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Many remember the extremely disturbing story of a female orangutan under our care called Pony, who was rescued from a brothel 14 years ago. We continue to receive regular inquires about Pony, who is still being cared for within our rehabilitation center at Nyaru Menteng, in Central Kalimantan.

Pony was brought to Nyaru Menteng in a terrible condition on February 13, 2003. Her hair had been completely shaved off and she was covered in mosquito bites. She received immediate intensive treatment from our dedicated medical team, and over time started to socialize with other orangutans. Pony was placed in our Forest School, where she began to learn forest survival skills under the guidance and loving care of our babysitters.

Pony Returned from Two Different Pre-Release Islands

After spending two years in Forest School, Pony was deemed to have acquired sufficient skills to be moved to the final stage of rehabilitation on a pre-release island. However, on Bangamat Island, technicians reported they observed her spending most of her time on the ground: She appeared disinterested in foraging, preferring instead to wait for the fruit to be distributed at the feeding platform. At that time, Pony seemed to be lacking social skills and competitiveness. Her range was also limited, even though she was once seen crossing the waterway separating the pre-release islands during the dry season.

In July 2010, Pony was moved back to the socialization complex at Nyaru Menteng after failing to thrive. Our technicians paid close attention to Pony’s needs and behavior, and she was occasionally taken back to Forest School where she could relearn some of the basic survival skills she seemed to be lacking. Over time, Pony appeared to build up a sound skillset, which led us to believe she was ready to have another go at the pre-release stage. On June 29, 2013, Pony was transferred to the pre-release island of Kaja. At the time of her release, she weighed 60 kilograms.

Update on Pony (Photo credit: BOSF 2015)

Update on Pony (Photo credit: BOSF 2015)

Update on Pony (Photo credit: BOSF 2015)

Much to our relief, on Kaja Island Pony demonstrated improved natural abilities and wild behaviors: she was more agile; good at foraging; spent a lot of time up in trees; explored deep into the forest; made sturdy nests, and socialized with other orangutans! She seemed to be learning from other orangutans through her interactions with them, which differed vastly from her previous experience on Bangamat Island.

Unfortunately, Pony’s enthusiasm lasted only three months, and in September our technicians found her in a weak and lethargic state. Upon examination, our medical team found that Pony had several wounds, her hair was surprisingly dry, she showed symptoms of chronic malnutrition and she had lost 16 kilograms.

Pony’s condition deteriorated and she suffered from various illnesses and injuries - she even had torn muscles on her fingers and toes and had to undergo regular physiotherapy.

After a month of intensive treatment, and another year under close medical supervision, Pony’s condition improved. In August 2014, she was placed back in a Socialization Complex, which is where she is still located today. This gorgeous female is now 21 years old and in very good health. She has a good appetite and engages with the skill-enhancing enrichment tools provided by our team members.

We hope Pony can one day be successfully introduced to a pre-release sanctuary island with other unreleasable orangutans like her, but we are also realistic in the knowledge that her sad history in human captivity has ultimately damaged her in ways that she will always need our support.

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