The psychological trauma caused by keeping a wild orangutan in captivity has been revealed in a distressing video released by an Uckfield-based charity today (Thursday, January 21) of a baby orangutan that was kept as a pet in Borneo.
The young female was rescued on January 5 in Parit Deri, Ketapang, West Borneo, by a team from International Animal Rescue (IAR) in collaboration with the Natural Resources Conservation Agency (BKSDA.)
The baby, called Joss, is shown in the video with her arms wrapped so tightly around her small body that at first sight she seems deformed. The little creature is seen repeatedly throwing herself onto the floor and banging her head against the wall, stopping only briefly when offered a bottle of milk by one of IAR’s vets. She has a haunted, fearful expression in her eyes.
After examining and observing Joss, IAR veterinarian Jaclyn Eng said: “Joss hugs herself constantly because she misses the physical contact and comfort she should still be getting from her mother.
“Her life up until now must have been very traumatic and stressful for her to behave in this abnormal way. Animals usually develop stereotypical behaviour as a coping mechanism in response to a stressful situation.
“Our team has never seen such a young baby orangutan exhibiting stereotypical behaviour like this. It is extremely distressing to watch because it must reflect the mental and emotional trauma little Joss is suffering.
“At first we tried to comfort and hold her but she was obviously so stressed in her new surroundings that she did not want us to touch her and kept climbing off our knees and walking around on her elbows.
“We also tried to settle her down with a giant cuddly teddy bear but that didn’t help either. She just kept banging her poor head against the wall.”
Joss’ owner was a man named Dahlan. He admitted buying the baby orangutan for IDR 500.000 (£25/$36 USD) because he felt sorry for her and didn’t know at the time that it was illegal to keep an orangutan as a pet.
The little primate lived in the house with him, his wife and four children. It seems that Joss was treated like a toy or a teddy bear by the children. She was carried around, hugged and squeezed, with no understanding of how frightening and distressing this must have been for her.
By the time the authorities became aware of Joss’ existence, Dahlan had found out that he was breaking the law by keeping her as a pet and handed her over voluntarily to the IAR rescue team.
Karmele Llano Sanchez, programme director of IAR Indonesia, said: “With the rising number of orangutans our team has rescued from burnt forest during recent months, Joss is now the 99th orangutan we have taken in to our rehabilitation centre.
“As is the case for the other orangutans at the centre, efforts to rehabilitate Joss and prepare her for eventual return to the wild will take many years. This lengthy period of time is not only necessary for them to learn the skills to survive, but also to recover from the psychological trauma of being captured and kept in captivity.
“As in the case of little Joss, traumas that cause psychological damage are often harder to treat than physical injuries. Keeping orangutans as pets is not only illegal, it is also incredibly cruel for these sensitive and intelligent primates.”
Alan Knight OBE, Chief Executive of IAR, whose Head Office is in Uckfield, adds: “The video of Joss is so distressing that at first I wasn’t sure we should make it public, but this is the grim reality of what is happening to orangutans in Indonesia.
“As a result of the relentless destruction of the rainforest, compounded by the devastating fires which wiped out millions more acres during the latter half of 2015, these Great Apes need more help than ever if they are to survive.
“It’s likely that little Joss saw her mother being brutally killed before she was snatched from the forest and sold as a pet. You only have to look at her to see the nightmare she has been through during her short life.
“The vets at our centre in Ketapang are working hard to help her but only time will tell whether she will make a full recovery from such a terrible start in life.”
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