It’s a remarkable photograph: A pregnant orangutan protectively clutching her five-year-old child as death seems imminent at the hands of bounty hunters armed with knives.
“A few minutes later and the orangutans could have been dead,” said Dr. Signe Preuschoft, a primate expert with the British-based organization, according to the Daily Mail. “We discovered a gang of young men surrounding them and both victims were clearly petrified.
“The gang meanwhile were jubilant in anticipation of their rewards for catching and killing the animals.”
The incident, compellingly captured in a dramatic photo of the mother cradling her child for dear life, casts a fresh light on the disturbing plight of orangutans, who were once common throughout Southeast Asia but now mostly live in Borneo and other areas in Indonesia.
The mother, estimated to be between 25 and 30, and the child were the only orangutans the team found alive in the area surrounding a palm-oil plantation. The group said it was scouting the area after reports of mass orangutan slaughter.
The spread of palm oil plantations, the group said, is accelerating the demise of the already endangered animals, which are losing native habitat because of widespread deforestation. The very name orangutan means “person of the forest,” as they spend most of their time in trees.
The palm-oil companies, the group said, are allegedly making matters worse by offering rewards of about $100 per dead orangutan, because they see the animals as nuisances.
“These massacres must not be allowed to continue,” Preuschoft said to the Daily Mail.
The rescued animals have since been released back in the wild in an area far from where they almost met death. The mother was fitted with a radio transmitter to help ensure the apes stay safe, the group said.
“Tens of thousands of adult orangutans have been slaughtered, while their orphaned offspring is frequently being sold off as pets or left behind to die, if they aren’t killed on the spot as well,” Four Paws posted on its website.
The slaughter of orangutans is illegal in Indonesia, but enforcement has stepped up only recently, the group said.
“Mass graves that were discovered last September triggered the first few serious arrests, including a senior plantation manager,” the group wrote.
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