Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Orangutan spectacle. An 'accident' waiting to happen

Personal Note: One has to wonder why Orangutan Foundation International and the Orangutan Foundation UK permit such activities as those mentioned below? I never did find out who provides soap to the large orangutan that greets you on arrival at Camp Leakey; for those not familiar with the scene, this is an adult orangutan which 'famously' watched people washing clothes in the river and then proceeded steal soap to copy them. Nowadays it's presumably not possible to steal soap, so does someone provide it to the orangutan so that it can put on a show to visitors? It is probably the most photographed orangutan in all of Borneo - washing itself with soap is hardly natural or a conservation success.

As for the comment below I wonder if OFI/OF are concerned about mutual disease transmission and the potential for accidents? A tourist was attacked last year but I'm sure most such incidents go unreported. Does this look to you as orangutan exploitation packaged neatly (expensively) and sold as orangutan conservation?

It is only a question of time before a tourist is seriously injured and who do you think will get the blame? Imagine a possible headline: "Tourist is attacked by crazed orangutan". We probably would never hear the orangutan's side of the story. Orangutans are not naturally agressive to people.

I read in the Sunday Times newspaper this weekend that OF obtains £30,000 every year from tours to Tanjung Putting which it endorses.

It would not be difficult or expensive to introduce and enforce visitor guidelines which would definitely be better than relying on countless freelance guides whose income and tips depend on visitors (not the orangutans) having a good experience, which as we can see, often means touching/holding 'wild' orangutans.

The following guidelines apply to whalewatching, therefore, are clearly not appropriate for apes, but this does illustrate what can and must be done/enforced in one specific location; they place the animals welfare as top priority. Throughout the world whale/dolphin watching companies have localised regulations, never perfect but often very good, and better than nothing.


Kalimantan's Camp Orangutan

Source: Time – April 30, 2009
By Jason Tedjasukmana

With their giant eyes and spiky red hair, baby orangutans are the epitome of cute — and that's exactly why they are the most sought-after prey of poachers in Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo). Thousands have been hunted and captured over the years, prised from the hands of their slain mothers, to sell as pets. Those who are spared this fate are left to cope with a habitat that is shrinking daily, as agribusiness firms continue their relentless drive to turn Kalimantan's forests into palm-oil plantations. "I cannot convey the horror of it," says Canadian primatologist Birute Galdikas, a protégé of the late naturalist Louis Leakey and the world's leading authority on orangutans.

In 1971, Galdikas set up the Camp Leakey rehabilitation center in southern Borneo's Tanjung Putting National Park. To date, the camp has rehabilitated more than 350 orangutans, helping orphaned former pets successfully return to the wild. It also continues to care for another 300 juveniles. To help raise money for its work — and for the charity over which Galdikas presides, Orangutan Foundation International, — Camp Leakey is open to visitors, who are encouraged to "adopt" a young orangutan by contributing towards its keep. (See 10 things to do in Washington, D.C.: National Zoo )

Potential adoptees often greet visitors as they arrive, which is magical. This is no arm's-length orangutan encounter, with the shadows of great apes ambling through trees glimpsed through a long camera lens. At Camp Leakey, you can pat, hug and hold hands with the animals. Even getting to the camp is an enchantment: you putter up river for hours on a local kelotok boat, and weave through rain forest. "We need to have more tourists visit in order to provide a livelihood for people," says Ferry Candra, a national-park guide. "Without them, locals will just go back into the forests as rubber farmers or loggers and the forests will continue to disappear."

With, at most, 60,000 orangutans left in the wild, experts predict that the species could disappear in less than 20 years if more is not done to preserve their habitat. In the battle to save the orangutan, the camp is at once the front line and a sanctuary. And as a bright-eyed baby climbs into your lap, you cannot help but wonder, with some sadness, if Camp Leakey is also the orangutan's last stand.