The image of a sick baby orangutan, left in a cardboard box to die, is heartbreaking. But there is so much more behind the picture — from the black market sale of the animals to the destruction of their habitat in Indonesia to the greed of the palm oil industry.
The baby orangutan has been given the name Gito by the organization that saved his life, UK-based International Animal Rescue. Now in recovery in West Borneo, Gito looked mummified when he was found, with arms folded across his chest, “corpse-like,” little hair, and grey, flaking skin, IAR’s chief executive Alan Knight told the Kent and Sussex Courier.
He had been dumped in a urine-soaked cardboard box and fed only condensed milk, then left in the baking hot sun. This left the orangutan, believed to be three to four-months-old, with a slew of life-threatening problems: fever, malnutrition, diarrhea, dehydration, and mange.
— BBC Indonesia (@BBCIndonesia) October 19, 2015
He was found in a village about 100 miles from the West Borneo orangutan rehab base where Gito is now. After he was rescued, he was driven nine hours on a motorcycle to the base for treatment, which included a drip to rehydrate him and a massage with coconut oil to soothe his itchy skin, Sky News added.
The man who kept the baby orangutan in a box was identified as Pak Ajung, IAR spokeswoman Kis Key told the Huffington Post. She doesn’t believe Ajung was intentionally cruel to the animal and was more than happy to relinquish the orangutan’s care to the organization.
“The man was keeping him as a pet but when he became sick… he dumped him in the box… I suspect that he simply found the problem of having a sick baby orangutan on his hands too difficult to deal with.”
Gito will stay with the rehab center for several years, hang out with other orangutans, and learn skills he’ll need to survive in the wild. If he’s ready, one day he’ll be let back into the forest in a protected area.
Gito’s story is just one example of the plight of Indonesia’s orangutans. Borneo and Sumatra are the only islands where they still live in the wild; they are endangered. And though it’s illegal to keep an orangutan as a pet in Indonesia, wealthy families like to have one as a status symbol, and the black market trade in the creatures is rampant.
— Ilona (@ilona_57) October 15, 2015
But keeping an orangutan as a pet is just a “symptom of the wider problem” of habitat destruction, Key noted. The palm oil and agriculture industries are destroying animal’s habitat, leaving wildlife without food or shelter. Forced into the open, they come into conflict with people, who often kill them as pests or for bushmeat.
In a disturbing practice, some people will actually steal an infant from its mother after she is either killed accidentally or killed on purpose just for her baby. Ripping it from her lifeless arms — a stress that often leads to its death — the captors then sell the infant on the black market.
Some reports hinted that the baby orangutan found in the box had been bought for $30 from a man who’d “almost certainly killed his mother in order to steal and sell her baby.”
According to Key, the enemy isn’t the locals who take in baby orangutans, “The real culprits are the companies decimating the forest for commercial gain, without a care for the natural environment or the animals and people who depend on it to survive.”
Recently, Knight said IAR has seen a major increase in the number of baby orangutans like Gito being kept as pets, some of them obviously captured from the wild.
“These helpless animals can and will be rescued, but we urgently need more funding for our work. The public responded magnificently earlier this year when we rescued Budi the baby orangutan and I’m praying for the same generous response once again when people see the sorry state of little Gito and read his story.”
[Image via YouTube Screengrab]