2 October 2019 – For FOUR PAWS employee Dr Signe Preuschoft and her team, it’s a miracle that two-year-old orangutan orphan Gerhana is still alive and well in the FOUR PAWS ORANGUTAN FOREST SCHOOL, in East Kalimantan, Borneo, swinging from branch to branch. Gerhana has lived through terrible experiences, and the traces of his sad past are still visible on the x-ray: He has a cartridge case stuck in his body.
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As a baby, Gerhana was kept alone in a chicken cage and was fed black tea instead of breast milk. When he was confiscated by the local authorities, in January 2018, and handed over to the ORANGUTAN FOREST SCHOOL led by global animal welfare organisation FOUR PAWS, he was in an extremely critical condition. He weighed less than two kilograms, showed flu symptoms and was severely dehydrated. While looking at a lung x-ray as part of a health check, the attending veterinarian and Dr Preuschoft were shocked to discover a cartridge case from an air gun stuck in his left shoulder.
Dr Signe Preuschoft: “We were totally surprised when we discovered the bullet in his body on the x-ray because there was no external injury. We assume that someone shot at him and his mother. His mother might have been hit more times before she endured a slow and painful death, however, somehow, Gerhana was able to survive and for the wound in his shoulder to heal. Still, we don’t know how exactly he ended up in captivity.”
For several months, veterinarians and human surrogate mothers provided Gerhana with medical care in the FOREST SCHOOL and lovingly cared for him around the clock. The little orangutan orphan gradually regained his strength. As he doesn’t seem to have any pain in his shoulder and also doesn’t show any sign of impairments, the veterinarians decided to leave the bullet in his body for the time being.
Dr Signe Preuschoft: “When he is a little older, we can remove the bullet. It would be only a small cut, but unfortunately, it needs general anaesthesia. At the moment, Gerhana is just too young for that. For a little monkey, even a small operation is a big deal.”
Gerhana’s training at the FOREST SCHOOL
At the FOREST SCHOOL Gerhana is now developing splendidly and making progress every day. Together with seven other orangutan orphans, Gerhana is well looked after, protected and prepared by FOUR PAWS employees for an independent life in the wild. During his rehabilitation, he goes through several training stages: As a baby, he first lived in the loving care of human surrogate mothers and attended the kindergarten, later the Forest School. During this period, he learns vital things such as searching for food, building nests and climbing. At the age of about seven, it will be time for him to move to the so-called Forest Academy in the reintroduction region. There, he will be able to give free rein to his exploration instinct under supervision and protection. As soon as he gets by smoothly, he will be able to leave the Forest Academy and enjoy a life in freedom.
Dr. Signe Preuschoft: “We are very happy about Gerhana’s recovery. He seems psychologically stable and healthy, has a positive attitude towards life and learns well in the FOREST SCHOOL. Therefore, nothing stands in the way of a normal development, and if he continues to make progress, he can be released into the wild in a few years.”
The sad fate of the orangutans
During the last four decades, Borneo’s rainforest is being destroyed on a vast scale. Thousands and thousands of orangutans have fallen victim to the palm oil, tropical wood and coal industries. Every year, two to three thousand orangutans are killed, often deliberately for a bounty, because they are regarded as harvest predators in oil palm plantations. Animal traders illegally sell defenceless orphans whose mothers have been killed on purpose, as pets. Borneo orangutans are among the most endangered species. FOUR PAWS has been working for the rehabilitation of traumatised orangutan orphans on Borneo for over ten years.
Read more about our work for organgutans.