Hope was stabbed repeatedly and shot 74 times by an air rifle.
It reads like something out of a snuff movie: Hope was stabbed repeatedly and shot 74 times by an air rifle, which caused her to lose her sight and come close to death.
Hope, so named by her rescuers, is a critically endangered orangutan and was found at a palm oil plantation in the village of Bunga Tanjung in Aceh province, in Indonesia. Her month-old baby was by her side.
She survived the ordeal, thanks to help from local conservationists, but her newborn, which had sustained “serious trauma” and was severely malnourished, died on the way to a local clinic operated by the Human and Orangutan Conflict Response Unit. “[W]e were very shocked,” the Orangutan Information Center said in a statement posted on Facebook. “74 air rifle bullets, damaged eyes, fractured bones, sharp tool wound and not to mention a deep traumatic condition, yet she doesn’t give up.”
There is still hope for Hope, in other words. Yet she will likely require intense care for months to recover fully from the injuries, which were most probably inflicted on her by villagers or workers at a palm oil plantation.
In Indonesia, where vast swathes of forest have been cut down in recent decades to make way for palm oil plantations, orangutans have lost most of their natural habitats. Driven by habitat loss, wild orangutans often raid orchards and plantations for food where they are then attacked and often killed by irate locals.
The future is looking bleak for wild orangutans, which are endemic to Indonesia and Malaysia. Between 1999 and 2015 as many as 100,000 of the critically endangered primates perished on the island of Borneo alone as a result of human activities, according to a recent study published in the journal Current Biology.
“[B]etween 1999 and 2015, half of the (island’s) orangutan population was affected by logging, deforestation, or industrialized plantations,” the researchers write. “Although land clearance caused the most dramatic rates of decline, it accounted for only a small proportion of the total loss. A much larger number of orangutans were lost in selectively logged and primary forests, where rates of decline were less precipitous, but where far more orangutans are found.”
Borneo has one of the highest rates of deforestation in the world. On average 350,000 hectares of forests were cleared each year between 2001 and 2016. Deforestation, if continued at the current rate, could wipe out another 45,000 members of the species over the next 35 years, the researchers say.
But it isn’t just habitat loss that has been driving orangutans closer to extinction. Often they are killed by farmers for eating their crops. “When these animals come into conflict with people on the edge of a plantation, they are always on the losing end,” an expert notes. “People will kill them.” Orangutans, especially babies, are also routinely seized from forests by wildlife traffickers for the exotic pet trade. The apes are likewise targeted by hunters and even killed for sport by some people, at times with sadistic savagery.