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International Animal Rescue Saving animals from suffering around the world

Our team celebrates birth of baby to orangutan rescued from torture

Peni, a young female orangutan who was rescued after witnessing the horrific torture and death of her mother, has given birth to a baby of her own after spending four years in rehabilitation before returning to the wild. The baby’s birth is amazing new as it's evidence of the resounding success of her rehabilitation and reintegration into her natural habitat.

In 2010, when she was three years old, Peni and her mother strayed into a remote village in West Borneo and came into conflict with some of the local residents. Before rescuers could reach the scene, it’s believed the villagers pelted the mother and baby with rocks and sticks. They then captured Peni’s mother, tying her up before throwing her into a pool of water where her lungs filled with fluid. Then the semi-conscious mother and terrified infant were dragged into a makeshift pen.

When the rescue team from IAR Indonesia and the BKSDA (the Centre for Natural Resources Conservation) arrived on the scene, a vet tried desperately to save the mother’s life. The pair were taken to the forestry department centre for emergency treatment but, in spite of the medical team’s best efforts, the mother died soon after they arrived. Her traumatised infant was moved to the rehabilitation centre in Ketapang, West Borneo. She was named Peni after the village of Penimaran where she had been found.

During the next four years Peni underwent intensive rehabilitation to overcome the trauma she had suffered. After a period in quarantine she entered forest school where she socialised with other young orangutans and her natural wild behaviour was encouraged. She became adept at climbing and spending most of her time in the trees and also at building a nest to sleep in each night. Having never been kept in captivity, Peni wasn’t accustomed to people. She remained wild and independent - essential qualities if she was to fend for herself back in the forest one day. It was clear that Peni would eventually be a good candidate for reintroduction.

Finally, on 2 September 2014, Peni was released into the protected forest of Mount Tarak in Nanga Tayap District, Ketapang. Mount Tarak forest was chosen as the release site after a series of surveys undertaken revealed that this protected forest had enough varied foods available and the resident wild orangutan population was still below the area’s carrying capacity. So the conditions were very favourable to orangutans’ survival. It was thought that Peni might interact with orangutans Helen and Prima who had both previously been reintroduced into the same area.

It was a joyful moment for everyone who had rescued and cared for Peni when she left the transport crate and took to the trees. Following her release, the monitoring team confirmed that Peni was doing extremely well and started eating fruit from the trees as soon as she was released. At the end of the day she was observed making a comfy nest with large branches of foliage.

The team monitored Peni closely for more than a year, making detailed notes on her behaviour from the moment she left her nest in the morning until she built a new nest and settled down to sleep at night. They continued to observe her during the years that followed until, at the end of 2019, the exciting news came that Peni had given birth to a baby. The orangutan who had been deprived of her own mother’s care and protection from such an early age, had herself become a proud mother.

Karmele Llano Sanchez, Programme Director of IAR Indonesia, said: “There can be no better evidence of the effectiveness of our orangutan rehabilitation project than the sight of Peni and her new baby living freely in the forest. Peni’s mother was cruelly taken from her when she was only three years old but she will have already learnt much from her in those formative years. She continued her education at our conservation centre and, like all the orangutans undergoing rehabilitation, she was kept under close observation throughout those years to monitor her mental and physical development. The fact that she has now returned to her natural habitat and has a baby of her own is the ultimate proof of her complete reintegration back into the wild.”

Alan Knight, IAR Chief Executive, added: “This is the best news we could hope for after Peni’s return to her rightful home in the rainforest. Her story began with trauma and tragedy but is now one of happiness and hope for the future. I applaud the entire team at our orangutan centre in Ketapang and the BKSDA for all the effort and dedication they put into the rescue, rehabilitation, release and monitoring of orangutans like Peni. The birth of little Tarak really does make all their efforts to protect and conserve orangutans worthwhile.”

He continued: “Human attacks on orangutans often occur as a result of people’s ignorance and fear. Our team builds close relationships with local communities to teach them what to do if they encounter an orangutan near their village or farmland. So thankfully now most people know to contact IAR or the BKSDA in such situations so that the lives of other orangutans can be spared.”