One of the major causes of the destruction of wild habitats, and climate change, is global economic development. For those of us that live in urban developments, the problem may seem far away. But the struggle of this baby orangutan might help you understand why it’s so important that every single one of us takes action.
When Gito was first seen by the animal rescue team, they thought he was dead. The baby orangutan looked like he was mummified, and it was quite apparent that he needed help immediately. Unfortunately, the veterinary clinic was nine hours away. Rescuers weren’t sure if he would make it, but they had to do what they could.
International Animal Rescue is a non-profit organization with goals of saving animals in the wild from inhumane and life-threatening situations all over the world. From the UK, IAR has teams located in India, Malta, and Indonesia, where they rescue and rehabilitate animals. Little Gito was found by the team in Indonesia.
The team was informed that there was a baby orangutan in the West Borneo village of Merawa that needed their help. But it was over 100 miles from their rehab center in Ketapang. It appeared that the chief of the village bought Gito as a pet, which meant his mother had most likely been killed by the poacher who took him. It wasn’t the first time they had seen something like this, or at least that’s what they thought.
The rescuers arrived at the village and saw the little orangutan inside of a cardboard box in someone’s yard. It was extremely hot out and Gito had no shade over him. He appeared to be dead. “He was lying corpse-like with his arms folded across his chest,” IAR wrote on their website. The baby was pretty much hairless and his skin was gray and flaking.
The rescue team spoke to villagers and learned that the baby had been bought for less than $30 and he was only given condensed milk to eat. Gito and the box he was lying in was soaked with urine. It was apparent Gito would not live for much longer. But the law in Indonesia says that they couldn’t take him unless a forestry official was present. The team made a vital decision.
The rescuers called the Forestry Department and told them what was going on, explaining how crucial Gito’s condition was. Thankfully, they gave permission for the rescuers to move the baby to the clinic without them there. The little one was bundled up and put on a motorcycle, but his chances of survival were still undecided. They had a nine-hour journey.
It was a miracle, but the baby survived the trip. As soon as they got to the clinic, veterinary staff was ready to save his life. Gito was put on a drip to rehydrate him and the staff gave him an in-depth checkup. That’s when they realized the little one was suffering from sarcoptic mange, a parasitic disease that causes severe skin irritation. He was also extremely malnourished. Trying to save him would definitely be a struggle.
The staff at the clinic began massaging coconut into the baby’s skin to soften it and soothe it. It was a very hard task, that was only made more difficult by the fact that the little one was unable to relax his body because he was still in shock. Gito made sounds of fear and pain, and grasped the worker’s hand as they were trying to help him sit up. Eventually, though, the hard work would pay off.
It took months of proper nutrition, 24-hour care, and medication, but little Gito was finally feeling better. It’s been three long years since Gito was rescued, and he looks like an entirely different orangutan now. His skin is healthy looking and his hair grew back bright orange! But the best part is that Gito was no longer that scared baby who was ready to die.
Today, Gito can be seen in IAR’s protected forest sanctuary, swinging from tree to tree. He’s a playful little guy who really loves fruit snacks and bringing his friends on treetop adventures. When Gito lost his mother, he also lost his teacher and guide. If he ever wants to live in the wild, Gito needs to learn many, many things.
The orangutan rehabilitation program at IAR helps teach orphaned orangutans the skills they would need to survive in the wild. The first five or six years of an orangutan’s life are spent with their mother, learning how to build nests and forage. The caretakers of the IAR take on that responsibility. Luckily, Gito seems to learn rather quickly.
“He is learning fast — currently on his list to learn is how to forage the forest for food. Then after that, it will be how to make a nest for the night,” said the IAR’s communications manager, Lis Key. Gito will have to remain at the center for a few years before he will be ready for evaluation to be released into the wild. But he’s not the only one taking this route.
IAR has seen a rapid increase in the amount of orphaned orangutans that need protection and help. There are plenty of things causing this, but the biggest factor is the increasing loss of their habitat. Indonesia is a developing nation, so their industry is growing, which in turn has led to huge efforts of deforestation. Unfortunately, this has caused a horrifying domino effect.
Because of the production of palm oil, much of the rainforest in Indonesia has been destroyed. An increase in wildfires accompanies the deforestation, which adds to the destruction of the orangutan’s home. This causes the orangutans to move closer to villages, where the chances of them caught by poachers is much higher. At this point, every species of orangutan is in life-threatening danger.
Orangutans are the only great apes in Asia. But their existence has been greatly threatened by economic development. Only 100 years ago there were more than 230,000 orangutans living in Southeast Asia. Unfortunately, there are only about 20% living today. In order to stop this decline, consumers are urged by environmentalists to only buy products that are free from palm oil or products that have been certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil.