9 min read

Orangutan Thought He Was Finally Rescued — But That Was 6 Years Ago

“This is not supposed to happen."

When Jono the orangutan was rescued in 2012, his life should have started getting better. But instead, Jono spent the next six years locked up in a tiny cage in a transit center, a facility run by the Indonesian government that temporarily holds confiscated wildlife.

It was actually Femke den Haas, founder of Jakarta Animal Aid Network (JAAN), who first discovered Jono on a private property south of Jakarta, Indonesia, back in 2012. Someone was keeping Jono as a pet, despite the fact that orangutans are an endangered species and it’s illegal to do so.

Large male orangutan locked up in cage
Jono in his tiny cage at the transit center in 2018 | Ismutia Rickard

“He was taken from the wild as a baby,” Den Haas told The Dodo. “It’s very possible that the mother was killed in a palm oil plantation where people are just hunting them down like pests, even though they are endangered.”

When the JAAN team first rescued Jono from his former owner, they couldn’t immediately take him into their care — they first had to take Jono to the government-run transit center, where Jono was required to stay while the Indonesian government completed paperwork and figured out where to move him.

Woman looking at caged orangutan
Den Haas gazing at Jono in his cage at the transit center in 2018 | Ismutia Rickard

Jono should have only stayed at this facility for a short time, but bureaucracy held things up. Weeks turned into months, and months turned into years. And this entire time, Jono lived in a tiny cage that was no bigger than a transport container. He didn’t have access to sunlight or drinking water, and there was nothing to stimulate him.

A foreign correspondent working for Australia’s ABC News was the one who discovered Jono in the transit center. The correspondent then reached out to Den Haas, who was shocked to learn that Jono was still there.

“I immediately requested if I could relocate him, but the government was still a little hesitant because they didn’t really know what to do with him,” Den Haas said.

Large male adult orangutan locked up in cage
Ismutia Rickard

Despite Jono’s sad situation, Den Haas pointed out that the people working at this government facility simply do the best they can.

“They do a good job with the limited resources that they have, and I do hope that more support can be created for this center, because no matter how you put it, this center is hugely important to take care of confiscated wildlife,” Den Haas said. “It’s just that animals often end up there for the longer term, unfortunately. This is not supposed to happen.”

Den Haas and the JAAN team continued to plead Jono’s case, and they eventually arranged for Jono to be moved to a rescue center run by Orangutan Foundation International (OFI) in the Kalimantan region of Indonesia. Jono is originally from Kalimantan, Den Haas discovered after testing his DNA.

Male orangutan locked up in cage
Ismutia Rickard

Jono’s relocation day couldn’t have come soon enough for the orangutan — if he’d stayed at the center any longer, his health and sanity would have surely suffered even more.

In a video of the moving day released by ABC News, Jono, who is now a fully-grown, 17-year-old male, throws himself against the sides of his cage as the team prepares to move him. One of the keepers (with whom Jono was very familiar) tries to calm Jono by holding up his hand, but Jono grabs the keeper’s hand and squeezes hard. Luckily, someone steps in to help the keeper, who could have been badly injured.

After this, they managed to sedate Jono and get him into a transport container. Then they flew him to the OFI center in Kalimantan, where Jono will finally get to live the life he deserves.

Rescue team with sedated orangutan
Jono after being sedated and pulled out of his cage | Ismutia Rickard

Jono is currently in the quarantine section of the OFI rescue center, but he’s already much happier, according to Den Haas.

Rescuers moving sedated orangutan into travel container
Den Haas and other JAAN workers helping to move Jono into the transport container | Ismutia Rickard

“As soon as Jono moved into the new cage, which is much larger than his last one … he can swing, and he can move around finally,” Den Haas said. “He has access to running water full-time.”

“He immediately started to make a nest with all the leaves in the cage,” Den Haas added. “Nest-making is one of the skills that wild orangutans have, so it’s quite impressive … he must have seen his mom making nests and immediately knew what to do with the leaves. It was nice to see, and it was a very emotional moment.”

Orangutan inside enclosure at rescue center
Jono making a nest with some leaves in his new enclosure | Ismutia Rickard

Right now, it isn’t clear if Jono will be a candidate for release back into the wild. For one, he’s been kept in captivity for most of his life, and he may not have the skills to survive on his own. Secondly, there aren’t many places where a large male orangutan like Jono can be safely released.

“Finding forests is a problem thanks to the palm oil industry,” Den Haas said. “Male orangutans need large areas and live solitary. And forests are scarce nowadays.”

However, the teams at JAAN and OFI aren’t giving up hope, and they’ll do everything they can to get Jono back to the wild.

To help Jono recover from his years in captivity, you can make a donation to OFI. You can also help rescue more orangutans and other wild animals in Indonesia by making a donation to JAAN.