A new relationship with animals, nature and each other.

Trapped Orangutan Puts a Face on Wildlife Struggles


By Seamus McAfee

An orphaned orangutan who tried to escape from a snare in the Indonesian rainforest by chewing off his own hand is recovering at a sanctuary.

And to people around the world, the plight of Pelangsi, as he is now known, has put a face on what’s happening to some of our closest cousins in the wild.

When volunteers from International Animal Rescue (IAR) found Pelangsi, he was delirious from pain and fear, had not eaten for 10 days, and had begun to gnaw off his trapped hands in hopes of escape. The IAR team managed to sedate him and free him from the snare, but said he would have to lose his badly infected hand. They took him to their clinic in Ketapang, Borneo.

Pelangsi is, in fact, one of the lucky ones. In the past century, humans have devastated the wild orangutan population. Just 9,000 remain in the wild, where they face loggers, illegal hunters and unnatural forest fires.

Palm oil plantations have moved into the forests of Borneo and Sumatra and leveled acres of orangutan habitat while driving the inhabitants out.

But the biggest threat to the orangutans is the palm oil industry. Palm oil plantations have moved into the forests of Borneo and Sumatra and leveled acres of orangutan habitat while driving the inhabitants out. Without food or shelter, orangutans starve, or like in Pelangsi’s case, wander into dangerous situations where they’re killed or injured.

“Pelangsi’s story is a graphic illustration of the fate of countless orangutans that are left homeless and hungry when the forest is cut down,” said IAR veterinary director Karmele Llano Sanchez. “Our rescue center is now caring for 50 orangutans, and that number will continue to rise rapidly until drastic measures are taken by the palm oil companies to protect orangutans and other wildlife from the devastating effects of their industry.”

The IAR cited PT KAL (Kayung Agro Lestari) from Austindo Nusantara Jaya Group, as the palm oil company which had forced Pelangsi out of the forest. PT KAL protests its sustainability efforts, but IAR members are already caring for three baby orangutans they say they rescued from the company’s palm oil plantation, and have unsuccessfully tried to save three more orangutans found on PT KAL land.

With the help of the IAR, Pelangsi will most likely recover. But it will take a much bigger effort from the international community to save the other orangutans still left in the wild.

How you can help: The wild orangutan population will not survive without pressure being placed on the palm oil industry to work toward more sustainable harvesting methods. You can contact the company that runs PT KAL here.

You can also support the Orangutan Land Trust, which works with palm oil companies and brings together stakeholders to develop solutions. Or, like the two Girl Scouts we reported on in February, you can commit to boycotting palm oil products until the industry makes more progress.

You can also support the rehabilitation of injured and orphaned orangutans through a number of organizations, like the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation, the Orangutan Foundation International, and International Animal Rescue, which continues its work to rescue displaced and injured orangutans in Borneo and Sumatra.