When rescuers first found Gito in 2015, they weren’t even sure that he was alive.
Left to die in the sun after his mother was killed by poachers, little Gito laid curled up in a ball inside a cardboard box dripping with his own urine. His skin had turned gray and he had lost nearly all his hair.
His owner had bought him as a pet for $30 — and even though Gito was only a few months old then, he looked as though he were ancient.
“At first we thought he was dead,” International Animal Rescue (IAR) wrote on its website. “He was lying corpse-like with his arms folded across his chest and this, along with a lack of hair and grey flaking skin, made him look almost mummified in his cardboard coffin.”
The group rushed the infant ape to a clinic to receive veterinary care — and he miraculously survived the nine-hour motorbike trip to get there. He began the long journey of treatment for a drove of ailments from the abuse he endured, including malnutrition and sarcoptic mange.
But now, at nearly 3 years old, Gito is almost unrecognizable from the “mummified orangutan” he was once known as.
His hair is now bright orange and his skin is healthy. He climbs from tree to tree with ease. He has an appetite for fruit and other snacks like no other — and most importantly, he is loved.
Now part of IAR’s orangutan rehabilitation program, Gito spends his days in a protected forest with other orphaned orangutans his age learning all there is to know about living in the wild.
Since baby orangutans typically spend the first six to seven years with their mothers, the rescue’s caretakers work closely with the young apes to teach them how to climb, how to forage for food and how to build nests — important survival skills they would have learned early on in life from their mothers.
“At the rehabilitation center, the young orangutans are constantly monitored,” Lis Key, communications manager for the rescue, explained. “As they grow in confidence and ability, they move from baby school, through forest school and then on to the pre-release island.”
Since Gito is still in the beginning stages of his rehabilitation, he will remain at the center for several more years to continue learning about forest life and making new friends.
“Out in the forest, Gito loves to climb high and explore,” Key said. “He usually takes his friends with him, but he’s also happy to play on his own. He is learning fast — currently on his list to learn is how to forage the forest for food. Then after that, it will be how to make a nest for the night.”
Unfortunately, there are many other baby orangutans at the center who have endured abuse or trauma similar to Gito. All three species of orangutan are critically endangered from a blend of habitat destruction and poaching — in Indonesia, people will often steal them from the wild as babies to sell as pets.
When they’re captured, their mothers are usually killed by traffickers so they can’t protect their babies. In other cases, the mothers are killed by locals after getting too close to villages.
“Animals are suffering and dying because of the systematic destruction of the rainforest, primarily for palm oil production,” Key explained. Orangutans who wander onto palm oil plantations have even been shot to keep them away.
But as seen in Gito’s situation, even animals rescued from the most dire of situations can recover with expert, species-specific care — and a team that is dedicated to teaching them the joys of life they missed out on in their early months.
While Gito still has a lot of work to do, Key is confident that he will one day be prepared for life back in the wild where he belongs.
“Behavioral data is gathered and analyzed to determine when each individual is ready for reintroduction into the wild,” Key said. “This is the journey that Gito has already embarked on — which one day should lead him back into a safe, protected area of forest where he can resume his life as a wild orangutan.”
To support the rescue and rehabilitation of other orangutans like Gito, you can make a donation to International Animal Rescue.
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