Last week, villagers in the Aceh province of Sumatra alerted conservationists to a gravely wounded orangutan and her severely malnourished baby, which had been found on a local palm oil plantation. The mother had been shot at least 74 times with an air gun, rendering her blind, among other injuries. But with the help of veterinary experts, she has thus far survived.
The orangutan’s approximately one-month-old baby was not so lucky; as the Associated Press reports, it died as rescuers were rushing the animals to a veterinary clinic. When experts with the Orangutan Information Center and the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme (SOCP) X-rayed the mother, they found that her body was riddled with bullets, including four in her left eye and two in her right. She also had sustained bone fractures and been stabbed with wounds from a sharp tool. “Sincerely speaking, we were very shocked by ... the result,” the Orangutan Information Center revealed in a Facebook post.
Rescuers named the orangutan Hope, “after thousand hopes for her future,” the organization said. She underwent surgery on Sunday to mend her broken collarbone and correct infections in her body. Experts were able to remove only seven bullets from Hope’s body at that time. She is now recovering from the operation in an intensive care facility at the at SOCP Quarantine and Rehabilitation Center in North Sumatra.
“Hopefully Hope can pass this critical period,” Yenny Saraswati, a veterinarian with the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Program, tells the AP. “[B]ut she cannot be released to the wild anymore.”
The Indonesian island of Sumatra is one of only two places where orangutans live; the other is Borneo, a large island divided between Indonesia and Malaysia. Both Bornean and Sumatran orangutans are listed by the IUCN as critically endangered. A major threat to the animals’ existence is the ever-expanding palm oil industry in Indonesia and Malaysia, which is destroying the orangutan’s rainforest habitat and pushing them closer to human territory.
This can in turn lead to deadly interactions. A study published last year, which revealed that the orangutan population of Borneo had decreased by a staggering 100,000 individuals between 1999 and 2015, found that intentional killing by humans was a major driver of the animals’ decline. Study co-author Serge Wich told National Geographic’s Sarah Gibbens that people kill orangutans for a number of reasons: for their meat, to stop them from eating crops, or because they are afraid of the great apes.
In the days after Hope was found, conservationists came to the rescue of two other orangutans. An approximately three-month-old baby, which has been named Brenda, was confiscated from a villager in Aceh, according to the SOCP. She was found without her mother, and had a fractured arm. On Wednesday, a four-year-old female named Pertiwi was rescued from the same area where Hope was discovered; she also had a broken arm, had sustained injuries to her face and was suffering from malnourishment. All three are being looked after in intensive care facilities.