5 min read

Orangutan Has No Idea He's About To See The Forest Again

Butan, Marsela and Sabtu, three endangered orangutans, traveled by foot, by road and by river to finally arrive in the heart of a protected forest in Borneo.

It was late June, and it had been a long time since they'd been back home.

Each of the three orangutans put a face on a crisis that is spiraling out of control.

The Indonesian jungle is rapidly diminishing because of logging, palm oil industries and climate change. The Bornean orangutan has just recently become classified as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). This means our world is facing a future where these animals could be gone forever.

Butan, when she was first rescued by IAR | International Animal Rescue

But Butan and Marsela, who have been away from the forest the longest, only know that their lives have been full of confusion from almost the very beginning.

Both female orangutans were just toddlers when they were found in empty, razed fields where their forest homes used to be. The palm oil industry expanded its plantations and ruined their habitat, as well as separated them from their mothers forever.

"In their natural habitat, baby orangutans live with their mothers from birth until the age of 7 to 8 years," Gail Campbell-Smith, program manager for International Animal Rescue (IAR) Indonesia, said in a press release. "So when a baby orangutan is found alone, the mother is almost certainly dead."

Butan and Marsela have spent years at IAR's rehabilitation center in West Kalimantan, Borneo, growing up and learning how to make it on their own in the wild.

In March, Sabtu, a 25-year-old male orangutan with large, distinctive cheeks, joined them.

Sabtu was hungry and weak when he was found. | International Animal Rescue

His story represents another struggle stemming from another kind of environmental devastation, which is linked to so many forests being cut down for logging and palm oil industries. Sabtu's home was destroyed in a rampant forest fire that decimated much of the Bornean forest last year.

Sabtu hiding out in a plantation's banana tree after his jungle was destroyed | International Animal Rescue

When Sabtu was found, he was homeless and clinging to a banana tree in a plantation, looking for something to eat.

Sabtu being carried to the rehabilitation center | International Animal Rescue

At last, in June, the three orangutans who overcame these major threats to their whole species were strong enough to be free again.

They traveled for four days.

People carried the orangutans onto boats and through the forest to a spot that would be safe enough for them - for now.

When the moment finally came, rescuers opened the crates.

The orangutans all climbed immediately up the trees.

Sabtu went off on his own.

But Butan and Marsela, whose time with rescuers brought them close, plunged into their new wild lives together.

They climbed up and settled on a branch.

And they shared their first meal back home together.

"Only if people are more concerned about orangutans, will they be safe," Karmele Llano Sanchez, program director for IAR Indonesia, said in a release, "and even now, I fear it's almost too late."