She was probably lounging in the treetops, where Sumatran orangutans spend almost all of their time, with her month-old baby in tow. She might have been breast-feeding. Little is known about how the pair found themselves in the tragic situation, but at some point, the shooting started.
Bullets from air rifles tore into her. They shattered her collar bone. Four bullets pierced her left eye, and two bullets shot through her right.
When it was over, she was blind. She had 74 bullets in her body and lacerations from sharp objects on her right arm, left finger and right leg, according to volunteers. Her baby was alive, barely, but unable to nurse from her wounded mother.
A week later, villagers stumbled upon the orangutan and the critically malnourished baby on a farm in Sumatra, Indonesia, in Aceh province. Volunteers transported the little family to the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Program, where specialized veterinarians carefully removed some bullets from the adult and performed surgery on her broken bones, according to the organization’s Facebook page.
They attempted to revive the baby, but rescuers said it took its last breath on the way to the hospital.
Doctors at the conservation program named the adult orangutan Hope.
“Hopefully Hope can pass this critical period, but she cannot be released to the wild anymore,” said veterinarian Yenny Saraswati, according to the Associated Press.
They are also concerned about her “mental rehabilitation,” having “just lost her little baby” who was so young it was still breast feeding, the program wrote on its Facebook page.
Two other organizations played a role in getting Hope and her baby to the conservation program, according to their Facebook pages: the Balai Konservasi Sumber Daya Alam, a nature conservancy in Indonesia, which was first contacted by the villagers who found the orangutans, and the Orangutan Information Center, which transported them to the conservation program.
It takes an army of conservationists to protect critically endangered wildlife on Sumatra because of the growing conflict between nature and people, according to the World Wildlife Fund. The conversion of forest into oil palm plantations is shrinking the habitat of the Sumatran orangutan — a species that spends essentially its entire life in the trees.
“Widespread forest fires, many set deliberately to clear land for plantations, are becoming a regular disaster,” the WWF writes. “Not only do fires destroy vast areas of orangutan habitat, but thousands of these slow-moving apes are thought to have burned to death, unable to escape the flames.”
The conservation program told the Associated Press that the widespread availability of air guns to shoot and kill wildlife, including orangutans, is a major problem in Indonesia.
Orangutans are also captured and kept as pets as a status symbol in Indonesia, according to the WWF.
The Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Program said that over the past 10 years, it has treated more than 15 orangutans with a total of about 500 air gun bullets lodged in their bodies, according to the Associated Press. An orangutan in the Indonesian part of Borneo died in 2018 after being shot at least 130 times, the AP writes.
According to the WWF, there are about 14,600 Sumatran orangutans left, and they all reside in Borneo or Sumatra. Only seven of the nine distinct populations are likely to survive in the long term, according to the organization, and only three of those have populations of more than 1,000.