Wednesday, 3 June 2009


Orang utan nursery draws flak

BUKIT MERAH: An orang utan sanctuary where baby apes wear nappies,
sleep in cots and are cared for by nurses in masks and starched
uniforms has drawn the wrath of environmentalists.

At Orang Utan Island here, tourists snap photos as they file past
large windows looking into a "nursery" in what is billed as the
world's only rehabilitation and preservation facility for the
endangered primates.

Behind the glass windows, adorable baby orang utans like two-month-old
Tuah lie swaddled in nursery sheets and cling to baby rattles.

"He is separated from the mother because his hands got entangled in
the mother's hair and she was unable to breastfeed," said the
facility's chief veterinarian D. Sabapathy.

Tuah lies calmly in his cot with his eyes wide open and hands across
his chest, hooked up to cables monitoring his heart beat and oxygen
levels, ignoring the passing parade.

But the care lavished on the animals, which are fed every two hours by
a staff of seven nurses on duty round the clock, is lost on
environmentalists who say this is no way to treat wild animals facing
the threat of extinction.

Managers of the 14ha island, which is part of a resort hotel
development, said they aim to return the animals to their natural
jungle habitat, but so far none has been released.

"It is ridiculous to have orang utans in nappies and hand-raised in a
nursery. How are they going to reintroduce the primates back in the
wild?" said senior wildlife veterinarian Roy Sirimanne.

Sirimanne, who has worked in zoos in Southeast Asia and the Middle
East over the past four decades, said baby orang utans need to be with
their mothers to learn survival skills.

"First, we need to save their habitat which is quickly disappearing.
And it is the mother which will teach its young for the first four
years or more on what to eat and how to look for food," he said.

"Keeping the orang utans in captivity on an island is not a
conservation programme. It amounts to desecration (of the species) as
it is nearly impossible to reintroduce them back to the forest."

Experts say there are about 50,000 to 60,000 orang utans left in the
wild, 80 per cent of them in Indonesia and the rest in Sabah and

A 2007 assessment by the United Nations Environment Programme warned
that orang utans will be virtually eliminated in the wild within two
decades if current deforestation trends continue.

The Malaysian branch of conservation group Friends of the Earth said
the best way to save the orang utan is to address rampant poaching and
shrinking habitats.

"We are opposed to the orang utan sanctuary. We are opposed to this
theme park resort having wildlife in captivity," said its president
S.M. Mohamed Idris.

"Captive-bred orang utans have no natural resistance to disease,
making them vulnerable. Death is inevitable."

The centre's veterinarian defended the facility, which opened in 2000
and now houses 25 orang utans.

He admitted the centre had suffered a high mortality rate in its early
days, with seven deaths of infant orang utans between 2000 and 2003.

Most of the visitors, from Malaysia and abroad, are delighted to
interact with the animals and are unaware of the criticism.

"I don't think it is wrong keeping them here. It is a practical
solution to save the orang utans and educate our children," said
26-year-old Vikki Kendrick from Britain. -- AFP