Why do orangutans need medical check-ups?

Just like humans, orangutans get sick, have medical issues, and need to have regular check-ups when they are in human care. Rescued orangutans often arrive at our rescue centres with illnesses, injuries and even life-threatening conditions. Over time, with medications, treatment and nutritious food, their health improves and they can leave quarantine and spend time with other orangutans in Jungle School. But the medical care doesn’t stop there. 

Above: Jainul sucking on a honey bottle while the vets attempt to draw blood to test his health 

The veterinarians and paramedics at our rescue centres continue to take blood, carry out chest exams, and test faeces. This might happen twice a year or even more, depending on the health of the orangutan, previous tests, and what illnesses they arrived with. Usually a veterinarian and a carer who the individual orangutan is comfortable with will be involved in the medical checks. Below you can see Jainul with Tata, our paramedic at the BORA Rescue Centre. He’s undergoing a simple check of his respiratory tract, and as he’s comfortable with Tata, he eventually lets her listen to his chest. But he doesn’t like it at first!

Thanks to the incredible generosity of our donors, we have two new state-of-the-art medical clinics at our rescue centres, with cutting edge technology that allows staff to undertake many tests onsite. These facilities are helping us reduce our medical costs and speed up the time it takes for results to come through. Starting next month, every orangutan will be scheduled for a complete blood count (haematology) to check for a wide range of diseases and viruses such as hepatitis and herpes.


Above: some of state-of-the-art medical equipment we've been able to purchase for the John Cochrane Medical Clinic and Quarantine Centre at our BORA Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre

Medical checks that can be done at the new medical clinics are:

  1. Haematology
  2. Tuberculosis screening
  3. USG (ultrasound)
  4. Blood chemistry
  5. Urine analysis

Orangutans can become sick with a wide range of illnesses, including respiratory illnesses, gastro-intestinal diseases, and serious conditions such as tuberculosis and malaria that can be life-threatening. When an orangutan arrives at a rescue centre, they are tested for all these illnesses, as well as for COVID-19, parasitic infections and other diseases. They then go into a standard quarantine period to protect other orangutans at the centre from any contagious diseases they may be carrying. 

Above: the team at the John Cochrane Medical Clinic drawing blood from Jainul - thanks to the very handy honey treat that he's distracted by!

The sad truth is that respiratory illnesses and parasitic infections are a much greater risk for captive orangutans as they can catch these illnesses from humans. This is why carers and rescuers wear masks, and sometimes even full PPE, when they rescue orangutans and when they care for them. Even after an orangutan has been tested and cleared for illness, there is still a high risk of their human carers passing diseases onto them, so masks and strict hygiene are vitally important for the entire time an orangutan is in our care.

Above: two of our vets at the SRA Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre, giving Asih a medical check earlier this year

If an orangutan becomes sick or unwell, there are a range of options for treating them. The treatment depends on the severity of the illness and whether it is contagious. If the orangutan has a contagious respiratory or gastro-intestinal illness, they will need to stay in quarantine until they are well and no longer contagious. For diseases like malaria, the symptoms can vary. If an orangutan has serious symptoms, they may need intensive treatment in the vet clinic. However, as malaria is not contagious, they can still be with other orangutans if they have mild symptoms and  are not receiving treatment.

This month is Orangutan Caring Week, so why not send a small gift to show you care?

Images Below

Top Row: Vets and nurses taking blood and temperature from Jainul at the BORA Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre in the new John Cochrane Medical Clinic and Quarantine Centre

Bottom Row: New medicines and medical equipment including an anaesthetic inhalation machine and X-Ray machine set in the SRA Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre 

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