Johnny and Desi, two orangutans who spent the past four years in a rehabilitation center, were recently released into the Bukit Baka Bukit Raya National Park with help from the International Animal Rescue, and the Centre for Conservation and Natural Resources. Johnny was rescued from captivity in 2011 and Desi was freed shortly after him in 2012. So why did it take so long to get these two primates back to the jungle? The two were kept in tiny cages for so long and from such a young age, they forgot how to climb trees.
The Program director of the Bukit Baka Bukit Raya National Park, Karmele Llano Sanchez, says that Johnny and Desi are lucky because many rescued orangutans will never make it back into the wild. “We rescued them but they were no longer suitable candidates for rehabilitation because of the many years they had spent in captivity.” The rehabilitation center has well over 100 orangutans but, life to date, they have only been able to release 11 of back into the wild.
Sanchez laments the plight of these primates and says that the palm oil industry is to blame. Indonesia has been dubbed the orangutan capitol of the world but over the past two decades, 80 percent of the orangutans’ habitat has been destroyed to make way for palm oil plantations. After the rainforest is destroyed, orangutans often wander onto these plantations seeking shelter, only to end up killed or captured and sold as pets. Sanchez warns us, “[Orangutans] are threatened by the clearing of forests, fires, and also the threat of being caught and sold as pets like Johnny and Desi.” The orangutans of Indonesia are at serious risk of disappearing unless we do something to stop this.
We can help orangutans like Johnny and Desi by boycotting palm oil, though this is easier said than done. Palm oil is in over 50 percent of the products we see on supermarket shelves, but you can use this guide to avoid supporting this brutal industry. We can also help by donating to organizations fighting to protect the orangutans like the International Animal Rescue.