Sumatra’s Orangutans: Chocolate’s Road to Freedom

Chocolate leaves the cage for the last time. Photo: Paul Hilton for Wildlife Asia
Chocolate leaves the cage for the last time. Photo: Paul Hilton for Wildlife Asia

by Paul Hilton for National Geographic

I’m on assignment for Wildlife Asia, heading to one of the release sites in Sumatra to free a critically endangered Sumatran orangutan, named Chocolate.

Our 4 x 4 slides into another ditch as mud flies in all directions. The road into Jantho makes all my previous 4 x 4 experience pale into insignificance. Winching from vehicle to vehicle and then between the trees, the vehicle crawls up another hill.  The journey sends my mind back to the 2012 assignment when we found Chocolate. I was part of an investigation team looking into the illegal palm oil expansion in the Tripa peat swamp, located in the Leuser Ecosystem, home to the largest surviving population of Sumatran orang-utan. I can recall at one point, I asked a group of villagers if they had seen any orang-utans, or knew where I could see one. That was all it took, as minutes later, I was asked to follow a guy on a motorbike down a narrow alleyway, before another motorbike rider appeared and asked us to follow him down a backstreet and into to a nondescript house. As my eyes adjusted to the light, I made out out a small figure sitting on the cement floor at the back of the house. The traders placed the baby orangutan on the floor in front of us.

This excerpt from an article appeared in and is courtesy of National Geographic.  It can be read in its entirety here.

The Orangutan Conservancy helps to support the work of the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme.

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