I’d like to share with you a lovely story…
In October 2000, I went to Tanjung Puting National Park, Central Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo to join the Orangutan Foundation Volunteer Programme . Back then, illegal logging of the national park was in full flow and because of this our group of 12 volunteers found it hard to keep our spirits up. The whole reality of the situation came crashing down on us one day when we heard that an injured orangutan had been found close to where we were working.
Bankal in 2000 just after he was found.
Bankal, a sub-adult male aged about 11 years old, was found injured and weak. He had an open wound across his face and a horrible burn down the side of his face and neck. The cause of his injuries was all too clear, boiling oil had been thrown over him by illegal loggers. No one else would have done this. It is probably one of the most heartbreaking things I have ever witnessed. He was rushed to the Orangutan Care Centre and Quarantine Facility, run by Orangutan Foundation International, where he was given emergency surgery.
Despite all he went through, Bankal remained incredibly gentle and trusting. During his recuperation, he developed a unique way of protecting himself from annoying insects, by using a blanket to cover his injured face. He would lift the blanket to allow people to feed him.
Sadly, this was not the first tragic encounter Bankal had had with humans. It is likely that his mother was killed when he was still an infant. He was caught, and may have been sold into the illegal pet trade. Luckily he was discovered and confiscated by the Indonesian Authorities. He then began the long, slow process of rehabilitation. Bankal was a quick learner and his gentle, intelligent manner made him a favourite with everyone who cared for him. He was first released into Tanjung Puting National Park and he became more and more independent and rarely needed to come to the feeding station.
Bankal recovered from his burn injuries and he was eventually released again in 2003, but this time into the Lamandau River Wildlife Reserve. This June, almost 11 years after my first encounter with Bankal, I unexpectedly saw him again – this time in much happier circumstances. I was leading a group of our supporters, from Steppes Discovery, which had been given permission by the Agency for Natural Resources Conservation (BKSDA) to visit the reserve for the afternoon. As we walked through the forest an Orangutan Foundation staff member pointed out an orangutan on the forest floor. It was hard to make him out but when they said it was Bankal my heart jumped. I was so thrilled to meet him again and see what a beautiful, magnificent adult male he had grown into.
Bankal in 2011 – photo by Jenny Aundrews
I am confident that Bankal will spend the rest of his life in the wild. His habitat is being protected and this we owe him. With a new vet programme in place we continue to monitor the orangutans that have been released. With local communities, the Agency for Natural Resources Conservation and a local NGO, Yayorin we are safeguarding the future of this reserve for orangutans, forests and people.
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