7 min read

This Is The Moment She Knew She Was Being Rescued

She reached her hand through the cage to touch his.

<p><a href="http://www.sumatranorangutan.org/" target="_blank">SOCP</a><span></span></p>

When rescuers found the orangutan, she was cowering in the back of an outdoor cage. At first, she didn't move. The rescue team called out to her. She glanced up, trying to understand what the people wanted. Slowly, she crawled to the front of her cage and eased a hand through the metal frame. A man gently took the orangutan's hand in his; their eyes met. Perhaps this was the moment she realized she was being saved.

The orangutan, named Veni by her rescuers, was being illegally kept in the backyard of a prominent figure in North Sumatra, Indonesia. Before she ended up there, a family had kept Veni as a pet, but they'd grown tired of her and given her away. Not much else is known about Veni's history, but it's easy to fill in the blanks: Like most captive orangutans, Veni was probably stolen from her forest as villagers converted her habitat to palm oil plantations. Not only that, but the villagers probably killed Veni's mother as well - maybe right in front of her.

In the wild, orangutans will live with their mothers for eight years or more. Veni was only 5 when rescued, and she'd probably lived without her mother - or any other orangutan companion - for most of her life.

Since Veni was so young, the rescue team didn't want to anesthetize her just to move her into her transport crates. They decided to pick her up and carry her, but this needed to be done carefully, especially as orangutans are quite strong and can easily injure people. "A bond of trust needs to be formed," Ian Singleton, Director of the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme (SOCP), tells The Dodo. "Otherwise the orangutan's immediate reaction is sometimes to be afraid when the door is opened, as it's often such an unusual event. It's important for her to see that the rescuers mean to help, not harm."

A woman stroked Veni's orange fur. The attention-starved orangutan reached one arm through the wire and hugged the woman. Veni even placed the woman's fingers in her mouth the way a baby would suck on a pacifier.

When Veni appeared comfortable enough, the rescuers lifted her out of the cage, and placed her in a transport carrier, driving her to the SOCP's Orangutan Quarantine Center in Batu Mbelin.

Dr. Yenny Saraswati of SOCP with Veni | SOCP

The veterinary team at SOCP was pleased to find that Veni was generally in good health, although she was a little overweight. Veni's main issue was that she didn't know anything about being a wild orangutan, so she'd have to learn survival skills, such as foraging for food, climbing and building nests.

After several months at SOCP's Quarantine Center, Veni started displaying many of the behaviors and skills she'd need to survive once again as a wild orangutan in the forest, and the SOCP team decided it was time to move her to the Jambi Orangutan Release Site near the Bukit Tigapuluh National Park. Dr Yenny Saraswati, head veterinarian at SOCP, was there when Veni was finally released.

"She quickly moved through the trees," Saraswati tells The Dodo. "It's likely she realized she was getting a second chance at freedom. Veni will be able to live as a normal orangutan and, all being well, have infants of her own some day, helping to form the new wild population of Sumatran orangutans being established there. It's a great feeling to get them this far and give them that chance."

The Sumatran orangutan is critically endangered, and experts believe only about 14,600 remain in the wild. SOCP is a nonprofit organization dedicated to conserving Sumatran orangutans and protecting the Leuser Ecosystem, the natural habitat of the species.

To help orangutans like Veni, and other animals living in the Leuser Ecosystem, you can donate to the SOCP here.