Di- Di’s Story

Di- Di’s Story

Di-Di is one of the lucky ones. Mrs Hsiou Chang cares for her like her own daughter but as adolescent Di-Di gets older she is becoming increasingly difficult. Di-Di was taken from the forests of Indonesia as a tiny baby.  Dr. Willie Smits from the Indonesian Ministry of Forestry is determined to end this cruel trade. Four years ago he set up the Wanariset Orang-utan Centre in Indonesian Borneo with the help of local school children. Now looking after more than two hundred orphaned apes, Smits and the Taiwan Orang-utan Foundation have set up a program to return Taiwan’s smuggled apes to Indonesia. Di-Di’s Story follows her emotional journey from city dweller back to the forest.

More than 50% of the world’s orang-utans have disappeared in the past thirty years. Today, experts believe that no more than thirty thousand survive. The orang-utan has one of the slowest reproduction rates of all primates – a new mother will not give birth again for up to eight years. In Borneo, where the populations are deeply fragmented, the orang-utan could be extinct within 25 years.

Of the one thousand or so animals smuggled to Taiwan in the eighties, today Di-Di is one of only 283 registered survivors. For every baby, a mother has been killed. For every survivor it’s thought at least four more orang-utans never survived. Add up the numbers and the figures are frightening – up to 10% of the world’s orang-utans could have disappeared in the 1980s just to fuel Taiwan’s luxury pet trade. Worse, whilst international smuggling has now all but stopped, orang-utan hunting continues in South East Asia and particularly in the Indonesian province of Kalimantan in Borneo, which has the largest remaining population of orang-utans.

“The only way to protect the orang-utan is to enforce the law. To really make the people value the orang-utan” explains Smits. “We have an active confiscation programme here and any animals found in East Kalimantan are bought to the Wanariset Centre. Ours is very different from other projects, all the animals here have to pass through a strict quarantine process. Then, when our medical team clear them as healthy they are put into what we call socialisation groups, in which the animals learn to rely on each other rather than humans”.

The highly publicised return in 1991 of the so called ‘Taiwan 10’ (all of which eventually came to Wanariset) caused a political rift between Indonesian and Taiwanese officials, but in the face of rising numbers of unwanted orang-utans and nowhere for them to go, they had to bury their differences. In 1993 it was decided orang-utans would once again be repatriated to Indonesia. Their aim was to send a clear message that it was wrong to keep orang-utans. Taiwan promised to take more steps to curb international smuggling and improve its legislation. One of the animals offered a place was Di-Di. Her eventual return to her rainforest home is told in this moving film.

Orang-utans desperately need your help.


“This moving film shows a remarkable relationship between human and animal.” The Guardian

“This beautifully made film charts Di-Di’s rehabilitation as she learns to live in the wild again.” Daily Mail

“If you tune in for Di-Di’s Story make sure you have a box of tissues at hand. DiDi is an orang-utan and this moving film follows her journey home to the jungle.” Evening Mail

“Di-Di the Orang-utan was a brilliant documentary made over a long period of time and enormously involving.” Sunday Telegraph

“A documentary that will leave no heart untouched.” Evening Standard

“Many orang-utans (with faces of unbearable tenderness) were illegally smuggled to Taiwan to be sold as pets – have a box of tissues ready.” The Observer

“The beautifully made film charts Di-Di’s rehabilitation as she learns to live in the wild.” TV Times

“Exceptionally moving, stock up on the Kleenex.” Time Out

“From the number of telephone calls we have received it is evident that you stirred much concern for the fate of orang-utans. The power of the pen, and the camera, can muster a mountain of human interest.” International Primate Protection League


Festival International du Film Animalier d’Albert 1998 – 1st Prize Best Environmental Film

New York Film Festival 1995 – World Medal Best International TV Programming

Wildscreen 1996 – Finalist Best People/ Animal Documentary




  • Narrator:
    Julian Pettifer
  • Photography:
    Chris Openshaw
  • Music:
    Stacy Widelitz
  • Editor:
    Dave Dickie
  • Producer/Director:
    Sarah Cunliffe
  • Executive Producer:
    Michael Gunton