrist and he had injured his elbow in his desperate attempts to get free. His condition was extremely serious and for the first few days the medical team feared for his life.

Trapped in the vicious snare

Luckily the rescue team reached Pelangsi (named after the place where he was found) in the nick of time. He was rushed to IAR’s Orangutan Rehabilitation and Conservation Centre in Ketapang where he gradually recovered from his injuries and his life-threatening condition. In May 2012 the IAR medical team, led by wildlife specialist vet Dr Paolo Martelli (Chief Veterinarian of Ocean Park in Hong Kong), carried out a complex and lengthy surgical procedure to amputate Pelangsi’s hand which had suffered extensive damage and could not be saved.Recovering from the operation

For weeks after the rescue, IAR’s medical team continued Pelangsi’s intensive care until he was clearly on the road to recovery. However it wasn’t until six months post-operation that he was considered to be healthy and strong enough to be released.

“Pelangsi’s fate is no different to that of many other orangutans: their populations are rapidly being decimated in the wild, leading to serious concerns about their future survival,” says Karmele Llano Sanchez, a veterinarian and Executive Director of IAR Indonesia.

Orangutans are being pushed to the brink of extinction. This great ape that once inhabited a large area within South East Asia, is now confined to a small part of the islands of Sumatra and Borneo. Yet the survival of this species is still threatened on these two islands by hunting, habitat destruction, human- orangutan conflict and the wildlife pet trade.

“Human-orangutan conflict is tragically inevitable when the expansion of monocultures like oil palm and the conversion of forest into agricultural land are escalating,” adds Karmele Llano.

Says Alan Knight, Chief Executive of International Animal Rescue: “We have all been eagerly awaiting the day of Pelangsi’s release. When endangered species like the orangutan are in crisis, every single individual counts. Pelangsi’s story is cause for celebration, not only because his life has been saved, but also because his reintroduction into the wild is a small but symbolic step in support of orangutan conservation.”

IAR’s rehabilitation centre is home to more than 50 orangutans, the majority of whom IAR aims eventually to return to the wild. In the meantime, the charity is building a new centre with a large forested play area for the infants and spacious enclosures for the adults where they can develop the skills and the strength they will need to survive in the wild.