The Illegal Pet Trade

While it's been illegal to own or trade orangutans in Indonesia and Malaysia for decades, the orangutan trade continues to flourish.

Most of the illegal trade in orangutans is a byproduct of habitat destruction. As the rainforest is cut down, terrified orangutans have nowhere to go and descend to the ground, where they usually encounter loggers or field workers. These orangutans, who are usually mothers with dependent offspring, are inevitably attacked, killed, and eaten. Their babies are taken from them and either kept as pets or sold into the illegal animal trade. 

Most infants don't survive the harsh journey to the wildlife markets in Jakarta, Bali, or other international locations. Poor care, disease, injury and the psychological trauma of losing their mothers means most captive infant orangutans don't survive their first year. It's estimated that for every orangutan that does survive, another six to eight die. 

If an orangutan does survive the journey, for the first 2-3 years of their life they will make cute and appealing pets. However, by three or four years old an orangutan will already be as strong as an adult human, and by the time an orangutan is reaching maturity at 10 years old, it will be five to seven times as strong as a male human. At this stage, most owners keep the orangutan permanently caged, kill it, or discard it. The lucky few will be confiscated.

There are currently over 1,500 hundred orangutans in rehabilitation centers in Borneo and Sumatra.

The impact of this trade is discussed in the UNEP Report "Last Stand of the Orangutan."