Orang-utan Rescue

Orang-utan Rescue

Part of BBC1’s Burning East strand, this wildlife special saw Michaela Strachan reporting from East Kalimantan in Indonesian Borneo on the aftermath of the fires and their impact on the highly endangered orang-utan. She joined Willie Smits and his Orang-utan Rescue Team from the Wanariset Orang-utan Centre for three weeks. Within the first four days she helps rescue twenty orphaned orang-utans. The film follows the progress of three of the rescued orphans – two year old female Harapan (‘hope’), Berani (‘brave one’) a tiny male who is critically ill, and ‘Gunshot’, a badly injured four year old female who has has a bullet wound in her upper thigh and has lost a finger.

The film includes the dramatic rescue of three wild orang-utans trapped and starving in an isolated area of forest that is about to be cut down.

This involved darting the animals and trying to catch them as they fell into nets held by Michaela and the team. This was extremely hazardous and during one capture a 100lb orang-utan nearly fell on Michaela’s head. This sequence also bought some heart wrenching decisions. One of the orang-utans rescued was a mother but the team were unable to capture her three year old baby. With a helicopter arriving to move the animals to a protected forest the mother was moved and a team had to be left to find the baby. Finally three days later the baby was found and reunited with its mother. It is a reunion that dramatically shows the deep bond between mother and baby orang-utan.

The program ended with an appeal. Over 94 000 callers donated money, crashing the phone network. Some rang up in tears. One viewer pledged £75,000 on the Balikpapan Orang-utan Society website. Children sent in their pocket money. There were an overwhelming number of letters and emails from viewers saying how they were moved to tears, with hundreds volunteering to help at the Wanariset Centre.


“Even a cynic couldn’t fail to be moved! And I’m talking amber alert on the Kleenex” Victor-Lewis Smith, Evening Standard

“I have never been so moved by a TV programme” Mike Neary, Manchester

“I was so moved by what I saw in Orang-utan Rescue that suffice it to say that as a grown man I rarely find myself in tears” Maglio Viracca, Sheffield

“You wouldn’t normally describe a nature programme as action-packed, but this is an emotional roller-coaster ride which includes some very harrowing footage” Daily Mail Pick of the Day

“(This) has to be one of the most powerful conservation films ever made” Keith Scholey, Head of BBC Natural History Unit

“A distressing and touching documentary” Daily Telegraph

“The most touching environmental program I have seen in many year” Neil Nightingale, Executive Producer, BBC Natural World

To view press clippings for Orang-utan rescue CLICK HERE


International Wildlife Film Festival, Missoula 2000 – Merit Award for Emotional Impact

Wildscreen 2000 – Finalist, Best Conservation Film

Media Natura, British Environment and Media Awards 1999 – Finalist Best Documentary

Genesis Awards 1998 – Brigitte Bardot International Award, Special Commendation




  • Presenter:
    Michaela Strachan
  • Photography:
    Paul Williams
  • Music:
    Dimitri Tchamouroff
  • Editor:
    Alan Mackay and Sabrina Burnard
  • Producer/Director:
    Sarah Cunliffe
  • Executive Producer:
    Phil Fairclough