Rescue report: from the frontlineKristi Odom and Danielle da Silva, Founders of Photographers Without Borders, shadowed the Human Orangutan Conflict Response Unit (HOCRU) in Sumatra. Here we share an evocative account written by Kristi of the rescue of a wild male orangutan, which highlights the incredible dedication of the rescue team.
A 3:45am wake up, a few very bumpy Indonesian flights (my 11th flight this trip), an hour travel through Sumatra to our hotel and Danielle and I were totally spent. It was now 11pm and finally we got into some crazy comfy beds, started to close our eyes, then the phone rang. Danielle picked up the phone, it was Panut Hadisiswoyo, (one of the world’s leading conservationists, a National Geographic Emerging Explorer award winner, founder of the Orangutan Information Centre, and just overall badass). An orangutan had just been found lost in farmlands that needed to be rescued, it was around a 10 hour drive and the team was gathering to leave at midnight. Danielle turned to me, “want to join?” That was all we needed, we both got up from that crazy soft bed and started getting our gear together.
The drive through the night across Sumatra was bumpy, but Danielle and I both slept, really slept, while the team drove. The team was determined…no music, not much conversation, one short prayer stop in the morning… They even said at one point, that they didn’t need sleep and tapped their heart. Even though they have rescued hundreds of animals, their eyes light up with their heart and passion. It was inspiring to see that much life in a person, in a team.
We arrived in the late morning to the farm, and luckily the orangutan was still there, scared and blind, wandering through lines of planted trees and far from his home. The team worked seamlessly to surround the primate, and with a homemade tranquilizer blow gun, shot him once in the back. One quick breath was all it took. Ten minutes later the 40 kilo orangutan started walking towards one of the guys, as if asking for help. They clapped and led him in the right direction. He sat, then fell asleep. The team worked together to transport him to the truck, then off to quarantine to get his eyes fixed up. The ultimate goal is to re-release him back into the wild, to a safe place further away from the ever growing farmlands.
After it was all done, Danielle turned to me and asked me how I was feeling. Tears poured and I could barely speak. This team coming together, driving through the night, working together to save this one beautiful animal overwhelmed me (as well as this beautiful creature that was just saved).
We arrived back to our hotel, 3:45am after almost 28 hours on this rescue. I turned to Danielle, that was day 1 with this team. Lots of smiles, followed by lots of sleep.