Ujil the orangutan remains in captivity after rescue mission fails
Recent efforts to rescue a young orangutan from captivity in Indonesia were thwarted when the owner became aggressive and refused to hand him over. In spite of the presence of police and government officials, the man threatened to kill the orangutan and then anyone who tried to rescue him. The team was eventually forced to leave empty-handed but hopes to set up a second, successful rescue operation before too long so that Ujil can be given appropriate care and rehabilitation at International Animal Rescue’s emergency centre in Ketapang, Western Borneo.
Norwegian Vet Silje Robertsen was part of the rescue team and filed the following report:
“A few weeks ago, an orangutan investigator from Yayasan Palung discovered a young orangutan being held captive with a family in the town of Tumbangtiti. The bureaucratic work and preparations were immediately initiated and on Monday it was finally time to confiscate the animal. We went early in the morning, and after 3-4 hours of driving (mostly through established palm oil plantations or open fields where the forest has been logged to make room for more plantations) we arrived in Tumbangtiti. IAR Field manager Argitoe Ranting and I were accompanied by officials from the local Forestry Department in Ketapang, our investigator and staff from Yayasan Palung (Gunung Palung Orangutan Conservation Programme). On arrival we also reported to the local government and were accompanied by the police and two local government officials.
During the morning it became clear that the orangutan owner was known to be an aggressive man and unlikely to cooperate with us in a calm manner. We reached his village and saw the young orangutan chained to a wooden shelter outside his house. According to custom we approached the head of the village first and explained our mission. He then sat with us as we met with the owner, who told us his story. The orangutan is named Ujil and was bought for 2.5 million Rupiah (about 210€) about six months ago. When we explained to him that it is illegal to keep orangutans as pets and that we had come to confiscate Ujil, he requested 1.5 million Rupiah in compensation. We went on to inform him that we were not there to buy the orangutan back and that this was an official confiscation of an illegally kept animal. The discussions went on in this manner for quite some time, and the man proved extremely uncooperative. He proceeded to threaten to kill first the orangutan and then whoever tried to take the animal from him. The man showed no respect for or fear of the police and the officials present, and in the end we decided to leave the orangutan there and retreat.
Ujil seems to be a young male of about 4 years old. His bodyweight is appropriate and, apart from a paleness often seen in captive orangutans, he has no apparent physical illness. He is being kept on a short chain on the left foot: the chain has not yet caused any apparent wounds or swelling.
For fear of provoking the owner further unnecessarily, I only examined the animal at a distance. The biggest concern for me is his mental health, as he has no place to retreat and there were constantly young children and adults touching, teasing and feeding him. The owner claims to feed him a mixture of rice, bread and different fruits, but because he is in such an open space on the ground, anyone walking by can feed him.
Leaving without Ujil was extremely frustrating, sad and confusing. We went with all our permits, accompanied by the police and government officials and still we left empty-handed. Unfortunately this is not a rare outcome of our confiscation actions, and there are many factors to consider. First the area where Ujil is kept is a rural one, with high rates of alcoholism and a poor educational system. The trust in and respect for police and government officials is generally lacking, certainly not always without reason. For us it is extremely important to work well with the forestry department and the police, as we are dependent on a solid and trusting collaboration with them in order to do the work we wish to do. In cases like this it is very easy to get angry with the owner of the captive animal. But meeting his anger directly with ours can be not only potentially dangerous, but also counterproductive for our overriding goal – to make a lasting and substantial impact on the illegal animal trade and the culture of keeping wild animals as pets. We will continue to work towards a successful confiscation of Ujil and all the other Ujils out there.”