8 min read

People Found The Saddest Thing Living Inside This Tiny Box

His only source of comfort was an empty water bottle.

Two years — that’s how long the orangutan lived inside a dark, wooden box. The man who put him in there would occasionally visit, bringing him uncooked instant noodles and a sugary drink. But for the most part, the orangutan was left alone, and he had nothing to do but listen to the sounds of footsteps and human voices outside.

Young orangutan locked up in box
International Animal Rescue

Kotap, a 4-year-old male orangutan, was being kept as a “pet” by a man in West Borneo in Indonesia. While it’s not clear what happened to Kotap’s mom, it’s pretty easy to fill in the blanks — villagers probably killed her while cutting down forest to make way for palm oil plantations, which happens far too often.

Wooden cage for orangutan
The wooden box that Kotap lived in | International Animal Rescue

When mother orangutans who are killed have babies with them, villagers like to keep the infants as pets or sell them into the pet trade, even though doing so is illegal in Indonesia and other parts of Southeast Asia. In some cases, they’ll even kill the mother just to get to her baby.

Baby orangtuan being kept inside box
International Animal Rescue

For most of these babies, being raised without proper nutrition or even room to climb is a death sentence. But Kotap was one of the luckier ones. Eventually, the forestry department found out about Kotap, and this week the man finally surrendered Kotap to International Animal Rescue (IAR).

The man told the rescue team that he put Kotap inside the wooden box so the young ape wouldn’t disturb the neighbors. But it’s possible he had others reasons for doing this.

Orangutan locked inside wooden box
International Animal Rescue

“As orangutans get older, they become bigger and stronger and, while they are never suitable to be kept as domestic pets, that becomes increasingly obvious as they grow from cute, hairy babies into the wild animals that they are,” Lis Key, PR and communications manager for IAR, told The Dodo. “So it’s perhaps likely that the man confined Kotap to the box for more than one reason — to prevent him from causing disruption around his neighbors, and also to contain his behaviour and protect his family within his own household.”

When the rescue team opened the box, Kotap shrank into a corner. He clutched two objects that seemed to bring him comfort — a plastic water bottle and a disposable straw.

Rescued orangutan locked inside wooden box
International Animal Rescue

Unfortunately, Kotap isn’t the only orangutan who’s been found like this. Less than two months ago, IAR rescued a female orangutan named Amy, who was found chained up in a wooden crate, clutching a piece of fabric like a security blanket. Many other orangutans have been found chained up to crates or even shut away between two buildings.

“Tragically, from the moment when Kotap was taken from the wild to be kept as a pet, he was destined one day to be caged or locked up, as is the fate of every captive orangutan is when it reaches a certain age,” Key added.

Young orangutan being rescued
International Animal Rescue

Not only was Kotap kept in terrible conditions, he was also fed an inappropriate diet of bread, rice, instant noodles and sugary drinks — which was terrible for his health, according to Key.

“Feeding an orangutan on human food can cause multiple health issues, leading to bone deformities, stunted growth, malnutrition, skin conditions … as well as obesity and diseases such as diabetes,” Key said. “Plus foods that are high in sugar cause dental decay, just as they do in people, causing terrible pain and leading to the animal having to have dental surgery and tooth extractions.”

Rescued orangutan in Borneo
International Animal Rescue

The fact that Kotap was cooped up inside a box, and unable to exercise, would’ve made matters worse, Key said.

But now, Kotap’s life will change for the better. The IAR rescue team successfully transported him back to the organization’s rehabilitation center, where he’ll receive medical treatment, be introduced to other orangutans and relearn how to be wild.

Rescued orangutan in rehab
International Animal Rescue

While the IAR team is optimistic about Kotap’s recovery, and eventual release into the wild, they are concerned about the welfare of Bornean orangutans, which the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists as a critically endangered species.

Rescued baby orangutan
International Animal Rescue

"It’s high time people realized that, if they keep breaking the law by capturing orangutans and keeping or selling them as pets, then the species will soon become extinct,” Karmele Llano Sanchez, program director for IAR Indonesia, said in a statement. “Anyone who is offered an orangutan should certainly not buy it. They should immediately contact the authorities and report the person trying to sell it.  And if people are not willing to cooperate by surrendering the orangutan and persist in breaking the law, then the necessary action must be taken to enforce it.”

Rescued baby orangutan
International Animal Rescue

Besides Kotap, the IAR rehabilitation center is currently caring for 112 other orangutans who have been rescued from captivity, or have been injured or displaced when people cut down their forests.

To help IAR care for all these animals, and help them get back into the wild where they belong — and where they can help save their species — you can make a donation.