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