May 27, 2009
Anita Rachman The Jakarta Globe
NGO Claims Orangutans Stressed, Neglected in Zoos
The Center for Orangutan Protection, citing a three-day survey conducted in April, claimed on Wednesday that orangutans in zoos across Java were suffering from unabashed neglect and severe depression.
The nongovernmental organization, blaming an overall failure by local zookeepers to properly operate institutions established to provide sanctuary to the endangered primates, said they had observed 28 orangutans in five local zoos — Bandung, Jakarta, Surabaya, Solo and Yogyakarta.
“The result shows that the orangutans live in poor conditions; most of them are living in stressful conditions and display abnormal behavior,” said Luki Wardhani, the center’s captivity researcher. “We urge the government to immediately follow up our findings.”
She said the animals were stressed out to the point that they were drinking their own urine, banging their heads, eating their own vomit, circling restlessly and masturbating.
“These are symptoms of depression, just the same as in humans,” Luki said. “These are only the ones seen by the public, those put on show. What about the others not on display?”
Seto Hari Wibowo, the center’s captivity program manager, said orangutans in other public and private zoos across the country were likely to be suffering from similar neglect.
The center criticized zookeepers for ignoring the basic principles of animal welfare — those embraced by the Indonesian Zoo Association (PKBSI) — which provides animals the freedom to express normal behavior and keeps the animals free from hunger, stress, pressure and physical inconvenience.
In addition to neglecting the orangutans’ need for open space and companions, Luki said zookeepers had failed to stop the public from feeding them, which was “the main gateway for disease transmission.”
The NGO’s data showed that most of the 23 zoos under the PKBSI umbrella held 2 to 1 orangutans on their premises. “We will pass on the results to PKBSI soon. We want them to take real action based on our findings,” Luki said, adding that zookeepers should immediately provide proper enclosures and better living conditions for orangutans.
However, the center did acknowledge that conditions had improved, citing the installation of first-aid and treatment facilities at local zoos, and hoped that improvements would continue. “One of the best ones is the Ragunan Zoo [in Jakarta],” Luki said.
Agus Supangkat, spokesman for Surabaya Zoo, said his zoo was in the process of providing a new home for their orangutans.
“We understand that they need some space to exercise and do other activities,” Agus said, adding that their 20 orangutans were displayed on a rotational basis with only two orangutans put on display each day.
Agus denied that the zoo’s orangutans were under any physical or mental pressure.
“The vet said that they were fine, both those on display and those that are not,” he said.
The center recently estimated that only 56,000 orangutans remained in the wild.
The Sumatran orangutan is listed as critically endangered and the Bornean species endangered, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List.