7 min read

Baby Orangutan Kept As Pet Spent Months In Tiny Wooden Cage

He can't stop hugging the woman who saved his life ❤️️

No one could believe where Uka, a 2-year-old orangutan, had been living for the past several months.

Rescuers from International Animal Rescue (IAR) and forestry department officials peered into a tiny wooden cage, which was only about 10 square feet, and found the orangutan standing on a putrid bed of rotten fruit, feces and urine-soaked rags.

Baby orangutan trying to get out of wooden box

The tiny orangutan had a runny nose and watery eyes, and he was even struggling to breathe. The rescue team knew they had to get him out of there as quickly as possible, or else he might die.

Uka was being kept on the property of a man named Jalim, who claimed to find Uka all alone in an industrial tree plantation in West Borneo, Indonesia. He took Uka home to keep him as a “pet,” feeding him fruit and condensed milk. While certain fruits are part of an orangutan’s natural diet, along with leaves, bark, flowers, honey, insects, vines and shoots, condensed milk is definitely not something he should have been eating.

Baby orangutan inside wooden crate

“The wrong type of fruit and condensed milk would have a seriously detrimental effect on Uka’s health, affecting his growth at a time when he needs adequate nutrition and vitamins to grow and develop,” Lis Key, PR and communications manager for IAR, told The Dodo. “An inadequate diet can lead to skin complaints, stunted growth and general malnutrition and cause lasting damage to an orangutan’s joints and bone formation.”

Filthy cage where baby orangutan lived
The filthy wooden cage in which Uka spent months | IAR

Uka, who seemed to be suffering from a flu virus, which he probably caught from people, was listless and subdued. But when an IAR vet named Elisabeth lifted him out of the cage, Uka seemed to relax.

“In the wild, he would still be clinging to his mother, and so being in Elisabeth’s arms must have been comforting to him after the time he spent in that dark filthy crate,” Key said.

Baby orangutan clinging to woman
Uka clinging to Elisabeth the vet | IAR

Sadly, Uka’s situation is far from unusual. Borneo orangutans like Uka are losing their homes when people cut down the forest to build palm oil plantations. With no place to go and nothing to eat, orangutans often wander into the plantations to look for food, and angry farmers take to shooting them.

Vet team treating baby orangutan

When an individual claims to have “found” a baby orangutan, there’s usually more to the story than this. In the wild, orangutan moms would never abandon their babies, and the only way people could take a baby — so they can keep the animal as a “pet” — is to kill the mother. Not only that, but babies often watch their mothers being killed right in front of them, leaving them psychologically scarred.

While it’s not entirely clear what Uka went through, he was in pretty bad condition. The rescue team’s biggest concern was the flu symptoms he was exhibiting.

Baby orangutan being cared for by vets

“The condition of little Uka illustrates just one of the many reasons why people should not keep orangutans as pets,” Alan Knight, CEO of IAR, said in a statement. “Young primates are extremely susceptible to human diseases. First, they suffer the trauma of losing their mothers and being taken out of their natural environment, which is very stressful for them. Then they are fed on an unsuitable diet lacking all the vital nutrients an orangutan needs and exposed to germs and diseases which can prove fatal if left untreated.”

Baby orangutan clinging to woman

Despite everything he may have gone through, the IAR team is going to make sure things get better for Uka. After giving Uka rehydration fluids and a general veterinary check, the rescue team decided he was well enough to travel to IAR’s rescue center in Ketapang.

For now, Uka will be kept in isolation at the rescue center so the vets can monitor his health, and to make sure he doesn’t have any illnesses that could spread to others. But once he’s better, he’ll be able to start making friends.

Baby orangutan looking upwards

“Once he’s been given the all-clear, he can be taken to baby school and start socializing with the other babies, learning through play to climb and forage for food,” Key said. “That will be the beginning of his lengthy rehabilitation, leading one day, in several years from now, to his release back into the forest where he belongs.”

To help Uka get strong and healthy, and to help other orangutans like him, you can make a donation to IAR.