Orangutan Who Spent 5 Years In Box Wouldn't Let Go Of Rescuer

He really needed a hug ❤️️

When the baby orangutan was pulled out from the cage, he scrambled into the arms of one of the female rescuers — and he didn’t let go.

Last week, a team from International Animal Rescue (IAR) found Utu, a 5-year-old Borneo orangutan, on a property in West Borneo in Indonesia. Utu had spent the majority of his life cooped up inside a tiny wooden cage, which was only about 3 feet by 5 feet. He ended up in there after people killed his mother in a traumatic way, then took him as a pet.

Orangutan locked up in wooden box
Utu spent five years inside this wooden box. | IAR

“It is quite probable that Utu witnessed the killing of his mother,” Lis Key, PR and communications manager of IAR, told The Dodo. “As a baby orangutan, he was probably clinging to her when she was killed. We have encountered cases where a baby orangutan has been injured with a machete or shot with an airgun, which almost certainly occurred when the baby’s mother was being attacked.”

Orangutan locked up inside box
Utu when he was still inside his wooden box | IAR

Besides being locked up for a long time, Utu was severely malnourished. In the wild, orangutans eat a rich diet of fruit, leaves, bark, flowers, honey, insects, vines and shoots, but his former owner had only fed him rice and the occasional piece of fruit.

Woman carrying baby orangutan in her arms
Temia, one of the IAR vets, carrying Utu in her arms | IAR

“People who take in baby orangutans have no real knowledge of their natural diet and don’t know how much to feed them, and this is why many of the orangutans we rescue are in poor health and in some cases seriously ill,” Key said.

The rescue team also learned some horrifying details about Utu’s mother — not only had people shot and killed her, but they’d butchered her and eaten her meat. And Utu may have witnessed everything.

Woman holding scared orangutan in her arms

Sadly, Utu wasn’t the only orangutan to be rescued that day. On a different property in West Borneo, the IAR team found another young orangutan, now named Joy, who’d also been locked in a wooden cage for five years. Joy’s owner had bought her from a hunter for 300,000 IDR (about $21 USD), and fed her a diet of sugarcane, rice, bananas and sweet potatoes.

Orangutan looking out through wooden crate
Joy looking out through the bars of her wooden cage | IAR

“Encountering orangutans being kept in captivity as pets is always sad, but ... it is doubly sad to find two young orangutans shut away behind bars, without their mothers and far from their natural home in the forest,” Key said.

Both Utu and Joy are in safe hands now, and the IAR team will do everything it can to make them feel comfortable and happy.

Man looking at orangutan inside box
The wooden cage that Joy spent five years inside | IAR

“Having spent five years locked up alone in small dark wooden crates with barely any sight of the outside world, let alone access to it, the moment when the two orangutans were released must have been bewildering, even traumatizing for them,” Key said. “But our vet and keeper are experts at handling orangutans in this situation and will have done everything possible to calm and soothe them.”

Rescuers going to open box with orangutan inside

Utu and Joy are currently in quarantine at IAR’s rehabilitation center, where they’ll stay until the vet team is sure they’re not carrying any infectious diseases. Once their quarantine period is over, they’ll be moved to large enclosures with hammocks, vegetation and plenty of enrichment activities. They’ll eventually even go to school with other orphaned orangutans to learn how to be wild again.

Man holding orangutan's hand
One of the rescuers coaxing Joy out of her wooden box | IAR

“The most uplifting moment of this rescue has to be when those frightened young apes were released from their cages into the arms of our rescue team who will give them the best possible chance of a long life back in the wild,” Key said. “But these rescue operations are always tinged with sadness. Like Joy and Utu, every orangutan we rescue has lost its mother and the tragic plight of these orphans is a painful reminder of the serious threats facing the survival of this critically endangered species.”

Like all orangutan species, the Borneo orangutan is critically endangered — they’re threatened by habitat loss, hunting, conflicts with people and the local pet trade.

People loading rescued orangutan into transport carrier
The rescue team loading Joy into a transport crate to drive her to safety | IAR

"This is the time for all who keep orangutans to realize that if they continue to violate this law, orangutans will soon be extinct,” Karmele L Sanchez, program director for IAR, said in a statement. “People who encounter those that sell orangutans should not buy the orangutans and should immediately report them to the authorities. If people do not cooperate by handing over orangutans, then law enforcement is needed.”

To help Utu and Joy get back to the forest, you can make a donation to IAR.