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.