Cruelty that humans sometimes exhibit to wildlife including our closest living relatives in the animal kingdom, the great apes, is always devastating to see. Here in Borneo we occasionally confront situations where we encounter badly beaten orangutans. As human-orangutan conflict increases because of forest conversion for human use such as agriculture, these instances of cruelty seem to be increasing and getting worse in terms of what happens to individual animals. The following case of an orangutan named Ahad is one of the worst examples we have recently encountered. We were not prepared for the brutality that this magnificent but badly wounded individual had suffered.
The KSDA (Nature Conservation and Forest Protection Agency) of the Forestry Ministry rescued a flanged male from the vicinity of a palm oil plantation on the evening of November 30, 2019. KSDA officials involved in the rescue related how the loud barking of several dogs alerted local people to the presence of something unusual. Local men found a badly wounded adult male orangutan on the ground who could barely move. After KSDA officers rescued the badly wounded male orangutan they immediately brought him to Orangutan Foundation International’s (OFI’s) Orangutan Care Center and Quarantine (OCCQ) in Pasir Panjang, Central Kalimantan for emergency treatment. We could hardly believe what we saw.
After the three OCCQ veterinarians shaved the hair from the wounded parts of Ahad’s body, they examined his injuries. The troubling extent of Ahad’s injuries became clear. Most evident were cuts and lacerations around his head. An 8.5cm (almost 3.5 inches) long deep cut above his left eye was so sharp that it looked like it had been made by a surgical instrument. The cut also exposed the startlingly white bone of the brow ridge. We initially could not ascertain whether Ahad had been blinded in the eye below the cut. The multiple lacerations and cuts on the back of his head made it almost unrecognizable. There were several cuts each measuring a few inches long. There was a severe wound under his arm as well as two wounds located on his right leg. There were two sharp wounds on his right foot. His left arm had also sustained multiple injuries. Ex-rays revealed that the end of his humerus had been shattered and jammed against the end of his radius bone. The arm injury seemed at least some days old. There was a putrid hole filled with puss and maggots on the inside of his elbow from which the foulest smell emanated. It looked like Ahad may have lost the use of his left arm. The veterinarians mentioned the possibility of amputation. Due to extensive male-male competition, adult male orangutans in the wild often have missing, stiff, or broken fingers. However, we were surprised to see that Ahad’s middle finger on his right hand was totally missing as though it had been amputated. The injury appeared to be an old one as it seemed totally healed.
When we saw him for the first time a staff member almost burst out crying. Ahad was lying on his back. He looked so weak and pathetic that it seemed unlikely that he would survive. The OCCQ veterinarians located 26 pellets of varying sizes throughout his body, ten of which were in the back of his head, one in his left arm, one in his pointer finger and one in his little finger. Two more each for a total of four were found in his right arm and in his chest. There were four pellets found in his left thigh, one in his left calf, and one in his left little toe. In his right thigh there were three pellets. The one particularly large pellet, likely from a homemade shotgun, just above his left elbow was probably responsible for the damage to the arm bones as well as the now putrid hole. The veterinarians removed one pellet from the area of his chin (although orangutans really don’t have chins) as well as the large pellet from his left elbow.
There were indications from his blood count that Ahad had suffered major blood loss, probably from his head and arm wounds. His leucocyte levels were very high indicating that his wounds had become infected which was confirmed by the bad smell and puss that came out of his left arm wound. The presence of hookworm eggs was confirmed and treated with ivermectin 200µr/kg/IM. However, he was negative for tuberculosis.
Orangutan Ahad has been under OFI’s care at the Care Center now for over a week. Only on the second day of his stay at the OCCQ did he finally pull himself up and sat very briefly for a while. Now he alternates between sitting and lying down during the day indicating that his condition is improving. If appetite were anything to judge health by, then Ahad would be in great health indeed. Not only does he eat the flesh of the durian fruits we provide him, but he also eats the seeds which are something that most orangutans do not consume. During the last few days, he has been alert enough to issue warning kiss-squeaks to staff members who stay too close or too long in front of his enclosure. Although Ahad looked unfathomably weak upon arrival, the recuperative powers of orangutans cannot be underestimated. We all hope and pray that his recovery will continue and that amputation of part of his terribly wounded left arm will not be necessary.
Our plan of operation has been to clean and sew up Ahad’s wounds while guarding against infection. Once Ahad’s strength returns to “normal” we will attempt to operate on and repair his left arm as much as possible. The OCCQ veterinarians will also remove the remaining pellets that they view as potential hazards.
Now, that Ahad is beginning his long road to recovery we have called an orthopedic surgeon for a second opinion concerning the injuries to Ahad’s left arm. OFI veterinarians at the OCCQ will continue to monitor and treat rescued orangutan Ahad for as long as it takes. We are grateful for orangutan Ahad’s strength and stamina; otherwise, he definitely would not have survived until today. We very much thank the government of Indonesia, KSDA officials, and all individuals who contributed to orangutan Ahad’s rescue.