An Endangered Orangutan Wandered Into a Village and Hung Out with Humans for Days

Residents fed the weary-looking great ape fruits and milk.
June 16, 2021, 9:12am
Borneon orangutan
Residents help an adult male orangutan that wandered into a village on the Indonesian island of borneo. Imagery courtesy of the East Kalimantan Natural Resources Conservation Center

A Bornean orangutan wandered into a remote Indonesian village and was assisted over several days by slightly alarmed but welcoming residents in an unlikely encounter between the critically endangered species and humans, who whipped out smartphones to document it all.

There are three subspecies of the Bornean orangutan, which differs in shape, appearance and color from Indonesia’s Sumatran orangutan, according to the World Wildlife Fund. One subgroup is found on Borneo island’s East Kalimantan province, where residents of Lusan village first spotted the slow-moving great ape on June 7.

The head of Lusan village, Muhammad Irham, told VICE World News that his wife noticed the orangutan going from tree to tree by their house. Frightened, she closed the doors and windows and ran to tell other villagers, who came out to see for themselves.

“Looks like it was looking for food because it’s hungry,” Irham said.

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Screenshot of a video capturing the encounter. Courtesy of the East Kalimantan Natural Resources Conservation Center

Footage shows the large, lumbering orangutan crossing a small road as a few residents tried to help guide the animal. One person held the orangutan’s hand, while others shrieked with fear or delight as many pulled out smartphones to take photos and video.

After being presented with a buffet of jackfruit, bananas and milk, the orangutan fell asleep against a tree behind a house.

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Screenshot of a video capturing the encounter. Courtesy of the East Kalimantan Natural Resources Conservation Center

It stuck around for some more snacks on the second day, returned to the forest for a bit, then came back the next day apparently looking for more food.

Though mostly gentle creatures, wild orangutans can attack humans, though incidents are unheard of in the area.

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“If wild orangutans stray into the village, it will be dangerous, it can kill the villagers,”  said Jamartin Sihite, the CEO of the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation.

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Screenshot of a video capturing the encounter. Courtesy of the East Kalimantan Natural Resources Conservation Center

Alerted to the unexpected visitor, officials from the East Kalimantan Natural Resources Conservation Center arrived and transported the orangutan to a conservation center, where it will eventually be released into the forest.

The center suspects that the adult male orangutan was previously released into the wild from a conservation program because a microchip was found in his body.

The video provoked sympathy from people online who called for better control of deforestation, which can result from palm oil plantations and mining.

But according to Sihite, reduced availability of food, the impact of climate change, and forest fires could all be factors for why the orangutan strayed too close to humans without fear.