She also adds that the penalties against those who do traffic the orangutans is woefully weak: Gokong's captor, for example, should have been convicted of having a critically endangered species. But SOCP knows of only three convicted cases in the organization's history - and in the case of Gokong, neither the fishermen nor the palm oil plantation worker were prosecuted.
The plight of the Sumatran orangutans
There are some 6,600 wild Sumatran orangutans in the region, estimates McKelson, and SOCP's mission is to confiscate, quarantine and reintroduce all the illegally held orangutans back into the area whenever possible. (For those who cannot be returned into the wild, SOCP is building a lifetime care center called Orangutan Haven.)
Returning these rehabilitated orphans into the wild is time sensitive: The Sumatran orangutan is a critically endangered species that has seen a decline in population of at least 80 percent in the last 75 years, according to the IUCN, and that's quite possibly an underestimate. The commercial trade of orangutans is prohibited but that legislation, like many wildlife laws, is flouted, and orangutans like Gokong end up in the illegal pet trade and in individual homes.
And what these primates endure can be absolutely appalling.
"[They] are often found in inadequate living conditions, [living] in bamboo boxes or cages to chicken coops," says McKelson. Sometimes they are chained around their neck or waist and tethered to a tree. "They have no choice but to spend their time in complete isolation and often during this process they naturally learn to develop a conditioned dis-attachment and seek no attention from people."
McKelson says, ironically, SOCP doesn't want to undo this process, since the best way to rehabilitate the orangutans is to encourage the primates to socialize and thrive in the company of their kind.