The Sad Story of Leuser, the Sumatran Orangutan
By Jill Harness
Think cats are the only creatures with nine lives? An orangutan named Leuser might disagree.
In February 2004, the 5-year-old Sumatran orangutan was en route to Jakarta—he was destined to be a gift—when a team from the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Program (SOCP) rescued him. The group took him back to a site near Jambi’s Bukit Tigapuluh National Park in central Sumatra, where they helped to retrain him in the ways of wild orangutans. The primate did well—the team noted that he was an excellent nest builder and forager—and in December 2004, they released Leuser into the park to fend for himself as a wild orangutan.
SOCP had high hopes that Leuser would establish himself in the wild, and be a part of saving the species. Both Bornean and Sumatran orangutans are endangered due to habitat loss and hunting. In 2004, it was reported that approximately 7400 Sumatran orangutans remained in the wild (most of the population inhabits the Leuser Ecosystem, so you know where our guy got his name!), but that the population was decreasing.
Unfortunately, being released might have been the worst thing that could have happened to Leuser. In 2006, he was captured and shot by villagers outside of the park.
Once again, SOCP came to the rescue. They managed to save Leuser before he was killed or sold, but by then, he had already been shot 62 times by air rifle pellets; he was even shot in both eyes, blinding him. While the villagers claim they shot him so they could catch him and sell him, officials from the rescue group claim they were really just doing it for "fun." Five of the villagers were prosecuted and sentenced to six months in jail.
After his ordeal, Leuser was given a permanent home with the SOCP. In 2010, the group introduced him to a female orangutan, Gober, who was also blind (this time due to natural causes: she had cataracts). Six months later, Gober gave birth to healthy twins—a boy and a girl. Even if Gober and Leuser can’t ever be released into the wild, they can still play an important role in the survival of their species. And hopefully now that he has a safe home, Leuser won’t have any use for his seven additional lives.