British company folds, but will orangutan exploitation at Sepilok end?

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We have previously highlighted how British company, Travellers Worldwide, have been exploiting orphan orangutans at the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre (SORC) through their volunteering programme, with the approval of the Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD), the Sabah wildlife state agency under the Ministry of Environment (KePKAS). The programme involved unqualified individuals paying to join the rehabilitation for wild (forest) release of orangutans. We have also explained how the programme could damage the apes and why it needed to stop and also explained this to the company, SWD, and KePKAS. No one responded.

At the end of February 2020, we were informed that the company ceased doing business completely. However, KePKAS and SWD have not publicly confirmed if the volunteering programme will cease completely as other unscrupulous companies may be interested to continue exploiting the orangutans at SORC for financial gain.

We have written to the KePKAS minister, Christina Liew, to explain why the programme must not continue and we will keep a close eye on SORC. In the meantime, we ask members of the public to send a tweet to the minister to politely remind her that the programme should not continue. We have created the tweet for you, simply CLICK HERE to tweet right now.

SORC is a controversial orangutan rehabilitation centre and its operations and intentions are very questionable. For almost 20 years the centre, which is under the management of the SWD, supplied orangutan infants from SORC to a luxury hotel in Sabah on the false pretence of rehabilitation. We campaigned and stopped the exploitation in 2016. SWD has also been asked of allegations that habituated orangutans suspiciously vanished from Sepilok. We were informed that the apes were a physical risk to tourists (tourists have been attacked by habituated orangutans at SORC). The department did not respond.

The current tourism practice at SORC doesn’t abide by the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s guidelines on great ape tourism. We firmly believe that the tourism practice and the volunteering programme mentioned above are responsible for the problem of habituated orangutans at SORC. Orangutans who are habituated to humans may not be releasable into a forest. One habituated SORC orangutan’s future is in serious doubt and the SWD appears to have questionable plans to release two habituated orangutans into a forest reserve. On 22 January 2020, we questioned the Department over the release plans but have not received a response.

Tell Travellers Worldwide, stop exploiting Sepilok orangutans!

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16 March update – Travellers Worldwide have ceased trading but the wildlife authorities in Sabah have not announced if the volunteering programme will not continue with a different company. See our statement here.

 

Travellers Worldwide is a British company which is refusing to stop the exploitation of Critically Endangered Malaysian orangutans, an animal at risk of extinction. If you love orangutans and care about their future please join our campaign by signing and sharing our petition. CLICK HERE to sign and share now. And don’t forget to TWEET.

Every four weeks the company sends up to 12 unqualified paying individuals to the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre (SORC) in the Malaysian Bornean state of Sabah, Malaysia, to be part of the ‘rehabilitation’ of orangutans. Each individual pays US$ 3,400. SORC is managed by the Sabah state government.

According to the Travellers Worldwide website these individuals, called “volunteers”, are able to, among others, monitor, feed and manage orangutans who are under rehabilitation for potential forest release in the future. However, this practice, which can and should be done by SORC staff only, can have serious negative impacts for orangutans under rehabilitation and yet has continued for over 15 years.

Without their mothers orphan orangutans need familiarity and trust, and should, therefore, only be exposed to and bond with the minimal number of caregivers as possible in their early years as the apes are guided through the rehabilitation process. Having ever changing personnel working hands on with rehabilitant orangutans increases the risk of the orangutans becoming far too comfortable with humans, thus increasing the instance of human habituation as these animals’ interests are diverted away from natural behaviours and interactions within the forest environment.

It is no surprise that SORC has for many years faced major problems with orangutans habituated to humans, made worse by its unethical and unsustainable orangutan tourism.

Orangutan conservationists have warned of the serious risks of rehabilitant orangutans becoming habituated to humans, such as encouraging terrestriality (which has been linked to increased vulnerability to predation), disease transmission, deficient nesting skills, poor arboreal travel, inefficient foraging, increased vulnerability to poachers and physical attacks on humans (habituated orangutans have physically attacked SORC tourists in the past). All this can have dire consequences on the future of a species fighting for its survival.

Orangutan conservationists also recommend that orangutan rehabilitation be limited to a closed, qualified and stable group of people who always work with the same orangutans, ideally through their entire rehabilitation. These few dedicated caregivers also promote trust and provide social and emotional support to rehabilitants.

We informed Travellers Worldwide of the effects their volunteering practice can have on the rehabilitant orangutans at SORC, yet they have chosen to ignore us in favour of continuing to exploit Malaysian orangutans for their own financial gain.

We call on the new Sabah state government and its Environment Minister, Datuk Christina Liew to put an end to the exploitation to help with the future of Sabah’s orangutans.

Sepilok orangutan tourism – here’s what’s wrong

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The Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre (SORC) is owned by the Sabah government and managed by the Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD), a state government agency under the Sabah environment ministry (KePKAS). According to SWD the website “The aim of Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre is to return orphaned, injured or displaced orangutans back to the wild.” after a period of rehabilitation. SORC is at the edge of the Sepilok-Kabili forest reserve (SKFR) where the centre’s ex-rehabilitant orangutans (released into forest after completion of rehabilitation) co-range with wild orangutans (born in SKFR and not ex-rehabilitants).

SORC is open to the public for tourism purposes. It has twice a day outdoor feeding sessions where tourists can pay to enter and view orangutans feeding on a platform inside SKFR, and view orangutans supposedly undergoing rehabilitation at the outdoor nursery area at the centre.

The tourism at SORC, however, does not abide by the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Best Practice Guidelines for Great Ape Tourism and this negatively impacts the apes and puts tourists in danger. Below are several points from the guideline, in relation to SORC, and our comments. The guideline is available here.

 

Pg. 10 – Consequently, experts recommend that no tourism be allowed with rehabilitant orangutans that are eligible for or already returned to forest life (Rosen and Byers 2002).

Pg. 58 – No tourism should be allowed with reintroducable orangutans in rehabilitation centres, or in forests where rehabilitants range (Rosen and Byers 2002; Russon, Susilo and Russell 2004).

Ex-rehabilitant orangutans have been released into the SKFR and they, along with rehabilitant (undergoing rehabilitation) orangutans, are known to roam terrestrially around SORC. Exposing ex-rehabilitant/rehabilitant and wild orangutans to large numbers of people such as at SORC and without abiding IUCN best practices increases habituation to humans among these apes. Human habituation can seriously affect orangutans, including hampering an orangutan’s chances of living independently in a forest, encourage terrestriality (which has been linked to increased vulnerability to predation), deficient nesting skills, poor arboreal travel, inefficient foraging and increased vulnerability to poachers. To make matters worse, SORC allows up tourists to be part of the rehabilitation process – up to twelve unqualified individuals pay to volunteer at SORC every four weeks*. Habituation to humans also inevitably leads to increase in instances of contact or close proximity between tourists and orangutans at SORC and this does not only escalate disease transmission risks (such as hepatitis and influenza) between humans-orangutans but expose both to physical attacks. In 2017 an ex-rehabilitant orangutan attacked a tourist and another injured in a 2016 attack. Although there are attempts to control crowds by staff during visiting hours at SORC it is a challenge to control movements of the habituated orangutans and a challenge for staff to be at all areas during visiting hours, as our video shows. We have previously received reports of orangutans mugging tourists of their belongings and have been told of ‘problem’ orangutans suspiciously vanishing from SORC; SWD and KePKAS officials refused to comment when they were asked of this. Orangutans have also been seen at hotels and other tourist attractions outside SORC, as a photo below shows.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pg. 10 – Orangutan tourism focused on rehabilitants, especially when visited in unnatural contexts such as cages and feeding platforms and by extremely large numbers of visitors, does not meet many of the criteria that define ecotourism and as such should not be promoted as ecotourism or considered best practice.

The purpose of having a twice a day feeding sessions at SORC is to lure orangutans to the feeding platform for tourism purposes. While we’re unaware if SORC has also labelled itself as an ecotourism attraction, tour companies may label SORC as an ecotourism destination to lure customers and this gives tourists a wrong impression of orangutan conservation.

 

Pg. 48 – To facilitate the control of visitors, minimise danger and enhance visitor satisfaction, the number of people per party should be no more than 4 tourists accompanied by 2 guides/trackers. This should achieve a reasonable balance between apes and humans, and reduce stress and its knock-on effects.

We are not aware if there is an entry limit to SORC, but it’s certainly not four. In fact, over ten times the recommended amount of tourists can be seen during a feeding session, depending on the month of the year.

 

Pg. 49 – There should be no more than one visit per day to each group of apes (or individual/ party/forest area in the case of chimpanzee and orangutan tourism).

SORC has twice a day feeding session. Having more than one visit per day increases the instance of orangutan habituation to humans and in turn, increase disease transmission and physical risks between humans-orangutans at SORC.

 

Pg. 49 – All tourists and staff who are likely to approach habituated apes to within 10 metres should wear a surgical quality N95 respirator mask for the duration of their one-hour visit. Respirators that filter out higher percentages of aerosolised particles are also acceptable (i.e., N99 or N100).

Tourists to SORC are not required to wear a respirator mask. Staff managing crowds near the feeding platform have also not been seen wearing a mask. With reference to orangutans, it is important to note that habituated apes mentioned in the recommendation above refer to arboreal (in trees) wild orangutans that are not stressed when viewed and followed by tourists from the ground or from boats while strictly abiding other guidelines. This respirator mask requirement is even more urgent at SORC considering there are habituated orangutans that travel terrestrially, especially on human-made structures, and have been seen getting to within less than 10 metres or even into direct contact with SORC tourists.

Photo: Two orangutans grab a tourist at SORC

Pg. 50 – Children below 15 years old must not be allowed to visit great apes. While parents may argue against this regulation on the basis that their child is capable of the hike or mature enough to control their fear, this safeguard is primarily for health reasons. Young people are more likely to be infected with common childhood diseases, even when properly vaccinated, and therefore pose a much greater health risk to habituated apes.

There is no entry age limit at SORC and children can often be seen at the centre.

 

 

Pg. 57 – Individual orangutans should not be visited by tourists for more than 10 days per month. Tourism to individual orangutans should be suspended for at least 3 months per year. Note that if all habituated orangutans at a particular site use the same area of forest, periodic closure of the site is recommended.

SORC is open to tourism 365 days a year. Many of the same orangutans can regularly be seen at SORC.

Important additional note:

The Sabah Wildlife Department and state government may argue that tourists are not allowed into areas where the rehabilitation process of SORC orangutans take place. However, tourists can pay huge sums of money to be part of the rehabilitation process*, as stated above. Moreover, the effect of unsustainable orangutan tourism can impede the progress of orphans undergoing rehabilitation for wild release. In addition, it is wrong to assume that orangutans are rehabilitated when let/moved out of rehabilitation areas: they still have to learn and prove that they can forage and survive independently and integrate into a forest’s orangutan community. A British orangutan organisation which works in Sabah made the statement below when defending the sending of orphaned SORC orangutans to a luxury hotel in the state under the guise of rehabilitation. FOTO stopped the exploitation in 2016. The highlighted parts below refers to the effect of habituated orangutans at SORC on orangutans undergoing rehabilitation at the centre.

 

Source: https://www.orangutan-appeal.org.uk/about-us/news/article/a-short-satement-regarding-the-facts-surrounding-ten-ten

 

Have questions? Click here to write to us.

 

*The British company which ran the unethical volunteering programme at SORC reportedly closed down in late February 2020. However, neither the SWD nor the Sabah environment ministry has confirmed that the programme will not continue. Read more here.

Zoo Negara’s cruel treatment of orangutans and chimps

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Please take action to help orangutans and chimpanzees at Zoo Negara. Here’s what you can do now:

  1. Sign and share our petition on Change.org
  2. Retweet our tweet, click here to retweet now.

Zoo Negara, Malaysia’s most popular zoo, has been keeping a dirty secret for many years – housing orangutans and chimpanzees in cruel conditions which may also be abusive.

The zoo, which opened in 1963, is in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur and is a current member of the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA). In 2019 it was reported that the zoo was under investigation by the Malaysian anti-corruption authorities.

In late 2018 we contacted the zoo to question the keeping of chimps and several orangutans in tiny cells during the zoo’s closing hours after photos were revealed to us. We estimate that these apes are kept in the cramped cells longer than they are allowed into an enclosure as the zoo is closed between 5.00 pm and 9.00 am the day after. It is unknown if all of them get a chance to be outdoors daily.

This means the apes may spend over 12 hours daily in conditions which may also be detrimental to their psychological wellbeing. However, till this day the zoo has not announced any action to provide acceptable, spacious living conditions to allow the apes to live comfortably and display natural behaviours.

Meanwhile, the zoo has pandas from China, and over US $20 million have been spent on them, while the Malaysian government forks out over half a million dollars annually on the upkeep of the bears. In 2019 at least $1.7 million dollars were spent.

 

 

 

What can you do? Share this article, tweet and sign our petition (see above) and boycott Zoo Negara until they vastly improve the lives of their orangutans and chimps.

Is Sepilok trying to get rid of unwanted orphaned orangutans?

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Photo: two young orangutans grab a tourist at SORC

On 2 October 2019, the Borneo Post (and other media outlets) reported that the Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD) plans to move two “rehabilitated”, yet human-habituated orangutans, Rosa and Ceria, from the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre (SORC) to release them into the Tabin Wildlife Reserve, a protected forest in eastern Sabah.

Both Rosa and Ceria were reported to have arrived at SORC for forest-release rehabilitation at age one, as orphans. As of 2020, Rosa is 19 years old while Ceria is 14. In the area of orangutan rehabilitation, it is not common for orangutans rescued in early infancy to take 10-15 years to be rehabilitated and released into a forest as adults. Rosa has been labelled as often seen at the centre (instead of the forest adjacent to SORC) while she waited to steal from “her next victim”. She gave birth to her baby in captivity at SORC in May 2018. A video uploaded on YouTube apparently shows Rosa and her baby on a tourist boardwalk near SORC. We invite SWD to comment if Rosa’s infant is still in her care.

Ceria is known among SORC staff as a physical risk to them and tourists. He attacked a tourist in 2017. The attack is no fault of Ceria’s; unsustainable tourism and hands-on volunteering practice* at SORC is what’s causing human habituation among orangutans at SORC, putting the apes’ future in jeopardy. A 2016 Animal Planet documentary revealed that Ceria was attacked and injured by a pack of feral dogs. A source informed us that Ceria has been kept in a cage at SORC for several months at least and that the centre is currently wary of potential legal repercussions resulting from physical risks to tourists who visit the centre. In 2016 an orangutan attacked and injured a tourist, the identity of this ape is unknown. Another source confided in us that an influential individual who tries to call the shots at SORC is worried that the media would find out about the behaviour and risks posed by the centre’s habituated orangutans. Are these the reasons for SWD in deciding that the apes, especially Ceria, should be moved out of SORC? Is this a case of dumping orangutans who can no longer make certain individuals money?

Below are statements which have been made by British organisation Orangutan Appeal UK regarding Ceria’s behaviour:

– … causing mischief whenever possible! Keep a safe distance from Ceria if you spot him
– … hanging around the outdoor nursery again throwing rocks this time and now Kala has started to copy him!
He’s supremely interested in the human goings-on at the Centre and studies visitors and staff intensely, waiting for the next opportunity to wreak havoc
– … he and a gang of other adolescent orangutans raided the Centre’s café… Ceria managed to open the ice-cream freezer and grab some treats
– … one of the rangers was in the small wooden boat on the lake cleaning debris away, when Ceria came up to the shoreline, untied the rope and then tried to haul the boat in whilst the ranger was frantically trying to keep himself afloat

Ceria’s behaviour is extremely alarming and he does not seem to be a viable and safe forest-release candidate. His future to live as an independent orangutan might have been wrecked by irresponsible individuals. We have also written to explain how human-habituation can damage orangutans and risk their chances of living independently in a forest.

On 22 January 2020 we wrote to SWD to ask that no SORC orangutan is released into Tabin without the centre first fulfilling these two demands:

– Present its plans for the release of Ceria and any other SORC orangutan into Tabin to the IUCN/SSC Primate Specialist Group. This should include available data which led the department deciding to move the orangutans to Tabin.

– Inform how long it plans to conduct post-release monitoring and publish the PRM data (as recommended by the IUCN), or at least submitting it to the IUCN/SSC Primate Specialist Group. The IUCN recommends that PRM be done ideally for at least a year.

If the orangutans mentioned above are indeed released without these two demands being met, members of the public and the media might again be misled to believe that the release is a conservation success, without evidence, as the SWD have done with an orangutan called Tiger.

The previous releases of the human-habituated Tiger unsurprisingly failed and his future is now in doubt once more. On 3 September 2019 SWD once again said they plan to release Tiger. There should also be full transparency on his planned release. Read more about Tiger and why post-release monitoring is important, here.

 

Photo: Tiger in his cage at SORC

*The British company which ran the unethical volunteering programme at SORC reportedly closed down in late February 2020. However, neither the SWD nor the Sabah environment ministry has confirmed that the programme will not continue. Read more here.

British company refuses to stop exploitation of Malaysia’s orangutans

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Travellers Worldwide is a British company which offers volunteering opportunities around the world. One of these places is at the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre (SORC) in Malaysia. SORC is owned and managed by the Sabah state government. According to the website of the Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD), “The aim of Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre is to return orphaned, injured or displaced orangutans back to the wild.”

Volunteers organised by Travellers Worldwide (TW) are placed for four weeks at SORC before a different group of 12 volunteers arrive to replace them. According to TW’s website (as of October 2019) each volunteer pays $3,180. Among other activities at SORC these volunteers are involved in the rehabilitation of orphan orangutans at the centre.

In September 2018 Friends of the Orangutans Malaysia wrote to TW to explain why this practice needs to be changed; TW volunteers can play an important role at SORC but without contact/potential contact with the orangutans undergoing rehabilitation for wild release. Unfortunately TW have thus far not shown us any interest in addressing our concerns. Therefore, in October 2019 we wrote again to TW to ask that the volunteering programme at SORC ceases and we have given a reasonable time frame for this to happen. Should TW refuse, FOTO Malaysia will campaign until the exploitation stops.

 

scsC

We compared this volunteering practice with two orangutan rehabilitation centres in Indonesia which conforms to International Union for Conservation of Nature’s best practice guidelines for great apes. At both rehabilitation centres only a handful of permanent, full time staff are directly involved in the rehabilitation process of their orangutans. SORC does have full time staff working at the centre on a daily basis but the two Indonesian centres do not allow volunteers to work with orangutans. Infact, one of the centres does not allow any form of volunteering.

Without their mothers orphan orangutans need familiarity, trust and bond with as minimal amount of caregivers as possible in their early years as the apes are guided through the rehabilitation process. Besides, having ever changing personnel working hands on with rehabilitant orangutans increases the risk of the orangutans becoming far too comfortable with humans, thus increasing the instance of human habituation. This could effect the chances of rehabilitant orangutans becoming viable wild release candidates.

Orangutan conservationists have also informed us that the volunteering practice at SORC needs to cease completely. Friends of the Orangutans Malaysia continues to urge Travellers Worldwide to cease the current volunteering practices at SORC and stop the exploitation of Malaysia’s orangutans.

Poor treatment for orangutans at Kemaman Zoo continues

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In January last year photos and reports showing the eye-watering treatment of orangutans and other animals at Kemaman Zoo in Terengganu made headlines in the media. The conditions seen in the reports were not new though. Animals at Kemaman Zoo have been kept in poor conditions for years and despite receiving flak a year ago it appears so far that little has changed at the zoo.
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When Kemaman Zoo was exposed last year Perhilitan, the wildlife department, dismissed all allegations of poor welfare of animals at the zoo. In contrast, the Malaysian Association of Zoological Parks and Aquaria (Mazpa) took action and suggested improvements to the zoo and we thank Mazpa for being transparent and sincere with their findings. Since then the zoo has made minimal changes at both orangutan enclosures but they are still insufficient to meet the intricate needs of captive orangutans.
 
According to a June 2018 news report a stunning RM 60 million had been spent on expanding a state owned zoo which is reportedly bleeding money. How much was spent to upgrade the existing shoddy state of animals?
 
The latest photos we received, which have been verified, show the continued substandard welfare conditions for orangutans with no sign of an enrichment programme in place. Kemaman Zoo has two enclosures for its orangutans. The indoor enclosure consist of large and smaller concrete cages and they are almost barren and there is nothing for the orangutans to do. The sight of the orangutans in the cages is a disgraceful one and will leave any zoo visitor to wonder why in this day and age Malaysia still keeps orangutans in such manner. Orangutans are intelligent animals and poor captive situations like at Kemaman Zoo can lead to psychological and physical problems. 
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The outdoor enclosure needs to be worked on. We have been informed that it tends to flood when the zoo is inundated with rain water, which may occur more often during the monsoon season in the east coast of the Peninsular. A staff at Kemaman town council (Majlis Perbandaran Kemaman) claimed in confidence that there is no proper moat drainage at the outdoor orangutan enclosure. We will leave for state officials to comment on this.
 
When the outdoor enclosure is overwhelmed with water it is dangerous to let the orangutans out, and this leaves them spending more time in the cages. Water moats as barriers should be avoided in the first place as it increases the risk of drowning, which happened to an orangutan at Lok Kawi Wildlife Park, Sabah in the past.
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All our emails to state officials and the zoo last year were not replied to. In June Terengganu menteri besar Dr. Ahmad Samsuri Mokhtar welcomed assistance for the zoo and despite this state and zoo officials never responded to our offer to meet and help. Clearly the welfare of animals is not a concern of top zoo and state officials responsible for the zoo.
 
The sorry state of our orangutans and other wildlife at Kemaman Zoo needs to change. Instead of spending more money expanding the zoo and importing animals the state should spend on improving welfare of existing animals. We urge the public to boycott this zoo until vast changes have been made. We also ask KATS Minister Dr. Xavier Jayakumar to help the animals.
Photos: Malaysian Friends of Animals. Used with permission.

When greed rules – Sepilok orangutan release disaster

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Below is our full response to news of the release of one of Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre’s (SORC) orangutans, called Tiger. Tiger’s release was widely covered by major news media in Malaysia. Tiger, who arrived at SORC as a two-year-old orphaned infant, is now back at SORC.

 

On 3 October 2018, an orangutan called Tiger was moved from SORC to the Tabin Wildlife Reserve forest and released there.

Tiger’s release into to Tabin, which was reportedly funded by British organisation Orangutan Appeal UK and the Malaysian Palm Oil Council, was labelled as his “journey to freedom” by the Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD). A prominent British figure in Sabah claimed that “another magnificent orangutan is saved”.

However, we would like to question whether Tiger’s release into Tabin was a success for orangutan conservation in Sabah, especially since Tiger’s release eventually failed and he was relocated back to SORC in December 2018 and has since been kept in a cage 24/7, according to sources. This was Tiger’s second failed release into Tabin, the first being in 2017. We strongly believe Tiger’s failed release attempts are the result of the Sabah state government prioritizing financial interests by allowing unethical and unsustainable tourism and volunteering practice* at SORC, at the expense of the orphaned orangutans.

Tiger in his cage at SORC

Unlike the media fanfare caused by the SWD when he was released into Tabin, the department remained silent about Tiger’s return to SORC until a media article reported Tiger’s failed release. Did the SWD try to keep news of Tiger’s return under wraps to avoid public relations embarrassment to Sabah?

When rehabilitant orangutans are released into a forest, there needs to be post-release monitoring (PRM). It is a challenging yet crucial part of orangutan conservation as, after release, researchers will track an orangutan to ensure it is able to adapt and survive in a new forest area.

It also enables intervention if the orangutan is proven to be unable to adapt or even needs medical attention. Therefore, PRM is also important for welfare reasons.

A top SWD officer claimed attempts would be made to monitor Tiger upon release, yet we were informed that there was no PRM done.

If this is untrue, we invite the SWD to release Tiger’s PRM details. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) also recommends that PRM data be made public.

Tiger, reported to be 19 years old as of 2019, is a fully matured flanged male. In a forest, flanged, dominant orangutan males establish their territory and generally stay within it their entire lives.

Introducing Tiger into a jungle virtually alien to him could have led to brutal physical conflicts with other resident, dominant orangutan males, and as Tiger has been at SORC for more than 15 years, he may not have the survival/feral attributes of a totally wild dominant orangutan male.

This affects his ability to defend and establish himself in his new home. Moving Tiger into Tabin could have also disrupted the native resident orangutan population.

SWD claimed that Tiger was doing well at SORC and was confident that he would forage well in Tabin. However, this can only be confirmed through persistent PRM, which can take months to complete.

SORC is inundated with unsustainable & unethical tourism and volunteering practices* till this day and human habituation could affect an orangutan’s ability to adapt upon release, if they can be released at all.

Tiger trying to mount a motorbike in a palm oil plantation after his first release. Photo: Advertiser & Times

 

We have also been informed that Tiger had spent a considerable amount of time in cages at SORC prior to his second release into Tabin.

Based on the above, would it be a surprise to anyone that Tiger was relocated back to SORC? We were informed that Tiger ventured into an oil palm plantation and became a danger to people and himself and SWD had no choice but to locate and transfer him back to SORC before he or someone got injured, or worse.

Why was Tiger sent to Tabin? In the area of orangutan rehabilitation, it is not common for orangutans rescued in early infancy to take 10-15 years to be rehabilitated and released into a forest as adults.

Inform a well-meaning orangutan conservationist that a 19-year-old ex-rehabilitant flanged male is going to be “wild released” to a new forest area and immediately there will be a number of concerns raised.

SWD claim that the forest adjacent to SORC is too small for Tiger and thought he would “survive better in the wild”.

Or does the real problem lie in the fact there are already dominant males around SORC and SWD wanted to avoid more PR disasters, especially after a tourist was attacked there by a “problem” orangutan in 2017, and a tourist injured by an orangutan in 2016?

Several Malaysian conservationists have expressed their opinion to us and allege that SWD was probably getting rid of a habituated orangutan now too big and dangerous to handle, no thanks to the unethical and unsustainable tourism and volunteering practices* at SORC. The release would then be called a conservation success for public relations reasons. We welcome SWD to comment on these allegations.

There are other male orangutans around SORC and they are reported to be a risk to tourism activity at the centre. These males are growing larger and stronger and will cause bigger issues once they hit puberty.

Going back to the subject of PRM, it is a gruelling task to trail an adult orangutan male as he travels far and wide in the wild.

However, if there is no PRM made and lack of information on Tiger’s survivability after release, this orangutan’s move to Tabin in October cannot be called a conservation success. In fact, it now looks like it was an embarrassing failure.

Was this is a public relations practice by the SWD, which has shown no interest in transparency in our private communications with it, despite a new state government coming to power?

The SWD knew what it was doing and thus could be accused of deliberately misleading Malaysians on what orangutan conservation really looks like.

This greenwashing needs to stop and we demand the SWD to be transparent on Tiger’s future.

 

*The British company which ran the unethical volunteering programme at SORC reportedly closed down in late February 2020. However, neither the SWD nor the Sabah environment ministry has confirmed that the programme will not continue. Read more here.

Company owned by Malaysians clearing PNG forests

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Friends of the Orangutans Malaysia has published a press release to bring to light the clearing of forests in Papua New Guinea by a vcompany owned by a Malaysian family. Satellite images showing continued clearing in the palm oil company’s development area available at this link. Four photos in the same link courtesy of Global Witness. You have permission to reprint the press release below and use the satellite images and photos. Please credit Global Witness for the photos.

 

PRESS RELEASE, 30th August 2018 – Company owned by Malaysians clearing PNG forests.

A palm oil company owned by a prominent Malaysian family is threatening Papua New Guinea’s unique forest ecosystem and is presenting a serious risk to palm oil industry sustainability policies, according to NGO Friends of the Orangutans Malaysia [FOTO].

The Bewani Oil Palm Plantations Limited [BOPPL], headquartered in Vanimo, Papua New Guinea, has cleared an estimated 25,000 hectares of forests including an estimated 12,000 ha in the last four years since obtaining a lease for the palm oil development project in 2010, claims FOTO.

“BOPPL obtained a lease for almost 140,000 of forests eight years ago. These are pristine rainforests are made up of primary and secondary forests. Destroying forests for palm oil or any other agricultural crop is unacceptable and must stop”, says NGO director Upreshpal Singh.

FOTO adds that BOPPL holds a Special Agricultural Business Lease, or SABL, which is an agricultural lease given out to developers by the PNG government on behalf of customary landowners.

In 2013, a report by the PNG Commission of Inquiry into the Special Agriculture & Business Leases found widespread abuse, fraud and lack of accountability and transparency, among others, in the awarding of SABLs in the country. The commission report, which accused BOPPL as a company with a “chequered history”, also recommended that its SABL be revoked[1].

In early 2017, PNG’s Prime Minister Peter O’Neill announced that all SABLs in the country had been declared illegal and that they should be revoked[2], while earlier this year a PNG online news portal reported that BOPPL’s lease had been cancelled following a court decision due irregularities in the awarding process of SABLs [3], though this was contested in a major PNG newspaper owned by Malaysian logging giant Rimbunan Hijau[4].

FOTO adds that despite the uncertain legal status of BOPPL’s operations the company had continued to clear forests and satellite images show that clearing was taking place as of July this year. The company plans to plant 20,000 ha of oil palm trees by 2020[5] .

BOPPL is owned by nine members of the prominent Malaysian Tee family[6], who are also shareholders of eight palm oil mills in Peninsular Malaysia. These mills appear in the supply chains of companies with sustainable purchasing policy commitments including Sime Darby, IOI, PepsiCo, Nestle, Unilever and others.

FOTO wants traders buying from the palm oil mills owned by the Tee family to immediately suspend purchases and demand the latter to stop clearing on their BOPPL plantation in PNG.

“The palm oil industry is undergoing a shift since the last few years as more and more companies adopt sustainability policies and remove deforestation from their supply chains. That many of these companies are still buying palm oil from mills owned by individuals active in forest clearing undermines these sustainability policies and attempts to combat deforestation in the industry”, concludes Upreshpal.

-end-

References:

[1] http://www.coi.gov.pg/documents/COI%20SABL/Numapo%20SABL%20Final%20Report.pdf

[2] https://postcourier.com.pg/all-sabls-unlawful/

[3] http://www.looppng.com/png-news/cancelled-sabls-revealed-73107

[4] https://www.thenational.com.pg/bewani-oil-palm-project/

[5] https://postcourier.com.pg/20000-hectares-set-oil-palm-2019/

[6] https://chainreactionresearch.com/report/shadow-companies-present-palm-oil-investor-risks-and-undermine-ndpe-efforts/

 

Addendum:

Despite the uncertain legal status [of BOPPL’s lease as mentioned above], in June 2018 the National Planning & Monitoring Minister Richard Maru visited the plantation to review developments. He heard that the Bewani Oil Palm Plantation plans to plant 20,000 ha of palms by 2019, and the mill is currently undergoing tests before it is commissioned. Papua New Guinea’s Prime Minister Peter O’Neill will officially commission the mill. One question that remains is how the Tee family are funding this venture.  With an investment cost of around RM30,000 per hectare for infrastructure and costs to maturity, the capital needed for a plantation of this size are significant.

The Bewani Oil Palm Plantation is owned by nine members of the Malaysian Tee family; Tee Kim Tee, Tee Cheng Hua, Tee Lip Jen, Tee Lip Chuan, Tee Chain Yee, Tee Lip Sin, Tee Lip Hian, Tee Ching Chan and Tee Cheng Hu. The project’s inauguration in October 2010 was attended by Tee Kim Tee, who publicly signed inauguration documents at the event.

The Tee family are also the majority shareholders of four palm oil mills (Tagar Properties, Rompin Palm Oil Mill, Prosper Palm Oil Mill and Endau Palm Oil Mill) and the minority shareholders of four other mills (KilangKosfarm, WujudWawasan, Kilang Sawira Makmurand Cheekah-Kemayan Plantations) in Peninsular Malaysia.These mills appear in the supply chains of companies with sustainable purchasing policy commitments, including Wilmar, IOI, Musim Mas, Bunge, Mewah, ADM, Sime Darby, AAK, Cargill, Colgate Palmolive, PepsiCo, Reckitt Benckiser, General Mills, Mondelez, P&G, Nestle, Olam, Mars and Unilever.

The Tee family’s shares in these eight mills are via several intermediary companies, commonly known as the Prosper Group of companies, and their mills typically appear in company supply lists as ‘Prosper Group’, or a variant of Prosper. The Prosper Group’s publicly listed plantation entity, Far East Holding Berhad, has two main shareholders: Prosper Trading Sdn Bhd and LKPP Corp (Pahang State’s Company for Agriculture Development).

Tee Kim Tee & Tee Cheng Hua are currently non-independent, non-executive directors of Far East Holdings Bhd, and minority shareholders. Tee Cheng Hua is also on the senior management team of Far East Holdings Bhd as Executive Director Plantations (as per the 2017 annual report). Family members Tee Lip Jen, Tee Kim Tee, Tee Cheng Hua, Tee Lip Chuan, Tee Chain Yee, Tee Lip Sin and Tee Lip Hian are also majority shareholders in Prosper Trading Sdn Bhd.