I’m gripping mommy’s hair, my face warm against her chest while diligently sucking her nipple. Her sweet milk tickles my belly with joy. My eyelids feel heavy, but I fight them long enough to catch the last light of day splashing my hand. Mommy’s hair shines golden specks between my fingers. The sound of chirping birds fades right before I succumb to slumber.
A shrieking noise awakens me. Our house begins to shake. Mommy’s chest is also shaking and her heart pounds hard against my ear. She clutches onto me so deeply that her fingernails break through my skin. Even though she is scared I know I’m safe with her. I have nothing to fear.
And then the sun comes out. But it can’t t be the sun. Stars are still twinkling out the window as we fall from our bed into darkness. Our house collapses all around us. It’s now a pile of broken wood. The bright light hurts my eyes, and my mother’s screams make my ears go numb. There are animals around us. They have rough skin with no hair and big dark eyes with no eyelids or lashes. My mommy shields me from these monsters. I can only see her hair around me.
Suddenly I feel something warm dripping onto my face. Is that red milk coming from mommy’s neck? She lets go of me and falls to the floor besides me. My shield is gone.
I can’t see anything. The strong night sun is blinding me. I poop myself. My heart and stomach hurt. I can’t stop shaking and I want this feeling to go away. I crawl and reach my mommy but she is not moving. Her eyes are open but it looks like she is sleeping. I cry for her to wake up but she won’t. Something grabs me. I hold onto mommy as long as I can, try to melt into her skin, but I am too small and they are too strong. The monsters take me into a box. It’s all black, I feel so cold.
I don’t know where I am. There are heavy grey things around me. They feel cold on my skin and unfamiliar. I can’t see the sky or anything that reminds me of home. I am left there alone for hours with nothing to eat or drink. I miss mommy so much. I close my eyes and search for her. Only when I find her I’m able to fall asleep.
Days pass and the monsters return. They bring me pale food. Its sour and cold but I eat it anyway. One day a monster hurts me. After that different monsters come and hurt me every day. They put things inside me and make me pour red milk like mommy did. It burns, it stings, but I can’t move. The pain is so overwhelming I go to sleep sometimes and wake up all wet and red.
It’s hard to keep track of time when you can’t see the sky. But a lot of time goes by. My hair starts to grow and the box gets smaller. I can barely fit anymore.
After a while pain starts to fade away. I don’t remember my mommy anymore. I can’t find her when I close my eyes. I don’t remember what our house looked like either. I just see these monsters and this box every time I close my eyes and when they’re open.
One day a new monster comes. But it looks different than the others. It has eyes. It has some hair. It makes friendly sounds. The monster opens the box and gently grabs my arm.
I am six years old. Its eyes are kind and I understand that I’m going to be OK. The nice monster takes me into a moving box and we travel for a while. The sun is shining when we arrive. This place looks familiar. It looks green and alive. I feel the breeze on my face for the first time in twelve years. I cry. There are many young children in this place, and babies also. None of them have a mommy. Just like me.
And then I see her. I see my mommy.
But she is not mine. She looks just like her, with long and soft red hair and kind brown eyes.
The monster that rescued me walks up to her and gently pats her back. As they stand together I realize that monsters and us, tree people don’t look so different after all. When greed and darkness are not present in their eyes, humans and orangutans are in fact very much alike.
This short story was based on the real life events of ‘Pony’ the Orangutan. In 2003, Pony was found in captivity, being used as a prostitute in a remote village in Borneo. The following is an extract from the ‘Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation’ on Pony’s tragic history and remarkable journey back into the wild.
Pony was confiscated by the Central Kalimantan Conservation and Natural Resources Authority (BKSDA), working together with the BOS Foundation and local security forces, from a prostitution house in Kareng Pangi village, Central Kalimantan, in 2003. She was only around 6 years old at the time of confiscation.
Unthinkably, Pony was herself treated as a prostitute. Men could pay a certain amount of money to the house owner to have sex with her.
No-one knew how long Pony had been there. The house owner strongly refused to give up Pony. To her, Pony was a cash machine and a source of luck. It was not an easy effort to release Pony from this dreadful place; anyone who tried to do so faced an army of local people who were armed with cleavers, ready to fight for the house owner.
Following an exhausting process that lasted for a year, the BOS Foundation and BKSDA together with the police and military forces, persuaded the house owner to give Pony to the BOS Foundation. Pony first came to Nyaru Menteng on February 13, 2003. She was in a sad and horrible condition. The house owner had shaved off all of her hair and her body was covered in mosquito bites. She couldn’t stop scratching the bites and her skin had become infected.
A long rehabilitation process for Pony
In Nyaru Menteng, Pony received the much needed care she required after being subjected to such a terrible ordeal, and started to undergo the rehabilitation process. Living for so long with humans and being treated so appallingly whilst in captivity, it was not easy for Pony to learn to live as a wild orangutan.
Pony has been going through a long process of rehabilitation to forget her ordeal and regain her wild nature to become a true orangutan. She has lived in a socialisation complex with other female orangutans and also joined the Forest School. In 2005, Pony was placed on Bangamat Island, which is one of our pre-release islands, to encourage her to live more independently. Unfortunately, she was not ready for this advance stage of the learning process. Pony was not used to the trees. She preferred to stay on the ground. When hungry, she would wait for the technicians to give her food without ever trying to forage by herself. Unlike other orangutans, she never explored the island. Her travel was limited to crossing a small river between the islands to go to the technicians’ camp and ask for food.
Seeing that her skills only showed limited development, regretfully, Pony had to be brought back to the socialisation enclosure in Nyaru Menteng.
New Home, New Life for Pony
On her return to the socialisation complex, patiently the Nyaru Menteng technicians continued to take care of her and teach her the survival skills orangutans need to successfully live in the forest. Often, she would join younger orangutans at the forest school.
Now, 17 year old Pony has finally received another chance to live on a pre-release Island. June 29, 2013, and together with another 7 female orangutans, Pony was translocated to Kaja Island.
Her survival skills are growing satisfactorily compared to previous years. She is now able to make a nest and shows wild behaviour. This female weighs 72.1 kg and is now very dominant compared to her friends.