Photos by Ulet Ifansasti
Text by Erin Reilly
When news photographer Ulet Ifansasti began documenting deforestation in Indonesia more than eight years ago, he had no idea he'd end up spending time with one of the country's most endangered inhabitants. His work in the forest eventually led him to the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme and rehabilitation center where Ifansasti discovered the red-haired apes suffering from this devastation.
"The forestry industry is not thinking about sustainability," he said. "Orangutans in Indonesia are on the verge of extinction as they continue to lose their habitat due to the corporate expansion in the developing country."
All orangutans living at the center were saved from poachers, the illegal pet trade industry or conflict with humans. Staff members and volunteers work around the clock to conserve and rehabilitate this endangered species. Most of the rescued orangutans spend at least four to five years in the center before being released back into the wild.
Orangutans share 97% of their DNA with humans, and need to be taught how to survive in the wild, Ifansasti said, much like children learning about different subjects in school.
"Every afternoon the keepers brought the orangutans out to teach them how to live in nature," he said. "Most would only last a few hours and then they cried to be picked up by their keepers."
One of the most difficult parts about Ifansasti's job was looking into the orangutans eyes as he photographed them because he felt as if they were asking for something, maybe asking for help.
"They are refugees from the forests we have destroyed," he said. "I hope [the orangutans] can get the world's attention."