Is This The World’s Loneliest Orangutan?

3 mins

Thousands of people around the globe are backing a petition to have a 36-year-old orangutan sent to a sanctuary in the UK where she can live out her days with her own kind. By Anthea Ayache

Opal, a 36-year-old female orangutan has lived in solitary confinement for three decades under the care of a zoo owner in South Africa, Brian Boswell.

She was originally born into captivity at a zoo in Durban but moved to Mr Boswell’s Natal Zoo when she was just four. It’s believed she gave birth to a son but reports allege he died of tuberculosis. Opal has lived on her own ever since.

‘Now her empty eyes see only humans who stare, laugh and point fingers at her’ says Cheri Cooke from the Kloof and Highway SPCA (Society of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals).‘They mean no harm; they do not understand her suffering. She is alone with crowds staring. A caged tragedy,’

‘I have pleaded with Mr Boswell to release her to a dedicated primate sanctuary’,  adds Cooke. ‘I have appealed to sanctuaries worldwide, and there is a place for Opal – they wait for her with open arms.’

That hope comes in the form of British animal sanctuary – Monkey World – who have stepped in and offered Opal refuge to live alongside 18 other orangutans. There she would be cared for by experts accustomed to socialising apes who have lived their lives in isolation.

Opal orangutan

Opal has been living on her own for over thirty years. Image: Kloof and Highway SPCA

Founders Steve Smit, and his wife Carol Booth who own Monkey Helpline and are acting on behalf of Monkey World, have worked tirelessly to adopt Opal, meeting with Boswell in April last year in a bid to secure her release to their facility in Devon, England.

But Mr Boswell reportedly refuses to let Opal go, citing climate and transportation dangers.

Last year he told South Africa’s Daily News: ‘Orangutans are naturally semi-solitary animals. We feel it would be detrimental and traumatic for her to endure transportation.’

Opal’s case has garnered worldwide attention thanks to relentless campaigning on behalf of Kloof and Highway SPCA who have been petitioning for her release for over three years.

More than 345,00 people have now signed their petition on Change.org calling on Mr Boswell to release the primate into the care of Monkey Helpline.

Opal orangutan

The change.org petition is calling for Opal to be moved to a sanctuary in the UK. Image: Kloof and Highway SPCA

‘Each day Opal is released from her sleeping cage into her daytime cell,’ says Cooke. ‘There, on a meagre patch of grass with a makeshift jungle gym of poles, she spends every day of her life alone.

‘Her response to this heartlessly barren confinement, when she can take no more and has no hope of privacy or escape, is to fling her own dung at the people watching her degradation.’

Known for their distinctive red fur, orangutans spend most of their time in trees, using long, powerful arms to glide through the branches. These great apes share 96.4 per cent of our genes and are highly intelligent creatures.

Orangutans are a critically endangered species, and according to the WWF there are only approx 120,000 left in total.

To sign the petition to help free Opal, click here.

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