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The Harsh & Heartbreaking Reality of the Illegal Orangutan Trade in the UAE

Female orangutan in animal cage feeling sad. Image via Depositphotos

A sad truth and harsh reality to face is that of the illegal trade of orangutans in the UAE. These endangered primates are ripped from their natural habitat when young and sold to the highest bidder. And the sad consequences affect not only the animals themselves, but their populations in the wild. 

Illegal Trade

Screenshot from Rehabilitating The Victims Of The Illegal Orangutan Trade. Source: Youtube, Uploaded: Journeyman Pictures

Like other great apes, orangutans are listed in Appendix I of the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). This means that it is illegal to trade with these animals unless licensed, making it illegal to import, possess, or sell, these great apes as pets


Orangutan (pongo sp.) Located in the conservation area, namely Taman Safari Indonesia, Cisarua, Bogor, West Java. By Sadarachmat – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Despite these laws, the illegal trade of orangutans continues. Along with orangutans, other primates are poached from their natural homes and sold to those who can afford them. Leading to unfair lives in captivity, some cases worse than others. 

But, Why? 

orangutan baby
Image by Wallula from Pixabay

The question on all our minds, and the answer is infuriating! Many people illegally acquire orangutans for the sole reason of having them, despite what the law says in an attempt to demonstrate their wealth, or that they are above the law. What’s worse is that high-ranking officials fall among this group. 

Cruel Affair 

sumatran orangutan
Sumatran orangutans are critically endangered. Image via Depositphotos

Full-grown orangutans are too strong to be captured for illegal trafficking. Resulting in the cruel poaching of baby orangutans, which can only be done by ripping the baby from its mother’s arms. A cruel start to a young orangutans life.

From Bad To Worse 

Female orangutan in animal cage feeling sad. Image via Depositphotos

It is no easy feat ripping a baby orangutan from its mother’s arms, in fact, it is almost impossible. So, to get to the baby poachers shoot or beat their mothers to death. This sad reality harshly decreases the already endangered population of orangutans, while cruelly traumatizing the poor babies. All because someone wants an illegal pet. 

Words From An Ex-Poacher 

Orangutan in the wild. Image via Depositphotos

“Every time the mother got on a tree, we’d cut down that tree, and when she hopped onto another tree we’d cut that one down too. We’d keep cutting down until she had nowhere else to go.”  – Orangutan smuggler turned informant


Screenshot from Rehabilitating The Victims Of The Illegal Orangutan Trade. Source: Youtube, Uploaded: Journeyman Pictures

Baby orangutans are often drugged while smugglers transport them. Their destination differs depending on the situation, but often these animals are smuggled into the UAE where wealthy individuals buy them at exorbitant prices as a display of status or for presonal entertainment. 

Mortality Rate  

Orang Utan sitting on a tree in national park Tanjung Puting Kalimantan Borneo Indonesia. Image via Depositphotos.

What’s even more saddening is the number of orangutans that have to die for a single one to reach the illegal pet trade. These primates often succumb to their trauma, stress from the capture, poor handling, and inadequate care. 

Organized Crime 

Image via Depositphotos.

Unfortunately, like all animal poaching, the illegal trade of orangutans is done by well-organized criminal gangs. They have the resources like weapons, transport, and tranquilizers they need to perform their task. As well as the mindset to do whatever it takes, to whoever comes their way to complete their poaching mission. 

How Many? 

Image via Depositphotos.

Determining the exact number of orangutans involved in the illegal trade is difficult. So is the number lost due to illegal hunting of these animals. What is evident, however, is that it is a significant number, especially if you look at how many of these animals are harmed or killed for just one to enter the illegal industry. 

Life In Captivity 

Image via Depositphotos

These poor orangutans who are forced to live in captivity suffer both physically and emotionally. They are often forced to live in inhumane conditions in cramped cages deprived of their natural behaviors and needed social interactions. What is worse many of them suffer from malnutrition, disease, and the resulting trauma from their trafficking. 

No Life For A Wild Animal 

Image by @femkedenhaas via Instagram

The wealthy illegal pet owners find their orangutan pets cute for the first 2 to 3 years of their lives. But who wouldn’t? Baby orangutans are adorable! However, their sentiments change as the primates grow older. At around 4 years old orangutans are as strong as an adult human male, and when they reach maturity at 10, they are 7 times stronger! 

More Cruelty 

Image via Depositphotos.

Around the time these animals become as strong, or stronger than their owners, their appeal is lost. Resulting in their illegal owners permanently shoving them in a cage, killing, or disposing of them. However, a lucky few might be confiscated and taken to a rehabilitation center at this stage. 

Rehabilitation Centers 

Image via Depositphotos.

Another heartbreaking truth: often by the time the traumatized orangutans reach a rehabilitation center, they have lost many of their natural capabilities. Some of these primates arrive at the centers unable to climb a tree due to their many years of living in confinement, and even sadder, some arrive in a state where they are unable to be rehabilitated. 

The Impact 

Image via Depositphotos

Not only does the illegal orangutan trade have a devastating impact on individual animals, but on their population too. Orangutans are listed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN Red List due to the loss of their habitat due to deforestation and palm oil plantations. And the illegal pet trade poses yet another threat to their survival. 

What Is Being Done? 

Young Orangutan with funny pose swinging on a rope. Image by Depositphotos

Conservation efforts are in place to combat the illegal trade and the protection of orangutans in the wild are in place, but it is clear that they need to be strengthened. Stricter enforcement of laws should be applied – even to those who consider themselves above the law. 

What Can I Do? 

Image via Depositphotos

Conservation starts at home, and we can aim to eliminate palm oil products in our lives to help these animals. We can also talk about what is happening to orangutans in the illegal pet trade to increase awareness and education or support sanctuaries and rehabilitation centers that provide these animals with a safe environment. 

Harsh Reality of the Illegal Orangutan Trade

Sad ape or monkey is in the cage. Animal abuse ,neglect and cruelty. Image via Depositphotos

The detrimental impacts of this illegal trafficking and pet keeping of orangutans on the individuals and their population are cruel and unfair. And it is crucial to their survival in the wild that steps are taken to apprehend the offenders and protect these incredible primates. 

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Orangutan learn from their Mum
Orangutan learn everything they need from their mum. Image via Bruce Poon, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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