From Small Cage Back to Forest Freedom

London, United Kingdom – 11th October 2017. It is wonderful that orphaned orangutans can be rescued and released back to the wild but we must not forget it is their forest home that really needs protection, cautions UK wildlife charity, Orangutan Foundation.

Two-year-old orphaned orangutan Mona was being kept in a small cage, as a pet, before she was rescued and handed over to the Orangutan Foundation. How she became a pet is unknown but it is highly likely her mother was killed in the process.

Figure 1 Orphaned orangutan Mona being kept as a pet. Credit Orangutan Foundation

Figure 1 Orphaned orangutan Mona being kept as a pet. Credit Orangutan Foundation


Despite this tragic start in life, Mona is now thriving. She joined a handful of other orphaned orangutans undergoing a ‘soft-release’ programme in a protected wildlife reserve in Central Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo. Mona enjoys playing in the forest with the other orangutans, especially Nyunyu, an orphan who was rescued after being found chained up by the neck.

Figure 2 Mona back in the forest where she belongs. Credit Orangutan Foundation

Figure 2 Mona back in the forest where she belongs. Credit Orangutan Foundation


This soft-release programme is a unique approach by Orangutan Foundation. Unlike most orangutan rescue centres, it is small and individualised, only caring for up to 12 apes at a time. The apes spend their day in the same forest where they will eventually be fully released. The aim is to get the young apes fully back to wild as soon as they are ready.

Most of the orphaned orangutans learn the skills needed to survive in the wild, such as nest-building, within a few years and can be fully released. Two orangutans, Jessica and Ketty, were fully released in June. But, as soon as one is gone another orphan takes their place. Bumi entered the soft-release programme after being kept as a pet. When examined, the Orangutan Foundation’s vet found small bullets embedded in his body, presumably a result of being caught in the crossfire when his mother was shot.

The loss of forest habitat and food sources is forcing wild orangutans to come ever closer to humans, which frequently ends up with orangutans being injured or killed. Ashley Leiman OBE, director of the Orangutan Foundation is concerned that the real message is being lost. “Each orphaned infant we rescue represents the loss of the forest. Rescuing and caring for orphaned orangutans will never be enough. The only way to halt the decline of this critically endangered species is to protect their habitat.”

Ms Leiman continued, “Our priority is to keep the forests standing and orangutans in the wild. We need to prevent orangutans from becoming orphaned in the first place. The way to do this is to protect their habitat.”

It will be a few years until Mona, Nyunyu and Bumi are fully returned to the wild. To ensure they have a future in the Lamandau Wildlife Reserve, home to 500 critically endangered orangutans plus thousands of other species, the Orangutan Foundation’s team of committed Indonesian staff continually guard and protect the 158,000 acre forest reserve.


Media contacts

For further information please contact Orangutan Foundation

Ashley Leiman OBE, Director/Trustee, +44 (0) 20 7724 2912 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Cathy Smith, Head of Development, 07791 168986 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

High resolution images can be downloaded from Dropbox here: and a photo gallery can be viewed here:

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Notes to the editors

Orangutan Foundation is a UK registered charity established in 1990. It works in Indonesian Borneo to protect the critically endangered orangutan by protecting their tropical forest habitat, working with local communities and promoting research and education. It recognises that orangutan habitat is unique in its richness of biodiversity and is crucial for local communities, who are as dependant on the forest as is the orangutan.

The Foundation’s work is focused towards Central Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo. In collaboration with the Indonesian government’s Conservation Authority (BKSDA), the Orangutan Foundation runs a release site for translocated wild orangutans and rescued orangutans requiring soft-release in the Lamandau Wildlife Reserve.



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