The natural world never fails to surprise us, and this moving encounter between an orangutan and a man in Borneo has melted hearts all over the world.
Amateur photographer Anil Prabhakar captured the fleeting moment, in which one of the Indonesian island’s critically endangered apes stretched out its hand to help a man out of snake-infested water.
Prabhakar was on a safari with friends at a conservation forest run by the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation (BOS) when he witnessed the scene.
He told CNN: “There was a report of snakes in that area so the warden came over and he’s clearing snakes.
“I saw an orangutan come very close to him and just offer him his hand.”
Prabhakar said it was difficult for the guard to move in the muddy, flowing water. It seemed as if the orangutan was saying “May I help you”? to the man, he said.
“I really wasn’t able to click,” he said. “I never expected something like that.
“I just grabbed that moment. It was really emotional.”
Venomous snakes are predators of Borneo’s orangutans, which are under threat from forest fires, habitat loss and hunting.
“You could say snakes are their biggest enemy,” said Prabhakar, a geologist from Kerala in India.
The guard then moved away from the ape and climbed out of the water. When Prabhakar asked why he moved away, “He said, ‘they’re completely wild, we don’t know how they’ll react.’”
Prabhakar said the entire encounter lasted just three or four minutes. “I’m so happy that moment happened to me,” he said.
His photo of the moment has been liked 15,000 times on Instagram.
The orangutan is Asia’s only great ape and is found mostly in Borneo and Sumatra in Indonesia, with the remaining 10% found in Sabah and Sarawak in Malaysia, according to the BOS foundation. It is estimated that the Bornean orangutan population has decreased by more than 80% within the past three generations.
The apes are brought to the conservation forest if they are injured, at risk from hunters or facing destruction of their habitats. Once they are healthy, they are returned to the wild.
They also reproduce very slowly, according to BOS. A female will only give birth every six to eight years in the wild
It was a wild orangutan that offered someone a helping hand after they got stuck in the mud.
He always believed his work may have the power to elicit social and emotional change
“My way of thinking is that every photo can speak for itself,” Prabhakar told The Dodo, “I’m more into trying to portray an emotion I can connect to.”
He became involved with the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation and in 2019, he visited the foundation to learn more about the program.
“This organization rescues orangutans from habitat loss, poachers and those being kept in captivity. They will rescue them and help them get back to the wild.”
“They treat them if they are injured and help with the trauma they’ve faced. Then they move them to a temporary forest, where they can get used to being wild, and release them to the main forest.”
While on a tour of the foundation’s protected land, he saw a crew member entering a small river while approaching the orangutan’s habitat.
Confused, he asked why the man was doing this, they said that a snake was spotted over there.
“Poisonous snakes are dangerous to orangutans, so they have to take care of those things. So, this fellow started cleaning these bushes all along the river, and it was as if he was moving in slow motion because his legs were getting stuck inside the mud.”
“Suddenly, this orangutan came closer to the river banks, sat there and watched what this fellow was doing.”
“When this fellow struggled to pull out his legs, the orangutan put her left hand on the bank of the river and extended her other hand towards him. It was a lovely gesture.”
The orangutan ignored the extended hand, that was out for three minutes trying to help the man, instead, he moved away.
“For me, this was completely new, I never expected to see anything like that. In my mind, this orangutan was trying to help him. It’s human nature — if someone is in trouble, you go there and lend a hand.”
Prabhakar asked the man why he didn’t accept the orangutan’s help, he explained that he was only there as a lifeguard and mustn’t engage with the wild animals.