Our team in Indonesia fights to save the life of a baby orangutan - the latest victim of the illegal pet trade
A new baby orangutan has arrived at IAR's Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre in West Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo. The Agency of Natural Resources Conservation (BKSDA) in West Kalimantan rescued the orangutan, named Anyin, from an illegal pet owner and IAR's rescue team brought her to our clinic where she is now in intensive care.
"After being kept as a pet for more than eighteen months, the owner only decided to hand over Anyin to BKSDA officers because the baby was very sick and he knew she could die" says Dr Adi Irawan, Manager of IAR’s Orangutan Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre in Ketapang.
The owner had purchased the baby orangutan for just 1,150,000IDR (which is equivalent to only about 140USD). "A pittance to pay for an endangered animal…" states Dr Karmele Llano Sanchez, Executive Director of Yayasan IAR Indonesia. A hunter had killed the mother to catch the baby and sell it in the illegal pet trade. "The orangutan comes from Sambas Regency," continues Dr Sanchez, "This area is home to the most endangered subspecies of the Bornean orangutan, Pongo pygmaeus pygmaeus". This subspecies has been recently included in the IUCN Red List of the 25 most endangered primates in the world with only a small wild population living in the north part of West Kalimantan province and in Sarawak in Malaysia.
Baby orangutans stolen from their families in the forest face a bleak future. Not only do hunters kill their mothers, but babies kept as pets often die as well. "Mortality rate is high due to infectious diseases that they can get from humans," says Dr Sanchez, " - zoonotic diseases that sometimes are more severe and deadly in orangutans than in humans because their immune systems are not ready to fight them." "Pet orangutans," adds Dr Adi Irawan, "do not live in suitable conditions. They are often chained up or locked in cramped cages, do not get fed suitable food which causes them nutritional problems, and they never have proper medical care, as in remote areas of Kalimantan there are no appropriate vet clinics where these animals can be treated."
It’s difficult to estimate how many orangutans are killed every year, but the number of orangutans in rehabilitation centres across Indonesia totals more than 1,000 so the real figures could be very alarming. In fact, the orangutans that arrive at rescue and rehabilitation centres in Indonesia may only be a small proportion of all the orangutans that are injured or displaced from their habitat. When the forest disappears, it is easier for local hunters to find and shoot orangutans. These hunters kill the mother and other members of a family and take the babies to sell them into the pet trade. "People who buy orangutans to keep them as pets are as culpable as those who pull the trigger on the gun," says Dr Sanchez.
"We don’t know yet if this orangutan will survive or not. Anyin may have been lucky enough to get to us in time, although her condition is still very critical and she’s fighting for her life," Dr Sanchez concludes. The vet team suspects she has typhoid fever, a human disease which can be deadly in orangutans.
Anyin is just one more example of what deforestation, hunting and illegal pet trade is doing to orangutans in Indonesia. In Kalimantan and other areas of Indonesia, people often keep orangutans illegally as pets. But the word 'orangutan' means 'person of the forest' and the forest is where they belong.