Indonesia orangutans attacked by villagers after fleeing fires

JAKARTA - An endangered Borneo orangutan and her baby escaped from raging fires in Indonesia that destroyed their forest habitat - only to be attacked by angry villagers, an animal rights group said Tuesday (Nov 11).

The malnourished mother and her youngster were found distressed and clinging to one another when they were saved by International Animal Rescue as locals hurled rocks at them and tried to tie them up.

Many apes have recently fled their forest homes which have been engulfed by fires set to clear land and headed to villages to find food, but locals view them as pests and there has been an increase in human-animal conflict.

"It was very fortunate our rescue team got there in time, otherwise the orangutans would have been killed," Karmele Llano Sanchez, the group's program director told AFP. "The mother was quite skinny because she had not been eating for at least a month since the fires started."

The pair, who were rescued last month in West Kalimantan province, have been released into the wild following medical check-ups, and International Animal Rescue is continuing to monitor their health.

The UK-headquartered group has conducted more than a dozen operations in the past two months to save orangutans who have strayed out of their natural habitats.

Illegal forest and agricultural fires set to cheaply clear land for Indonesian plantations have for months cloaked Southeast Asia in thick haze, fouling air across the region, causing many to fall ill, and sending diplomatic tensions soaring.

The fires and resulting region-wide pollution occur to varying degrees each year during the dry season, although in recent days persistent rains have doused many blazes and cleared the air across vast stretches of Southeast Asia.