Sometimes a look says more than a thousand monkey sounds. When little Taymur saw his native Borneo again for the first time at the end of 2017, he looked out of the car window with wide eyes and disbelieving amazement.
At that time, the orangutan boy was just two years old. But what he has already been through in his short life - including drug addiction - moves animal lovers all over the world and is making international headlines. Would the tiny, weakened baby primate ever find new will to live? Many doubted. Now, six years later, Taymur is well on his way to becoming what he always should have been: wild and free.
Thanks to the BOS (Borneo Orangutan Survival) Foundation, the now eight-year-old has been in the "forest university" for a few days - the last step before great freedom. The head of BOS Germany, Daniel Merdes, also experienced first hand the moment in which Taymur took the first steps towards independence. He is also the one who opens the cage on the pre-poaching island and reveals to Taymur a world he has not known for far too long. It was a “magical moment,” Merdes told the German Press Agency. A kind of Christmas miracle. But from the beginning:
Exotic animals in demand in Gulf states
Taymur was orphaned as an infant. His mother was probably killed on a palm oil plantation. Orangutans who wander hungry on plantations are often ruthlessly killed - especially when they have offspring. The young are taken from their dying mothers and sold for profit on the illegal wildlife market. And so the traumatized Taymur suddenly found himself as a baby in Kuwait, more than 7,000 kilometers away.
In the Gulf States it is considered chic to own an exotic wild animal. According to the BOS, the trade in protected animals and plants ranks fourth in global organized crime - with an estimated annual turnover of between 8 and 20 billion euros.
But Taymur is lucky in misfortune: in 2016 he is discovered by chance in a car accident involving his rich Kuwaiti owner. The drug-addicted man confesses to police that he also gave drugs to his passenger - one-year-old Taymur - "for fun." It is not entirely clear which drugs were involved. “When he was seized, Taymur was already completely exhausted and also showed behavioral problems,” Merdes said at the time. The fact that he survived was nothing short of a miracle.
Difficult diplomatic negotiations
The little orangutan is confiscated and placed in the Kuwait Zoo. Once again he finds himself in a new, unfamiliar environment, without any maternal care. He's probably going through cold turkey there too.
Then Taymur is lucky again: The BOS Foundation steps in and - together with the Indonesian government - wants to bring him back to his homeland and his natural habitat. But all sides want to save face in the tussle over the little primate - and so almost a year of complicated diplomatic negotiations follow.
In 2017, Taymur finally flies to Jakarta accompanied by a veterinarian and, after quarantine, is taken to the BOS protection center Nyaru Menteng in Central Kalimantan. Now it's important for him: Taymur has to learn everything again. Orangutan children actually live with their mothers for the first six to eight years, who provide them with all the knowledge they need for life in the jungle - how to find food, build sleeping nests, and protect themselves from enemies.
Taymur's remarkable transformation
Orangutan means “man of the forest”. The reddish-brown great apes once occurred in large areas of Southeast Asia. Today they only live on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra. It is estimated that they could become extinct in the wild within a few decades - poaching and habitat loss are the biggest threats.
So Taymur goes to forest school. At first he is extremely clingy, doesn't want to let go of his carers and feeds almost exclusively on cucumbers and tea - not the kind of food he would find in the jungle. Even animal rights activists are skeptical as to whether he can ever be released into the wild. But then he showed “a remarkable transformation,” recalls local program manager Denny Kurniawan.
Thanks to his interaction with other orangutans of the same age, he adapts to new conditions and learns quickly. A video from 2019 shows Taymur confidently climbing trees, deftly peeling fruit and romping around with his friends Moza and Junior, also victims of international animal smuggling. “All of this made him an excellent candidate for pre-poaching island,” Kurniawan said. This final stage before freedom is aptly called the “Forest University.”
Washing hands as atypical behavior
And that's where he will be for the next one to three years, in the forest on the river island of Salat Island. Now Taymur has to prove that he is truly ready for the jungle. People should also become strangers to him again - because only when orangutans behave suspiciously and negatively are they truly wild. However, the animals here receive a daily delivery of fruit and vegetables because the island does not provide them with enough food. “I will miss him,” says his former carer Sri. "But I'm so happy that he's now one step closer to freedom."
However, Taymur has never given up an atypical behavior that probably dates back to his time in Kuwait: he constantly washes his hands in the river. "Taymur's life couldn't be crazier. To be honest, I had big doubts about his chances of being released into the wild," says Merdes. "But if a Taymur with the worst possible starting chances can do it, then there is still hope."
Video of Taymur's return to Borneo 2017 Video from 2019 Website BOS Germany report Kuwait Times