Their jungle home blackened and stripped of food by raging wildfires, orangutans on Borneo island are facing extinction, according to wildlife officers.
The wildfires, together with a prolonged drought blamed on the El Nino weather phenomenon, have gutted the red-haired great apes' habitats."There is no fruit, no leaves, no bark. There's nothing for them to eat, no water to drink," said Willie Smits, the head of Wanariset Samboja primate refuge, which specializes in saving orangutans.
Last year, similar fires, many of them deliberately lighted to clear land, produced a massive blanket of smoke over much of Southeast Asia, threatening the health of millions of humans.
As the fires grow in intensity, the apes and other wildlife are this year's first casualties.
"Babies are too weak to cling to their mothers. They are falling out of the trees and are left to die," said Smits.
Villagers and hunters kill apes that leave their remote jungle homes in search of food. Mothers are sometimes hacked to death and their infants sold as exotic pets.
Environmentalists are unsure how many orangutans remain in the wilds of Borneo, but some fear it might be only a few thousand.
"The orangutan is already under heavy threat from forest clearing and hunting," said a recent World Wide Fund for Nature report. "These fires may well be the final push toward extinction."
The few apes that are rescued often end up at Smits' refuge near the city of Samarinda, 750 miles northeast of Jakarta.
Currently it is home to 150 orangutans, most of them infants or juveniles. Another 30 are expected later in the week. They are given food and medical treatment. Those that recuperate are eventually returned to the wild.
One baby ape named Ali wears a diaper as he lies in an incubator.
Others are recovering from wounds inflicted by poachers.
Most are treated for parasites and disease. With 95 percent of their DNA makeup identical to that of humans, some suffer from contagious human illnesses, such as hepatitis B and tuberculosis.
Safe for now, dozens of infant apes play inside large cages. But their problems are far from over.
"It hasn't rained here for 78 straight days," said Smits. "Farmers who have been selling us fruit now have nothing growing in their gardens. It is getting hard to find supplies."