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2 Orangutans Who Spent Their Lives in Cages Are Returned to Their Forest Home

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By Alicia Graef

Animal advocates are celebrating the successful rescue, rehabilitation and release of two critically endangered Bornean orangutans who had spent their lives in cages as pets.

The two orangutans, eight-year-old Johnny, and 10-year-old Desi, had spent their lives in confinement as pets before being rescued by a team from International Animal Rescue (IAR) in 2011 and 2012, respectively.


The two have spent the last few years at IAR's Orangutan Conservation Centre in Ketapang where they went to "forest school" to learn all the skills they would need to survive in the wild, ranging from climbing and foraging to making their own nests.

"The rehabilitation process is a long one. It can take seven or eight years," said Karmele Llano Sanchez, IAR's program director in Indonesia. "Being kept as pets for several years can have a very adverse effect on the orangutans' mental and physical health."

Once they mastered those skills, they were moved to a pre-release island where they were monitored and assessed to see if they would be good candidates for release.

Finally, they began the long journey to the forests of West Kalimantan, Indonesia, where they were released.

While they're now free to do as they please, they will still be be closely monitored by a team from IAR to ensure they stay safe and healthy.

IAR believes both Johnny and Desi were saved just in time, but notes that not all those who are rescued will be so lucky. The organization has successfully released 11 orangutans at this site, but is still caring for more than 100 others at its rescue center. More concerning is that they expect the number to grow as orangutan habitat is destroyed by fires and cleared for palm oil, rubber or paper plantations, while still more will suffer from conflicts with us and the illegal wildlife trade.

Over the summer, concern over their declining numbers got Bornean orangutans moved from Endangered to Critically Endangered–just a step away from extinction–on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, while the outlook for Sumatran orangutans isn't much better.

"We can't imagine a bright future for orangutans if their habitat continues to be lost at this rapid rate. They are threatened by the clearing of forests, fires, and also the threat of being caught and sold as pets like Johnny and Desi," added Karmele. "They will only survive when people start to take the problem seriously, although I fear it could be too late by then."

For more info on how to help protect orangutans and their homes, visit International Animal Rescue and the Rainforest Action Network.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Care2.

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