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International Animal Rescue Saving animals from suffering around the world

After 15 years in captivity, Mely the orangutan is free

International Animal Rescue's team in Indonesia has successfully rescued an orangutan that had spent 15 long years chained up on a filthy balcony in a remote village in Borneo.

Mely spent her entire life chained to a balconyMely the orangutan was caught from the wild by a fisherman who shot her mother and took the baby to keep as a pet for his children. She then spent 15 years chained up outside his home, fed on noodles and scraps and forgotten by the family once she was no longer a cute cuddly baby.

Help finally came for Mely on Friday 22 October when our rescue team arrived, armed with the official licence to confiscate her and accompanied by members of the local police department who are required to be in attendance whenever a captive orangutan is seized.

Karmele Llano Sanchez, Veterinary Director of IAR in Indonesia, said: "Having waited months for the go ahead to rescue her, on Friday we received a call telling us that it was all systems go. There was very little time to plan or prepare. We knew Mely's owner had been trying to sell her and we were terrified of arriving to find that she had vanished – along with the chance to save her. Thankfully she was still there and her owner handed her over without argument.

Trying to unlock the padlock around Mely's neckWhen the rescue team arrived it was clear that Mely was bewildered and frightened by all the upheaval. No one could find the key to unlock the heavy padlock around her neck and so she was led into the transport crate still wearing the chain. It was eventually removed hours later at IAR's rescue centre in Ketapang, West Kalimantan.

A special transport crate had been brought for the journey that had sufficient room to keep Mely comfortable but not so much space that she could injure herself. Once she had been coaxed into the crate – somewhat reluctantly at first because it was strange and unfamiliar to her – the journey to her new life began. She was taken first by boat down the Sambas river – a distance of only a few kilometres. Then she travelled by road for a further four hours to Pontianak where, after her documentation had been thoroughly checked and approved by aiport officials, she was flown by plane to Ketapang. A final short truck-ride brought her to IAR's rescue and rehabilitation centre where the rest of the team was waiting to greet her and settle her in to her quarantine quarters.

Karmele and Mely at the rescue centreOn arrival at the centre, Mely was lightly sedated so that Karmele could remove the cruel padlock and chain from her neck and carry out a swift medical examination without upsetting her. In due course blood tests and xrays will establish whether she is suffering from any serious ailments or diseases. In the meantime she will be kept quiet and comfy and allowed time to adjust to her new surroundings. She is showing a healthy interest in food and eagerly trying all kinds of fruits for the first time.

The other rescued orangutans at the centre were naturally excited by Mely's arrival. It will be some time before she is introduced to any of them and her socialisation will be carried out gradually.

Mely has never seen another orangutan since she lost her mother, so it will take time and patience to help her through this stage of her rehabilitation.

Mely the orangutan happy at lastAlan Knight, IAR's Chief Executive, said: "I'm overjoyed at the news that Mely has been cut free and is safely in the expert care of our team in West Kalimantan.

"Sadly Mely will not be the last orangutan we are called upon to rescue. Our team has already told me of others in captivity that are desperately in need of our help. But we're determined not to let them down. Human beings are responsible for causing their suffering, and it's the least we can do to give them a second chance in life."

Funds permitting, International Animal Rescue plans to build a new rehabilitation centre where Mely and the other rescued orangutans will have room to roam freely in areas of natural forest. The aim is eventually to return some animals to protected areas in the wild, but it is too soon to say whether this will be possible for Mely. After so many years in captivity, it may be that she has lost forever the skills she will need to feed and fend for herself.

Nevertheless, a bright future awaits her now that she is no longer living chained up on a filthy platform, waiting patiently for some one to set her free.

» Help to build a safe haven for Mely and other rescued orangutans