Blind Sumatran orangutan mother able to see her baby twins for first time after ground breaking cataract surgery

Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme (SOCP)

Jl. Wahid hasyim No 51/74
North Sumatra

The PanEco Foundation
partners with
Yayasan Ekosistem Lestari
Ditjen PHKA (Indonesian Ministry of Forestry)

Blind Sumatran orangutan mother sees her baby twins for first time after ground breaking cataract surgery

The Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme is delighted to announce that cataract surgery was performed on an elderly, blind female orangutan named “Gober” on Monday 27th August at 13.00.

Gober is unique, as in addition to being blind in both eyes, she is also the mother of two 18 month old twin infants, “Ganteng” (male) and “Ginting” (female). Furthermore, the father of the twins is also blind, as a result of being shot 62 times by an air rifle several years ago, 2 pellets being lodged in one eye and 1 in the other.

“Twin orangutan births are not unheard of, “ explained Dr Ian Singleton, Conservation Director of the Swiss based PanEco Foundation and head of the SOCP, “I have heard of some 10 to 15 cases in my career, but twins whose parents are both blind is totally unique”.

Gober came from an area of mixed rubber trees and natural forest, where she had lived wild and reared a number of infants over many years. She was captured in late 2008 for her own safety, as she had become blind due to cataracts, probably as a result of her advancing years. “Based on the condition of her teeth we estimate she is probably well over 40 years old, and if we hadn’t brought her here she would have been killed by local farmers, as she was raiding their crops to survive”, stated SOCP veterinarian drh Yenny Saraswati. She now resides at the SOCP’s orangutan quarantine centre near Medan, in North Sumatra, Indonesia.

“Normally we don’t encourage orangutans at the centre to breed, as there are already far too many orangutans in captivity in Indonesia. We much prefer they do that after they have left, and are once again living free in the wild. But we made an exception in Gober’s case, since we knew she was a good mother and felt that being blind, it would dramatically improve her quality of life. We therefore introduced her a couple of years ago to another blind orangutan, a male named Leuser, who is blind in both eyes, as a result of being shot 62 times by an air rifle (twice in one eye and once in the other). But even then we were all very surprised when she produced twins”.

As predicted, despite her blindness Gober has been an exemplary mother to the twins and when an opportunity arose to operate, and perhaps restore her sight, the SOCP jumped at the chance. The surgery was performed on Monday 27th by Dr R. Arie Umboh, a “human” eye specialist from Samarinda, assisted by Ms. Juliana Sasambe, and SOCP vets drh Yenny and drh Rachmad Wahyudi. It lasted just 40 minutes and so far all appears to be going well. “We found no evidence of any damage to the retina of either eye and so I am very hopeful that Gober will regain a large amount of her sight, meaning that all being well, there’s every chance she will finally be able to see her twin infants for the first time very soon”, commented Dr Umboh.

“Its absolutely fantastic that we were finally able to do this for Gober. We had to wait until the twins were big enough to be separated briefly from their mum but now that we have done it, all being well it will change each of their lives. We are extremely grateful for the help of Dr Umboh and also to the Orang-Utans in Not foundation from Germany for covering the logistical costs of the work”.

Cataract surgery for orangutans is still very rare and this is probably the first such operation in Indonesia.

The Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme is engaged in all aspects of orangutan conservation in Sumatra including:

1. Confiscation, medical quarantine and reintroduction back to the wild of illegal pet orangutans
2. Field research, surveys and monitoring of the remaining wild Sumatran orangutan populations
3. Rainforest habitat protection work
4. Conservation education and awareness raising

To date, the SOCP’s quarantine centre near Medan has received over 150 illegal pet orangutans, of which over 180 have been returned to the wild in Jambi and Aceh provinces.

Donations are always needed to care for and reintroduce the SOCP’s orangutans and can be made via paypal at or by contacting the PanEco Foundation directly (

Contact persons:

Dr Ian Singleton, Director of Conservation, Paneco Foundation

drh Yenny Saraswati, SOCP senior veterinarian

or contact Mr Gunung Gea +6285280108401;


About iansingletonsocp

Orangutan conservationist, former zookeeper and field researcher.

8 responses to “Blind Sumatran orangutan mother able to see her baby twins for first time after ground breaking cataract surgery”

  1. Emily says :

    This is beautiful. Thank you for sharing this wonderful story and for all that you do for orangutans.

  2. Judy says :

    After reading the heartbreaking news about the poor Orangutan that died after being burnt & spending all day crying my eyes out~this news has made my day!I have monitored Gober,Leuser & their beautiful twins for a while & had been wondering if a cataract op would be possible but dismissed it because of her age.But to read that is has become possible is fantastic news!!You guys do wonderful work,I cannot praise you enough for the dedication & love you give to my favourite animal(not just my favourite animal~my favourite everything!)I wish Gober a very speedy recovery~wish I could be there the moment she sees her precious twins.I am crying again,this time with such happiness.Thank you thank you thank you!You people are real heroes!

    • iansingletonsocp says :

      Many thanks for all this support. Its early to say if this has been a full success or not, but the signs are that things are going okay and we all get the impression that she can already see something, even if blurry and out of focus due to lack of muscle use these last few years. There is a small risk of complications still…..but fingers crossed this is working. Many thanks again!! Ian

  3. Jacquie Lyles says :

    What a blessing. It breaks my heart that the father was shot so many times by uncaring evil spirited people. And he couldn’t figure out why the people were being so mean to him. I love everything about orangutans. They are beautifully spirited individuals that you can see when you look into their eyes. Only wish he had seen the evil in his torturers eyes before they ruined his sight. The way they are treated just breaks my heart. I’m grateful or all of us that care so greatly about there well being. Congratulations on the groundbreaking procedure. Hope mom and babies enjoy seeing the love they have for one another.

  4. LindieO says :

    Bright blessings for a bright outcome for Gober. So much else has turned her way now that she’s under the protective umbrella of SOCP, I’m hoping that will continue and she’ll see her twins for the first time. What a wonder that will be! SOCP, thank you so much for all the vital work you do for our precious orangutans. I honestly don’t know where their future would be without you.

  5. Lesa Miller says :

    Fabulous job everyone! Good news on the orangutan front is much welcomed these days. Keep up your invaluable and inspiring work!
    -Lesa Miller, Education Coordinator, OURF

  6. Robin Blier says :

    This is the kind of story I wish I heard more of. thank you so much for helping this mother Orangutan. The poor father deserves a good life after suffering many wounds at the hands of “man”. I hope you can save more blind Orangutans.

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