We at BOS have played a part in changing the lives of thousands of orangutans in Indonesia. Our job is not one we have taken on eagerly, but together with the government of Indonesia, we must act to save orangutans from extinction.
We would be overjoyed to be out of work because orangutans were left alone in the forest, and mothers were allowed to raise their own children. However, the sad reality is that over 300 of the orangutans who entered our centres were not even one year old when they arrived alone, and nearly 900 were under the age of three years, all without their mothers to care for them. We have spent over three decades learning, growing, and working to give each and every one of these orangutans the best chance at life, even if that means being raised by a human surrogate mother. While not all have succeeded without their birth mothers, most have gone on to live full lives, and hundreds have returned to their wild, forest homes.
We know this job we have taken on is not for everyone, but we were still left heartbroken to learn of the decision to euthanise the baby orangutan, only four days old, at Zoo Basel due to the untimely and sudden passing of her mother. Based on our experience, we can state with the utmost confidence that an infant can survive without their mother if cared for properly. We are not so deluded to claim that the individual will not be more likely to exhibit abnormal behaviour, be at a higher risk of attachment to humans, and struggle more when it comes to socialising with orangutan conspecifics. However, these hurdles are not insurmountable.
While we are aware of zoos that have successfully hand-reared and returned infants into orangutan groups in the past, we now extend an invitation to those who find themselves in the tragic situation of having a baby orangutan without a mother but are unable to hand-rear them themselves for any reason. We offer our expertise and our time, whether consulting from a distance or making the journey to teach at your facility. We offer a home for any baby Bornean orangutan in our forest school so they can have a chance to return to the jungles of their descendants. Need be, we will even care for young Sumatran and Tapanuli orangutans until a home can be found for them in Sumatra. Our doors will always be open to any orangutan who has been left alone and without a home.
We hope this tragic incident can serve as inspiration for the associations that manage orangutan populations in captivity to update their guidance and protocols, for them to prioritise hope over euthanasia, even when success is not guaranteed because we no longer have the luxury to assume that a single one of these Critically Endangered apes is expendable.