Illegal Pet Trade and Poaching

Wild orangutan numbers are also affected by the illegal pet trade, particularly for baby orangutans.

Each year, many orangutans are smuggled from their habitats in Borneo and Sumatra to Java and overseas. The exact number of great apes that enter the pet trade is unknown, but orangutans make up the majority of the victims.

A baby orangutan kept illegally as a pet

While orangutans are protected by both national laws and international conventions, authorities rarely prosecute and penalties are mild. For every baby that makes it to the backstreet markets of Bangkok or Taiwan, another two have perished. And to ‘harvest’ the babies a further five mothers are killed.

The practice of keeping wild animals as pets is widespread in many parts of Indonesia, and wildlife markets are a feature of most large towns and cities. Although illegal, the keeping of primates as pets is common, and these primates, most often orangutans and gibbons, may be kept by families, in good conditions, in the same way people in western countries keep cats and dogs. In some circumstances, people also want to keep orangutans as a status symbol, to show their wealth and power.

Like all great apes, orangutans have slow life histories, and for the first few years of their lives, are docile, sweet and gentle. However, at around five years of age, an orangutan already has the strength of an adult male human, and by maturity, will be as strong as five to seven adult male humans, with an unpredictable and possibly aggressive nature that makes them unsuitable as pets.  At this stage, many pet orangutans are killed or kept in confinement.


Easier access and encroachment of people into the orangutan forests also leads to increased hunting of orangutans for meat, babies and skulls, and more recently for orangutan penises.

As well as being consumed as bushmeat, body parts find their way into medicinal products or become tourist souvenirs. When adult females are killed, the babies can be sold as part of the illegal pet trade and the skulls of the dead may be used to create souvenirs that are sold illegally throughout Kalimantan.

One of the more complex issues in orangutan conservation is the hunting of orangutans by local people for food, something conservationists have often shied away from dealing with, for fear of offending local sensitivities.

The introduction of both Christianity and Islam to the region has seen a modification in the beliefs and practices of many of the indigenous people, and today, most Muslim communities generally refrain from eating orangutan meat. However, there is still a large local variation in this activity, and whether or not orangutans are hunted is strongly linked with tribal and village identity.

As part of BOSA’s commitment to saving these critically endangered great apes, we invest heavily in educating local communities, helping them to coexist peacefully alongside wild orangutans.




How Can You Help

There are lots of ways you can support orangutans and help ensure the survival of this precious ape.

Adopt an Orangutan

Adopt an Orangutan

Orangutans are endangered and at risk of extinction. Habitat destruction means hundreds of orphan orangutans need to care for every year. You can help by adopting one. Their dedicated ‘nannies’ teach them everything they need to know for when it’s time to release them back to the wild. You can follow their progress through Forest School.

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Make a Donation

Make a Donation

Please help the Orangutans in their struggle for survival. Your donation is important and goes directly to BOS Indonesia. By donating, you are helping bring this noble yet endangered species back from the brink of extinction and on a path to freedom - from rescue to rehabilitation and release.

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Visit Our Shop

Visit Our Shop

The perfect gift for any occasion! Choose from our selection of instant gifts that directly support our orangutans. You can buy a wheelbarrow, provide food for an orangutan for two months or lots more. You will receive a certificate, personalised with the name of your choice - perfect gift for you or a friend.

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