Rainforest Reflections: Day 11

Rainforest Reflections by Rowan Sharp

(This blog has been edited to include more recent events.)

Working for an NGO that primarily focuses on habitat conservation, I normally try to avoid speaking too emotively or sentimentally about the animals we rescue. But when a wounded gibbon is clutching your hand as he fights for his life, it’s really very hard not to see the emotional side of things.


Photo by Rowan Sharp

This particular gibbon had been kept as a pet by a local villager, and bound by ropes within their home. When the gibbon grew in size, and began to become wilder in nature, he eventually bit the owner. It’s a shame that it took an event of this kind to push the owner to give him up to the local authorities, but it at least landed him in the safe hands of the Orangutan Foundation.

It was clear from the moment we laid eyes on him that something was wrong; a usually very energetic (and potentially aggressive) species, the gibbon instead lay limp and silent on the floor of his cage. As soon as we took a closer look, we could see the deep deep wounds around his waist which had already caused a terrible infection. His body trembled violently and there was no shadow of a doubt that he was in a great deal of pain. Domesticated by years of being kept as a pet, the ape was desperate for human contact and reached out to us to be held…ethics and professionalism were thrown out the window at this point. His death truly felt imminent, and refusing to hold him was to sentence him to die alone in a steel cage.

ashley gibbon

OF-UK Director, Ashley Leiman OBE, pictured with the wounded gibbon

This first encounter was heartbreaking for all involved, and it’s really quite difficult to put the range of emotions into words. All I know is that, at the end of the day, the feeling I felt most strongly was anger. Anger at the people who could tie up an innocent animal without a second thought to its well-being (never mind that gibbons are one of the most intelligent species on the planet). Anger that in this day and age, when awareness is so high, people still don’t see a problem with keeping a wild ape as a pet. And anger that we couldn’t have done anything sooner; maybe somehow prevented the infection from getting to this late stage. But there was no one around to direct this anger to. We felt helpless, and there was little to be done but to hold his hands and hope for the best.

For the next few days, the gibbon was held in the Foundation’s office in Pangkalan Bun where he could receive constant care from our staff. He remained weak and his wounds were not visibly healing, but his appetite was building – as was our optimism. Sadly at 1:04am on Friday April 15th, we received word from our night guard that the gibbon had passed away.

We are all devastated by this turn of events and can only hope that his story can serve as a lesson to all.


Orangutans Are Not Pets

At the Orangutan Foundation, we experience first-hand the consequences of people keeping orangutans as pets through many of our rescues. Keeping an orangutan as a pet has been illegal since 1931 under Indonesian and international law. Orangutans are also protected by international trading laws (CITES), where they are listed as Appendix I, prohibiting all unlicensed trade.

In Central Kalimantan we are often finding cases where infants are simply being kept as pets after being found near community land with no mother. We don’t see evidence of illegal pet trade in Central Kalimantan, however, as habitat destruction increases, orangutans are more commonly being found in and around villages and towns.


Orangutan infants are entirely dependent on their mother until 5 years of age, and most commonly stay with them until they are around 8 or 9 years old. This time together is crucial for the mother to teach them where in the forest to find food and shelter. It is important to learn where the fruiting trees are, as well as the best time of year to find them! If an orangutan isn’t given the opportunity to learn these skills, their chances of survival in the forest are slim without the help of our soft-release programme, where they have a chance to practice skills such as climbing and nest building before being released in the wild.

People keeping orangutans as pets generally do not feed them the right kinds of food, and because of this many orangutans we rescue are severely malnourished. This can lead to serious health problems. Mental health can also be a problem. Primates in particular can suffer emotional and psychological trauma just as we do. For example, many orangutans rescued as pets are said to show signs of depression through lack of appetite. They need the opportunity to learn from their mother, to explore their environment and develop naturally in order to live a fulfilling life.

Of course, it is also important to note that as primates are wild animals (not domesticated, like a dog or a cat), this makes their actions unpredictable. Orangutans are very strong, and have to be, or else they would not be able to move around with such ease high up in the canopy. They can inflict serious damage, and are known to bite to defend themselves.

At the Orangutan Foundation, we believe it is wrong for people to keep orangutans as pets, and hope to future eliminate this issue through improved education and awareness. In Central Kalimantan it is becoming a more and more noticeable problem, which we believe may be related to habitat loss as a result of forest fires. This will continue to be a problem in future unless action is taken. We hope that through publicising our rescues and working closely with local communities, people will better understand the plight of orangutans, and learn that they are best left in the forest.

Show your support!  #PrimatesAreNotPets #PrimatesNotPlaymates



Rainforest Reflections: Day 2

Rainforest Reflections by Rowan Sharp

It’s only my second day in Pangkalan Bun and we already have six orangutans awaiting their release. I’m initially not sure whether to be thrilled by my good timing, or devastated by the sudden number of wild animals in need of a safe home. Regardless, four wild orangutans were released into the Lamandau Wildlife Reserve today: two females, Menteng and Nurbaya, and their two male infants.

rescue cages

Despite spending each and every day working to protect our orangutan cousins, these four are the first wild orangutans I have ever laid eyes on! And wild they were… Menteng and Nurbaya greeted us with loud kiss-squeaks (the sound orangutans use to express displeasure) and aggressive rattles of their cages. Though it’s never pleasant to see an animal in a cage, the wild nature the females exhibited is a fantastic sign and bodes well for the success of their release into the wild.

Their immense strength was immediately clear, and it was admittedly a great struggle to transfer them from town to the river, and then by speedboat to the release site in the Lamandau Wildlife Reserve. The sun was extremely strong throughout the day and as time passed the orangutans’ frustration was mounting. When we finally arrived at the release site, Menteng nearly overturned her cage she was shaking it so hard!

rescue 3

But when the first set of cage doors eventually opened, mother and infant sped up the nearest tree, swung to the next and then rapidly out of sight. Nurbaya’s release was almost identical. We were, however, aware that Menteng remained in the vicinity, because she continued to kiss-squeak at us from the canopies! Evidently she was tired of our company…

Despite the constant worry of causing any stress for the orangutans during their translocation, the actual release was an extremely calm and rather moving moment. Orangutans never seem to hesitate for even a moment before racing to freedom – if you had no interest in great apes, this moment might feel anti-climactic to you because of the speed at which they disappear out of sight – but for me, their scaling of a tall tree has an almost fantastical super-hero quality to it. I myself am extremely grateful to have witnessed these releases in person, and to know that these orangutans are now safe to live out their days in the wild.

But sadly the need for orangutan rescues is never a good sign. These orangutans and their infants were both found within oil-palm plantations in the Kotawaringin Timur district of Central Kalimantan. This area has proved to be an ever-rising problem for the Orangutan Foundation, with more and more orangutans needing rescue here. The Kotawaringin Timur district doesn’t have a single protected conservation area, and after the recent forest fires in 2015, the natural habitat is seriously dwindling. Only oil-palm plantations remain, and because orangutans are constantly on the move and need a variety of food, it’s hardly surprising that they venture out of fragmented forest into plantations and community land.


What is surprising is that this is the 12th rescue this year from the same area, and it’s only April! For a point of reference, the Foundation rescued 19 orangutans over the duration of a year in 2015, and all were unique cases from different areas of Central Kalimantan. We will continue to discuss these issues with the Indonesian government throughout the week, and merely hope these numbers don’t continue to grow in the meantime.


Young orangutan rescued from local village

Last month, a staff member from the BKSDA informed us that someone had come to their office wanting to surrender an orangutan. The man was a local person from the town of Sampit, whose cousin had been keeping an orangutan in his home with the intent to sell him.

Lokasi Penyerahan ENDUT

The area in Sampit that the orangutan was rescued from. Lamandau Wildlife Reserve is 3-4 hours away from Sampit, and is partly pictured in the left-hand centre of the map.

When the BKSDA went to the man’s house, they found the infant orangutan in a small wire chicken cage, where he had been living on a generous diet of milk and bananas for several weeks. The man claimed that he had found the young ape in his rubber plant garden a month prior when he heard it crying, seemingly abandoned by his mother.

Endut 2

Fortunately the BKSDA has now passed the infant orangutan on to the Orangutan Foundation, where he has been given proper health checks and will soon enter our soft-release programme. The orangutan weighed 4kg, and has been named Endut (an Indonesian term for someone with a large stomach) because of his big belly! Endut has been brought to Camp Buluh in the Lamandau Wildlife Reserve, and we are confident with the knowledge that in time he will be healthy enough to live independently in the forest.

Endut 3

              Endut being offered water by BKSDA staff before transfer to Pangkalan Bun


                                      Transferring Endut from Sampit to Pangkalan Bun

We are thrilled that Endut is now in the safety of the reserve, but sadly this story points to a larger problem. Endut is the third infant orangutan to be surrendered to the Orangutan Foundation by local villagers this year alone*. It is worrying that in spite of all the outreach and education done in Central Kalimantan, people today are still enamoured with the idea of having an orangutan as a pet. This belief is unfounded and unfair to the wild animal in question – not to mention highly illegal in Indonesia.

On top of this, one question continues to plague our minds: why are these infants being abandoned in the first place? Has their mother ran away or has she been harmed? When an infant is reported to the Foundation, we may never find out what happened to their mothers. Yet with three orphaned infants found in the same area of Central Kalimantan within the space of two months, this situation is very unsettling.

We hope that our supporters will help us to raise awareness for the importance of keeping orangutans in the wild.

*As this blog was being written, another infant orangutan was rescued by the Orangutan Foundation from a local village.


‘The Orangutan’s World’ by Eloise Blakey

The Orangutan’s World: A poem by Eloise Blakey

Logging, clearing, chopping,

No trees for me.

Fire, burning, smoking,

No place for me.

Palm oil plantations,

No food for me.

Poaching, hunting, killing,

No peace for me.

Sleeping, climbing, swinging,

No home for me.

Habitat disappearing,

No tree, no me.

By Eloise Blakey

e Alex play DSC_3857

The Orangutan’s World: A story by Eloise Blakey

Hi, my name is Uri, and I am a five-year-old female orangutan. I live in the rainforests of Sumatra with my mother. It is an amazing place to live with its exotic flowers and lush green trees. There are lots of fabulous fruit for us to eat, my favourite being the spiky durian which is delicious, but smells so bad! When the fruit is out of season my mum and I have to eat leaves, insects and even the bark from the trees. When we are thirsty we collect rainwater from leaves, and when the weather is too dry we chew leaf sponges. If we need to, we drink from rivers and streams, but we do not like to go in the water.

I spend most of my day with mum looking for food, but sometimes I play with my friends swinging through the trees and playing hide and seek. The boys like play fighting and even bite each other. I try to keep away from them! If I wander too far, my mum calls me because the forest can be a dangerous place. When we are tired we build ourselves a nest in the trees and have a little sleep. I don’t see my father; he went off as soon as I was born, like all the males do, leaving my mum to look after me on her own. I would love to have a brother or sister but mum says it is hard enough keeping me safe.

We are in danger all the time from snakes, crocodiles and other predators, but our biggest threat comes from humans. They come along and chop down the trees we live in. We have to swing like made through the branches to get away from them. One of my friends was caught by them and the last we heard was she was being kept for a pet. That is so unfair, we have our rights and we should be left to live in peace. Another danger is the forest fires which the humans start as a quick way to clear the forest. As soon as we smell smoke mum and I rush away to a safer place. It is not always easy because the fire spreads so quickly. Sometimes my friends get caught up in it and either die from the smoke, or get killed by the humans. They don’t seem to like us, and if we dare go down to their plantations they shoot us.

It is not all bad though, there are some good humans and if they see us in trouble they rescue us and take us to places where we can get better. I hope I don’t have to go to one as I would miss my mum! Please think about us and tell your friends that we are endangered. You are responsible for our future – after all we are almost human!

By Eloise Blakey

‘The Orangutans’ World’ by Morgan Davidson


The Orangutans’ World by Morgan Davidson (Age 8) 


“Person of the forest”, dependent on trees,

Carrying their babies ‘til two or three.

Incredible animals, they have such style

From Sumatra and Borneo, their only two Isles.


Camouflaged orange, like autumn leaves,

They make new nests daily for sleeping in trees.

With flexible feet that work like hands,

And big toes holding their objects and branch.


Using tools to get food, honey, fruit and seeds,

Or termites from mounds, eggs and some leaves.

Making umbrellas from lovely large fronds,

Long arms great for swinging to travel along.


Cracking nuts open with powerful jaws,

That carry things gently when swinging some more.

But humans are causing them terrible loss,

Cutting down trees and stealing their young.


By cutting down their trees they’re left with no homes,

With no food to survive and nowhere to go.

We’re killing them now by using lots of palm oil,

We need to be careful we don’t kill them all.


They don’t make good pets, leave their babies alone,

Stop draining their forests, stop burning their homes!

Surely what we are doing is wrong,

So now we must save them for future children.


By Morgan Davidson 

(Age 8)

Morgan was our 1st Place Winner in the 6-9 Year Old Category for our 2016 Children’s Writing Competition with National Geographic Kids.


Restoring Orangutan Habitat

We bring you great news from Danau Burung, our guard post in the south-west of the Lamandau Wildlife Reserve!

This area was badly affected by forest fires this summer, intentionally started by local inhabitants.  In this area people started fires in the forest to quickly clear land of trees in order to encourage grass to grow, to attract deer and pigs for hunting.  Fire is also used to clear land for “slash and burn” agriculture, in order to render it useful for farming.  These forest fires caused widespread devastation throughout much of Kalimantan in 2015 following a lengthy dry season, causing them to burn out of control.

Areas nearby to Danau Burung were affected by forest fires. Areas nearby to Danau Burung were affected by forest fires (highlighted in red).

Areas nearby to Danau Burung were badly affected by forest fires (highlighted in red).

Thanks to two grants, from GRASP (Great Apes Survival Partnership) and Orang-utans in Not e.V (Orangutans in Peril, a German NGO) we were able to invest in a forest restoration project to enrich areas that suffered during the fires in 2015.  Ubar trees (Syzigyum spp.) were chosen primarily to replenish the area.  This is an endemic species to Kalimantan, which grows well in all forest types, and is less susceptible to burning than other species.  The leaves and fruit are also a treat for orangutans!

Okto, one of the orangutans undergoing soft release, enjoying Ubar fruit.

Okto, one of our orangutans undergoing soft-release, enjoying Ubar fruit.

Our partners from BKSDA (Nature Conservation Agency, Indonesia) have provided us with a tree nursery, which our staff are using to plant and grow seeds into seedlings, which are then relocated to areas around Danau Burung.  Our Orangutan Foundation staff have now planted 1,500 seedlings in the area to restore the now barren areas of land.  Our target is to plant 5,000 seedlings in the Danau Burung area, and with this news we can successfully acknowledge that we are a third of the way towards reaching our goal!

BKSDA tree nursery.

The BKSDA tree nursery.

Forest restoration is paramount to the long-term survival of orangutans.  If forest habitats are lost, orangutans cannot feed or protect themselves, and populations will perish as a result.

One of the seedlings planted by our Orangutan Foundation staff.

One of the seedlings planted by our Orangutan Foundation staff.

To DONATE towards our forest restoration project, quote “FOREST” with your donation!  All contributions are greatly appreciated!


Return to Safety

On 9th February, our rescue team celebrated the relocation of two orangutans, a gibbon, and four slow lorises at Camp Buluh, in Lamandau Wildlife Reserve.

Relocation site: Camp Buluh, Lamandau Wildlife Reserve, Central Kalimantan.

Relocation site: Camp Buluh, Lamandau Wildlife Reserve, Central Kalimantan.

The two orangutans being released were both young females.  Narti, an adult of 15 years old, was previously rescued from a palm plantation, as documented in our last blog post ‘Last Tree Standing’. Ema is 6 years old, and was found in the Mendawai area.  She is still very young and although no longer dependent on her mother, will certainly benefit from monitoring and support provided by our teams in the Lamandau reserve.

Rescuers releasing Narti into the forest.

Rescuers releasing Narti into the forest.

Ema, awaiting her turn to be released.

Ema, awaiting her turn to be released.

Both orangutans left their cages immediately once freed in the forest.  Narti climbed straight up a tree, whilst Ema nearly fell in the water before joining Narti up in the heights of their true home.

Narti climbed straight up into a tree following her release.

Narti climbed straight up into a tree following her release.

Gibbons are notoriously elusive primates, living high in the treetops, generally only detectable through their haunting songs throughout the forest.  Therefore, it is quite understandable that the gibbon was ill at ease leaving the crate on the forest floor.

The gibbon, pictured shortly after release.

The gibbon, pictured shortly after release.

After an hour however, the gibbon plucked up the courage to climb a tree back to where he felt most at home, high above rescuers heads.

As slow lorises are nocturnal primates, all four slow lorises were released in the evening, so as to give them the best chance to adjust to their new surroundings when they are naturally at their most alert.

The gibbon, pictured shortly after release.

The gibbon, pictured shortly after release.

This is a major part of Orangutan Foundation’s work, rescuing orangutans as well as other primates and animals from ever-changing areas of land they once called home, and returning them to the safety of the forest.  Well done to our rescue teams on another great success!


My Bornean Adventure

by Joanne Cotton

Returning volunteer, Joanne Cotton, shares her experiences from the Orangutan Foundation’s past summer volunteer programmes.

cozy klotok

June 2012

Yesterday was another great day as we travelled by boat for about 4 hours through the National Park. The scenery was stunning and the further into the journey we got, the more stunning the jungle scenery became. We saw wild orangutans, proboscis monkeys and many other animals which I can’t even remember the names of. I am really trying to commit everything to memory but the senses are completely overloaded!

The boat was moored up for the night and after eating our evening meal of fresh fish and stir fried vegetables with tempeh we were taken on a night walk. It gets dark at about half past five here but it turns out that there is as much to see during the night as there is during the day. One of the local Indonesians was obviously really keen to help us see as much as possible. He showed us a tarantula, smoking mushrooms and even our first leech of the trip!

Tomorrow we have a day at Camp Leakey where we will see orangutans of all ages up close, I can’t wait. Then, after a few days of getting used to the heat and the time difference we will head out to camp which will be our home for the next few weeks. That’s when the hard work building a boardwalk begins! But for now I am off to take a shower out of a bucket of river water with a hole in it!


September 2015

I am so thrilled to be back here! Borneo really stole a piece of my heart during my first trip. This trip is completely different from the first time. This time, although the work is still physically hard, it’s not quite as dirty! We are helping to rebuild an education centre in the National Park which involves lots of hammering, sawing and painting.

Last night I slept outside in a hammock for the first time and as I was falling asleep I could hear the orangutan long call in the trees around me. We tend to wake up quite early here and today I was woken by the macaques playing in the trees next to me.

Today was our day off so a few of us took a Klotok down the river to a little village. Our camp is located right on the river and there is so much wildlife here, we have even seen a crocodile a little further up the river!

Our lifestyle is very basic here, but I don’t find myself left wanting for anything. We work hard, are well fed and have had many laughs. We have been learning a lot about the wildlife and local culture from the Indonesians and we are even learning a little bit of Indonesian along the way.

I can see that each volunteer project is very unique and offers a very different experience each time. It will never be the same experience twice…. but that’s all the more reason to keep coming back!

camp fame

Applications are NOW OPEN for the 2016 programme! To apply for this year’s summer volunteer programme, click here


‘Last Tree Standing’

At 5pm on the 4th of February, we received a moving and poignant photograph from the OF-UK rescue teams in Indonesia.


This orangutan was immediately visible, seen clinging to the top of a tall thin and burnt tree – the only tree in sight in an area overtaken by oil-palm.


A heart-breaking image like this perfectly sums up the extent of the devastation caused by habitat destruction in Indonesian Borneo. Rainforest habitat is rapidly dwindling, leaving orangutans to search for shelter on community land or in sparse and fragmented areas of forest. Fortunately this 15-year-old female was one of the lucky few: found, rescued and soon to be released.


The female orangutan, now named Narti, was examined by the OF-UK vet, Dr Wawan, and thought to have eaten palm-shoots as there was no other food around. The shoots from oil-palm plants are not healthy food for orangutans, and are a struggle to digest. Luckily after medication and given time being fed the right foods, Narti will be safely released back into orangutan habitat within the Lamandau Wildlife Reserve.


 Help us to provide stranded orangutans with a new and safe home: http://www.orangutan.org.uk/how-to-help

Share the hashtag #LastTreeStanding to help us build awareness for habitat destruction in Indonesia!