Grab the tissues, folks, and get ready to witness an absolutely amazing moment. Meet Chocolate, an orangutan who was rescued from poachers in Indonesia. He was rescued by WildLife Asia as an underweight, fearful baby. He was being illegally held by wildlife traders. According to the Guardian, the traders told the rescuers, “We identify the mothers with babies, then cut down the trees around them, leaving them with nowhere to run. Then we beat the mother close to death until she falls to the ground. Only when she is unconscious can we prie the infant from her grasp.”
This is heartbreaking to read, but unfortunately, this is the sad reality for many orangutans. And if they aren’t captured by the wildlife trade, another grim reality likely awaits them: habitat destruction to make way for palm oil plantations.
On the islands of Sumatra and Borneo, the area of rainforest has declined by over 80 percent in the past two decades alone, primarily because of palm oil production and our huge demand for it. Palm oil can be found in about 50 percent of all consumer goods, as the demand for this cheap oil rises, so does the rate at which the orangutan loses its home. It’s currently estimated around 300 football fields of rainforest are leveled to make way for palm oil plantations every hour. If we continue at this rate, orangutans have little to no chance at survival – scientists estimate they could be extinct from the wild in the next 20 years.
With their habitat destroyed, orangutans are left to wander palm oil plantations, where they are viewed as “pests” and either shot point blank, or, like Chocolate, they’re captured and sold into the illegal wildlife trade.
Amazingly, Chocolate escaped this fate. His story is a rare one – if the rescuers hadn’t swooped in when they did, he would have surely been killed. But after four years of rehabilitation, Chocolate is ready to go home. One rescuer reflects, “I’m not sure people really understand what it’s like to rescue, rehabilitate, and finally release an orangutan. It’s very emotionally draining. This little guy’s lost everything, but hopefully, it’s a new start for him.” The cage opens, and Chocolate steadily moves out, joining his friend along a rubber zip line. And off he goes into the wild.
It’s absolutely amazing to see Chocolate released back home, and while we’re hopeful for his future, we know that we must act with urgency in order to secure a future that is worthy of these amazing animals.