Dean M. Chriss Photography

Ning Ning, Baby Orangutan


Ning Ning Portrait #1
Ning Ning, Portrait # 1

I was walking with my wife, Lee, when we first met Ning Ning in a park near Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Ning Ning and her keeper were walking hand in hand down a path with Ning Ning being restrained only by the keeper's hold on her hand. When we stopped to talk to the keeper, the small three-year-old orangutan took Lee’s hand and pulled herself up, wanting to be held. Lee obliged, cradling Ning Ning in her arms while the small orangutan played with her necklace. I was struck by the gentleness of this infant being, and her need for nurturing. The next time we saw Ning Ning she was surrounded by a busload of tourists, and had become very agitated. The images here were made afterward, as we tried to help calm the baby orangutan.
Ning Ning's story, like that of all orangutans taken from the wild, is tragic. Baby orangutans are in demand as pets, and the young can be separated from their fiercely defensive mothers only by killing the mother. The babies are then taken and sold for extremely high prices. They often refuse to eat and are transported under terrible conditions. Between six and eight of them die for each one that survives. Orangutans live up to 60 years in captivity, but once grown they have many times the strength of a human and cease being good pets.

This cruelty, apart from the toll it takes on individual orangutans, is a death sentence for the entire specie. Female orangutans usually have only three or four offspring during their lifetime. With such a low reproduction rate and so few orangutans remaining, every individual counts. Additionally, the only habitats that support wild orangutans are vanishing at an astonishing rate.

Ning Ning Portrait #2
Ning Ning, Portrait # 2

Ning Ning Portrait #3
Ning Ning, Portrait # 3
Ning Ning has undoubtedly experienced unimaginable trauma in the time since her birth in the rainforest. In spite of this she remains a gentle being. Her life is no longer traumatic, but it will be spent captive among humans, in a world where she does not belong.
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Copyright 2002 Dean M. Chriss
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