One of the adorable youngsters offers his hand in greeting to a rescuer in poignant scenes filmed during the operation mounted by British-based charity, International Animal Rescue.
The orangutans’ salvation comes at a time of increasing brutality being aimed at the fast-disappearing great apes. There was global outrage after two of the critically endangered primates were slaughtered in Borneo in recent weeks, the deaths coming in the wake of a major academic study warning how more than 100,000 of the island’s orangutans vanished between 1999 and 2015.
IAR’s chief executive Alan Knight OBE said: “There have recently been two shocking cases of adult orangutans found dead with their bodies mutilated and riddled with airgun pellets.
“Human-orangutan conflict, as well as the keeping of baby orangutans as pets, is clearly a significant contributing factor to the dramatic decline in orangutan numbers. Our conservation centre is currently home to 115 orangutans that were being kept as pets after being caught from the wild.
“In most cases where a baby orangutan is being kept as a pet, it is almost certain that the orangutan’s mother has been killed to get the baby. In the wild, an infant orangutan would stay with its mother until it is six to eight years old.
“During this time, before the infant is ready to be independent, the mother will fiercely protect her infant.
“There is a high possibility that Joy’s mother was killed by a hunter as well as Utu’s. If an orangutan younger than six years old is found alone, it’s almost always because the mother has died.”
The recent academic study indicated that while around half of Borneo’s orangutan losses were due to land clearance, apparently driven by demand for logging, palm oil and mining, there were also reports of the creatures vanishing from intact forests, suggesting that hunting and human conflict are major threats.
Although keeping orangutans as pets in Indonesia is illegal, conservationists say it is still common to find them in captivity in rural areas, which encourages hunters to perpetuate the trade. Yet returning captive animals back to the forests of their ancestors is an onerous task.
Dr Karmele Sanchez, programme director of IAR Indonesia, explained: “Baby orangutans need a long time and many years of rehabilitation before being returned to their natural habitat.
“The cost is also extremely high. The worst case scenario is when the orangutans we rescue are already too old and have spent too long in captivity to be rehabilitated and cannot be returned to their home in the forest.
“This is the time for all who keep orangutans to realise that if they continue to violate the law, orangutans will soon be extinct. People who encounter those that sell orangutans should not buy the orangutans and should immediately report them to the authorities. If people do not cooperate by handing over orangutans, then law enforcement is needed.”