Tragic Gito the three-month old great ape looked like an ancient mummy because he was so drawn and gaunt when he was left to die in the cardboard box.
Not only was the youngster dehydrated and feverish, he was also suffering from contagious mange which left him virtually bald, with grey, flaky skin.
Because he looked so pitiful when rescuers found him with his arms folded across his chest they feared he was already dead.
After two years’ intensive treatment and care, Gito has responded so well he is on the path to being released back into the Borneo forests of his forebears.
Gito’s remarkable story is being highlighted to mark the 10th anniversary of British-based charity International Animal Rescue’s efforts in releasing captive orangutans.
Today, Gito is flourishing at a baby orangutan school run by IAR at its rescue centre in Ketapang, West Borneo, where his life has been totally transformed, giving him a healthy appetite and sense of fun.
He is one of more than 100 orphaned orangutans being raised for release in an age when the great ape’s numbers are in serious decline.
An academic study last week warned as many 148,000 orangutans had been killed in Borneo over the last two decades after falling victim to hunters and habitat loss.
Sadly, when the adult apes are killed their young are often taken as pets.
It will still take up to another five years for Gito to be ready for release in a protected area of forest because he has to learn the essential skills his mother would have taught in the wild.
Pictures released of him playing in the trees with a fine crop of auburn hair show how far he has progressed since being found left to die under the blazing sun in a filthy cardboard box.
An IAR official said: “The sick baby was so lifeless when the rescue team reached him that, at first, they thought he was dead.
“He was lying corpse-like with his arms folded across his chest and this, along with a lack of hair and grey flaking skin, made him look almost mummified in his cardboard coffin.”
After being rushed to vets by motorbike, Gito was found to be suffering from itchy and contagious sarcoptic mange as well as diarrhoea and he had to be kept in quarantine as efforts began to bring him back to health.
Speaking this week, IAR chief executive Alan Knight OBE explained how orangutans such as Gito show the value of the charity’s work.
He said: “It’s ten years since we started helping primates in Indonesia and what better way to mark the anniversary than by celebrating a success story like Gito’s.
“It is a tragic fact that Gito and all the other infant orangutans in our care were almost certainly orphaned when their mothers were killed and their babies were caught and kept as pets.
“However, happily these young apes are receiving expert care in our rehabilitation centre and will eventually have the chance to return to their home in the wild.”
“As they grow in confidence and independence, orangutans like Gito progress from baby school into forest school and then eventually onto a pre-release island when they are deemed to be nearing the time for release.
“They are monitored pre-release to ensure they are adept at climbing, nest-building and foraging for food.
“Then they are also monitored for up to two yearspost-release to ensure they are thriving back in the forest.”
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