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Saving orangutans in Borneo and Sumatra

Many of you have read my previous blog about Jami documenting a newly found orangutan species that was discovered on Sumatra six months ago. Isn’t it amazing that we discovered a new great ape in the 21st century? I am personally blown away by these news.
Yesterday Jami visited the orangutan rescue and quarantine center near Medan on Sumatra. She just sent me her diary entry for the day. Her words are shocking and heart breaking. But before I go there I would like to give you a brief overview over palm oil plantations and the problems they cause.

Oil palms produce fruit at a very fast rate and hence palm oil is the cheapest oil on the market. If you read the ingredients of every product you buy you will be astonished how many contain palm oil. It is in cookies, candies, cakes, cosmetics and the list goes on. Palm oil is not a bad thing in itself. But the greed for money is. Indonesia and Malaysia are experiencing a ruthless destruction of their rainforests to make place for palm oil plantations. Often rainforests are being purposely burned down, national parks invaded and destroyed and if the palm oil plantation owners don’t get what they want they bribe the government. These are all facts. If the destruction of primary rainforest continues at this pace there won’t be much wildlife left in Indonesia outside of zoos in 20 years from now. And there is little doubt that the orangutans will have disappeared as well. What does that say about our generation!

Juvenile Orangutan in Tree; Tanjung Puting National Park, Borneo, Indonesia

Thankfully some countries are aware of the destruction palm oil causes and have put a ban on the import of any product that contains palm oil. We have to show our greatest respect to Norway and Iceland. There might be other countries as well that I am not aware of.
I was fortunate to visit Borneo the first time 20 years ago when there still was much rainforest left. When I went back 5 years ago I could not believe how much primary habitat had been destroyed during these 15 years.
It is our greatest hope that with the discovery of the new orangutan species worldwide media will be able to raise even more awareness of the ruthless destruction of rain forests in the sake of palm oil plantations.

Jami sitting next to orangutan mother at Camp Leakey in Tanjung Puting National Park, Borneo, East Kalimantan

Jami’s report of her visit at the orangutan rescue center near Medan on May16, 2018:

“A few days before Christmas last year (around Dec. 20th), the center got a call about an emergency orangutan needing a vet.
They flew out at 4am. What they found was a female orangutan around 20 years old. They named her Asha. She had two broken arms, a crushed hand, and broken ribs. The locals who “supposedly” found her near a palm oil plantation said that she had had a baby but that they buried it in the forest (which was too far away for them to take the team there to find).
The team instantly realized after Yenny, the vet, examined her that she had given birth less than one month ago. The baby of course was taken for the pet trade. Asha had tried to hold on to her baby…..she wouldn’t let go of it and so they beat her with poles on her arms to force her to drop her baby.
She was so weak when they found her that they doubted that she would live. Normally, rescued wild orangutans have to be crated in order to be transported, but she was so weak and despondent, that they were able to gently wrap her in a blanket and put her in the back seat. She whimpered non-stop from pain and from loss of her baby.
They doubted she would live – both of her arms were badly broken, her ribs were broken and her hand was completely crushed. They needed an orthopedic surgeon immediately. They called on a well known ortho surgeon who lives in Switzerland. He had come to Sumatra before to operate on other orangutans that had been beaten. He flew in to Medan on Christmas Eve….and operated on her for almost 8 hours the day her arrived (he operated through the night). He stayed and checked on her the next morning, and then flew back to Switzerland to spend Christmas with his family.
I saw Asha yesterday. Her left hand has a thick black bandage over it because she is essence has no hand. Her arms are bare with no fur – they are so badly scarred by the beating. She is slowly healing, but was very very depressed at the loss of her baby. So three days ago, they put a young orangutan girl named Fiona in the cage with Asha. Fiona’s mother was shot by palm oil farmers, and she was captured to be sold. Luckily, someone saw this and turned the farmer’s in – the center picked Fiona up who wouldn’t stop whimpering….she is now with Asha and Fiona is happy. Asha has accepted Fiona and has started to share her food with Fiona. Asha’s maternal instincts are giving way to Fiona.
This is just one story of so many, Theo. I cried yesterday when watching Asha. She has a long road to go because she is emotionally shattered. She is frightened of men so the male keepers have to stay away from her. She still whimpers – I heard her do so yesterday, but her arms look like they are healing nicely.”

A young critically endangered Sumatran orangutan (Pongo abelii) that was rescued from illegal pet traders after its mother was killed, plays in the quarantine center in Medan where he needs to live until he is old enough to be released safely back into the wild, Medan, Sumatra, Indonesia

Jami just left by bush plane to join the scientists who are working with the newly found orangutan species. She will be out out reach for 9 days. I will send you a note as soon as I hear back from her. Let’s all wish her the best of success for her project.

Theo Allofs

2 replies
  1. Allyson Moreland
    Allyson Moreland says:

    My heart breaks for these beautiful great apes! God bless you, Jami!

  2. theo
    theo says:

    Thank you, Ally! I will keep you informed about Jami’s expedition. She is in the jungle without internet for 8 more days/

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