Bornean orangutan with 104 air gun pellet wounds recovering well from three-hour operation – Orangutan Awareness Week 12-18 November

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A wounded female orangutan, rescued from an oil plantation in the Indonesian part of Borneo where she had been roaming for over a month, has survived an operation to remove 32 of the total 104 air gun pellets in her body.

The orangutan, named Aan, was anesthetised and removed to safety by a rescue team from the Orangutan Foundation and the Indonesian Agency for Conservation of Natural Resources (BKSDA-Kalteng). Aan was X-rayed to discover the extent of her wounds. The X-rays showed that 104 pellets were scattered all over her body, including vital organs, her eyes and ears.

Dr Zulfiqri, a veterinarian from the Orangutan Foundation, assisted by a specialist surgeon from the local Imanuddin Hospital, managed to remove 32 of the pellets lodged in her body and head during a three-hour surgery at the BKSDA-Kalteng office in Pangkalan Bun, Central Kalimantan. Aan has survived the operation and is recuperating in the Orangutan Foundation Veterinary Facility where she is taking food and water, showing an incredible resilience against all she has undergone.

When she was rescued from the oil palm plantation, she had already lost the sight in her left eye and was losing the sight in her right eye day-by-day. The X-rays showed a dozen pellet shots lodged in and around her eyes. Now she has lost sight in both eyes completely, so food and water for her must first be touched or placed in her hands.

It is unlikely that Aan can be released back into the wild, but will remain at Camp Gemini, a release camp within the Lamandau River Wildlife Reserve. Dr Zulfiqri said that: “If necessary, surgery to remove more pellets will continue to be done in stages.”

The Head of the local Conservation Agency based in Pangkalan Bun, Mr Hartono said: “I hope that Aan will now feel more comfortable being in the forest living in a large holding cage. We will work together with the Orangutan Foundation to find the best way so that Aan can continue to live.”

The Orangutan Foundation believe that Aan’s amazing survival story can help highlight the issues facing orangutans, especially the degradation and loss of their natural rainforest home.

Her story also shows that more education and awareness, local cooperation, capacity building of local skills and support are needed to make a difference to the local communities’ understanding of the need to protect orangutans and how they can contribute to the recovery and successful translocation of orangutans to safer, protected areas.

Although protected by law, the endangered orangutans live in the ancient rainforest, much of which is now severely degraded through habitat destruction including logging and conversion to oil-palm plantations. Orangutans come into conflict with humans through encroachment on plantations and village crops and are often viewed as pests by local farmers.

Ashley Leiman OBE, Director of the Orangutan Foundation said: “We have worked in Borneo over 20 years and have never had to rescue three orangutans in four days. The reasons for the increase could be due to the rapid loss of orangutan habitat or it could be because more people are reporting orangutans to the wildlife department whereas before they would have killed them.”

The Orangutan Foundation

In October, the Orangutan Foundation, in cooperation with the Indonesian Natural Resources Conservation Agency of Central Kalimantan, successfully translocated two orangutans into the protected wildlife reserve. The larger male Herlino was rescued from an oil-palm plantation whilst the four-year old female Joson had been kept for the last 4 months in a small cage in a village. Cooperation and collaboration between organisations and local communities is essential to the long-term survival of the orangutan, and a key element of the Orangutan Foundation’s ’20/20 Vision of a Future – for orangutans, forests and people’.

Ashley Leiman OBE, in speaking of this collaboration said: “I am very proud of the progress made so far, even though there is so much more to do: collaboration with oil-palm companies to translocate up to 30 orangutans trapped within plantations, securing funding from the US for the first year’s worth of activities to protect 6,000 orangutans living outside protected areas, providing livelihoods for local communities, and seeing a generation of Indonesian conservationists committed to a future for orangutans, forests and people.

Orangutan Awareness Week runs from Monday 12th November – Sunday 18th November. To support the work of the Orangutan Foundation please visit the website at Terry Pratchett, long-time supporter and Trustee of the Foundation, has recently returned from Borneo, where he has been making a film on orangutans, which will be shown in the New Year.

The Orangutan Foundation works in Indonesian Borneo and Sumatra to protect endangered orangutans by protecting their tropical forest habitat, working with local communities and promoting research and education. It recognises that orangutan habitat is unique in its richness of biodiversity and is crucial for local communities, who are as dependant on the forest as is the orangutan.

In Borneo, the Foundation’s work is focused towards Central Kalimantan, in the Indonesia part of Borneo. In collaboration with the Indonesian government’s local Nature Conservation department (PHKA), the Orangutan Foundation runs a release site for rehabilitated and translocated wild orangutans in the Lamandau River Wildlife Reserve.

The principle threat to wild orangutans on both islands is habitat loss, mostly as forests are cleared for conversion to agriculture, especially vast, monoculture oil palm plantations. Many of the orangutans in these forests die or are killed in the process. Some manage to survive and end up as illegal pets. Those that survive long enough to be confiscated and placed in a rescue centre can be eventually returned to a life in the wild in a protected forest.


1. Aan in oil plantation before capture




2. Aan anaesthetised



3. Bullets near Aan’s eye



4. Aan’s Medical Examination



5. Taking blood samples from Aan



6. Pellet wounds in Aan





7. X-ray of Aan’s head before the operation.




8. X-ray of Aan’s thorax



9. Aan’s surgery



10. Aan is transferred to Camp Gemini in Lamandau River Wildlife

11. Joson soft released, Camp Siswoyo

12. Herlino released, Buluh area, Lamandau Reserve