On April 29, officials at the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation (BOSF) received a tip from the local police chief that some villagers in Indonesia’s West Kalimantan province were holding a Bornean orangutan captive. When the rescue team arrived at the Tanggirang village they discovered that instead of the signature orange-reddish brown hair, the great ape had white hair, a paler skin color, and blue eyes. The mammal was also very sensitive to light.
A preliminary examination by medical experts revealed that the great ape is an extremely rare albino orangutan. This is the first such specimen encountered by the non-profit since it was founded to conserve the endangered Bornean orangutan and its habitat 25 years ago. The five-year-old female, who was in captivity for two days before being rescued, is currently undergoing health tests at the foundation’s rehabilitation center. Officials say they will decide on whether to release the great ape back into the wild or keep her at the center, which currently houses almost 750 orangutans, once they are assured she is healthy.
Orangutans are the only members of the great ape family which includes gorillas, chimpanzees, and bonobos, that are endemic to Asia, not Africa. They are also the only great apes that spend most of their lives in trees, making them the largest tree-living mammal in the world. Unfortunately, the population of both species of orangutans – Bornean and Sumatran — has declined sharply over the past few decades. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) estimates that there are currently just over 100,000 Bornean orangutans and less than 7,500 Sumatran orangutans left in the wild.
The drastic population decline is largely due to the loss of habitat as Indonesia’s rainforests continue to be destroyed to make room for palm oil plantations. Hopefully, the ongoing efforts by organizations like BOSF will ensure that these intelligent, gentle giants, who share nearly 97% of their DNA with humans, do not disappear altogether.
Resources: worldwildlife.org, orangutan.or.id, orangutan.com