More than meets the eye in photo of orang utan 'offering help' to man

In this photo posted by geologist Anil Prabhakar, an orang utan seemingly offers a helping hand to a man who is chest-deep in a pond.
In this photo posted by geologist Anil Prabhakar, an orang utan seemingly offers a helping hand to a man who is chest-deep in a pond.PHOTO: ANIT_T_PRABHAKAR/INSTAGRAM

JAKARTA (THE JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - A picture of an orang utan seemingly offering a helping hand to a man who was chest-deep in a pond received a warm reception globally from social media users after a geologist, Mr Anil Prabhakar, posted the picture on his Instagram account.

"Let me help you? Once humanity dies in mankind, sometimes animals are guiding us back to our basics," Mr Anil wrote in his account.

He was in Samboja, East Kalimantan, on a tour in an orang utan facility managed by the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation (BOSF).

"There was a report of snakes in that area so the warden came over and he was clearing snakes," he told CNN.

"I saw an orang utan come very close to him and just offer him his hand."

It seemed as if the orang utan was saying "May I help you?" to the man, he said. "I just grabbed that moment. It was really emotional."

Dr Jamartin Sihite, the chief executive officer of the BOSF, confirmed that the moment happened in a BOSF facility on island No. 6, where the female orang utan, Anih, 25, lives.

"We're very happy to see the positive responses people give to this picture," Dr Jamartin said.

"Looking at this picture, we cannot help but wonder that wild animals could be kinder to human beings than us to them," he told The Jakarta Post on Monday (Feb 10).

Dr Jamartin said the man in the water, Mr Syahrul, was an employee at BOSF.

"Anih and Syahrul have known each other since the 1990s," he said. Anih was brought to the facility by someone in that decade.

"Syahrul was doing the maintenance in the picture," Dr Jamartin explained.

Dr Jamartin said that in the picture it looked like Anih was offering help to Mr Syahrul.

"But based on our experience, she could have been asking for food from Syahrul. It shows that that orang utan has become dependent on human beings," Dr Jamartin said.

Island No. 6 is one of the islands where BOSF keeps rescued orang utans that could not be returned to the wild. It is called an "island" because the area was surrounded by 5m-wide trenches filled with water as deep as 2m. Anih lives with Romeo, 34, another orang utan who was returned from Taiwan, in an area of only about one hectare.

Anih and Romeo no longer have the skill to survive in the wild because they were separated from their mothers when they were very young and have since been relying on human beings for food.

"By keeping them on such an island, they could enjoy a habitat close to their original one and at the same time we could keep an eye on them," he said.

Dr Jamartin said that however friendly the interactions between orang utans and human beings, orang utans belong in the wild.

"Help them by preserving their habitat," he said.

Established in 1991, BOSF works for the conservation of Bornean orang utans. It rescues orang utans and reintroduces them into the wild. They also keep the ones that could not be returned to nature, like Anih and Romeo, in their facility in Samboja, about 50km from Balikpapan.