Sometimes it takes only a simple act of kindness to change an animal’s life. So it was for Ael, an orangutan whose only offense was searching for food near a village in Borneo.
Ael was captured while foraging in a field that had been cleared for planting rice. It’s not clear why they decided to capture her, but it took six men to grab Ael, hold her down and secure her. Then they dragged her back to their village for a little fun.
After looping a cable and rope around her waist, the villagers tied Ael to a heavy rubber tire. They gave her no food or water. What they did give her, sadly, was a terrifying experience she didn’t deserve.
The poor orangutan became a public spectacle — an object of curiosity and degradation. Villagers crowded around her, jeering and taunting to get a rise out of her. Word spread, and soon people from other nearby areas arrived on motorcycles to get in on the excitement.
Someone erected a pole inside the tire which enabled the orangutan to climb up. She did so, of course, to try to escape her captivity. She didn’t get very far. Her frantic efforts to save herself did little but provide more entertainment for the assembled crowd.
Poor Ael had little chance of living her life as anything other than a roadside attraction until one compassionate villager decided enough was enough. This kind villager, whose name we don’t know, contacted Argitoe Ranting. Ranting works for International Animal Rescue (IAR) as its field manager for IAR’s project in Ketapang, on the island of Borneo. Ranting also oversees rescues in the area and has a great deal of experience working with orangutans. He arrived on scene to find Ael tied to the tire, struggling to break free and frightened for her life.
Ranting called his team, realizing immediately he had a rescue situation on his hands.
The team allowed the crowd to keep distracting Ael long enough to successfully sedate her with a blow dart. They then prepared her for transport and removed her from the scene to their 60-acre orangutan rehabilitation center in West Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo.
“Orangutan” is a Malaysian word meaning “Person of the Forest.” Orangutans are the world’s largest tree-climbing mammal. Once widely found throughout Southeast Asia, orangutans now are found only on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra. They are considered endangered, with only about 41,000 of them left in Borneo and 7,500 in Sumatra. They can live 30 to 40 years in the wild.
Orangutans live 90 percent of their lives up in trees within tropical rainforests. Rampant and aggressive deforestation for timber, mining and palm oil is robbing orangutans of their natural habitat, edging them closer to extinction.
While it didn’t start out this way, Ael turned out to be one of the lucky orangutans. Thanks to the kindness of one person, she was rescued from torment. IAR will care for her and eventually release her back to the wild at a location suitably far from humans and their unkind ways.
While preparing Ael for her move to the IAR center, the organization’s Chief Executive in Indonesia, Karmele Llano Sanchez, explained to the assembled villagers that what they’d been doing was both illegal and cruel.
How sad that these individuals had no automatic sense of kinship with this rare and intelligent primate. Thankfully, one person understood that an orangutan is more than an afternoon’s amusement. He alone acted when no one else would. His kindness, and IAR’s rapid response, saved Ael.
Photo credit for all images: Thomas Burns/International Animal Rescue