Didik’s Journey To Orangutan Baby School

Shot and stolen from the wild, one orphaned orangutan, an emblem of conservation efforts, gets a second chance.

By Vicki Croke

He’s proved to be a fighter, more resilient than anyone could have imagined when he was rescued from a shop in West Borneo on June 14.

On that very first day, what the experienced team from International Animal Rescue (IAR) saw was a baby orangutan near death. Most likely he had been stolen from the wild, and kept as someone’s pet before being abandoned among shelves of groceries and hardware items. He was in pain, malnourished, and suffering from skin and eye infections.

didik-at-international-animal-rescue-center

When he arrived, little Didik was depressed, in pain, and unable to eat. (Caretakers at the IAR facility wear face masks because all the orangutans are vulnerable to human disease.) Photo: IAR.

Back at the IAR facility on Borneo, which cares for 109 other rescued orangutans— mostly adolescents and babies— caretakers named their latest arrival Didik. A thorough exam revealed how dire the orangutan’s situation was: X-rays showed a bullet was lodged in his right shoulder. And he weighed in at only six pounds. That’s closer to the size of an infant than the 18-month-old that the development of his teeth revealed he was.

Didik’s story is emblematic of the plight of many orangutans. Both Bornean and Sumatran orangutans are critically endangered, losing their forest homes to fire, logging, and oil palm plantations.

“The situation for orangutan populations has reached a critical point. The Bornean orangutan population has declined by 50 percent in the past 60 years and that rapid decline is showing no sign of slowing down. The main threats to the species are habitat loss and illegal hunting. Deforestation to convert land to palm oil plantations and other agro-industries is rapidly destroying the orangutans’ forest home.”  — Lis Key, International Animal Rescue

Last year, fires started by land clearance efforts and fanned by El niño weather conditions “turned a really desperate situation for the orangutans into a crisis of massive proportions,” Key says in an email. IAR reports that five million acres of forest were likely lost.

READ MORE ON WBUR’s THE WILD LIFE: 

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