Melaka Zoo failed to show its lone chimpanzee compassion – and now wants more orangutans

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Published on 16 September 2020. Updated 14 October 2020

Coco is a chimpanzee who, according to PERHILITAN, the Peninsular Malaysia wildlife department, was born at Singapore Zoo. She was reportedly a surplus chimpanzee and in 1999 was sent to Melaka Zoo. Coco’s exact age is unknown; we estimate that she is in her mid-30s. She has been the lone chimp at state-owned Melaka Zoo for about ten years after a different chimpanzee died at the zoo.

Chimpanzees are highly social and intelligent animals and, in the wild, live in large social groups. They should never be forced to live alone.

In the wild, chimpanzees may travel up to 10km a day. At Melaka Zoo, Coco spends her lonely, deprived life in a tiny outdoor enclosure. She is kept in an indoor den – which zoo visitors are not allowed to see – for over 12 hours a day when the zoo is closed.

Left: Coco’s deplorable night den (July 2018). Right: The outdoor enclosure

In November 2018 Friends of the Orangutans (FOTO) delivered a proposal for retiring Coco to an African chimpanzee sanctuary to the then Melaka State Housing, Local Government and Environment Committee chairperson Tey Kok Kiew. A copy of the proposal was sent to the office of the ex-Chief Minister of Melaka, Adly Zahari, and Melaka Zoo Director, Zanariah Khamis. The sanctuary, accredited by the Pan African Sanctuary Alliance (PASA) and cares for over 30 rescued chimps from around the world, was ready to accept Coco.

In January 2019 we informed Ms Zanariah that Coco’s transfer to the sanctuary would come at no cost to Melaka Zoo. Soon afterwards she informed that Melaka Zoo had agreed to send Coco to Taiping Zoo in exchange for a mandrill. The chimp is still at Melaka Zoo.

In January 2020 another proposal was sent to Ms Zanariah. We did not receive a response. During this time, Covid-19 hit, and we were eventually informed by the sanctuary in Africa, understandably, that Coco’s transfer would not be feasible.

Instead of showing compassion, Melaka Zoo appeared to be more interested in protecting its interests. It is also inconceivable that PERHILITAN has left Coco to languish all alone for years.

According to an April 2020 Bernama report, Melaka Zoo is a “conservation, research and educational centre.” Based on what we have revealed above, can the public believe this claim?

Coco’s transfer would have had to be approved by relevant authorities, including to determine that she was healthy enough to make the journey to the African sanctuary. Nonetheless, Coco’s chances of being in the company of other chimpanzees at the sanctuary were denied by Melaka Zoo. The sanctuary does not breed its chimps. Media reports indicate that Taiping Zoo has bred chimpanzees in the past.

In late September we wrote to Dr Luis Carlos Neves, Director of Zoology at Singapore Zoo, to ask if the zoo would be able to accept Coco. Singapore Zoo, where this chimp was born at and the most appropriate destination for her, has better facilities for chimpanzees than any Malaysian zoo. In his response, Dr Neves informed that the Malaysian Association of Zoological Parks and Aquaria (MAZPA) had been contacted “to inform them” about the concerns we raised about Coco. We have not had further news from Singapore Zoo since Dr Neves’ email on 28 September.

Sadly, another Melaka Zoo great ape is living solitarily. Mardia, a 31-year-old female orangutan from Sarawak, is devoid of contact with other orangutans after the death of her offspring in mid-2019.

According to a 16 September news article, Melaka Zoo will receive “three new products, including three orangutans from the A’Famosa Resort’s Safari Wonderland zoo and the Bukit Merah [Orangutan Island].

FOTO initially objected the transfer of orangutans to Melaka Zoo and suggested that Mardia is allowed to be sent to the Matang Wildlife Centre, near Kuching. The centre is managed by the Sarawak Forestry Corporation (SFC). However, following PERHILITAN’s response, FOTO informed the wildlife department on 29 September that before Melaka Zoo is allowed to import more orangutans the zoo would first need to agree to several conditions, including initiating and completing a significantly improved orangutan enclosure. Click here to see several other prerequisites.

We informed PERHILITAN that if Melaka Zoo refuses the adopt the conditions Mardia should be allowed to be sent to the Matang Wildlife Centre. PERHILITAN has yet to inform if the zoo has agreed to the conditions.

Mardia in her outdoor enclosure at Melaka Zoo


Friends of the Orangutans is opposed to the breeding of great apes in captivity. We assert that great ape conservation should focus on stabilising and protecting wild populations.

No transparency from Sabah wildlife authorities on welfare concerns of 6 Sepilok orangutans

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Published on 2 September 2020


There is genuine concern over the fate of six orangutans at the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre (SORC), and the Sabah Wildlife Dept (SWD) is still refusing to show transparency on the management of these apes.

The six orangutans are Ceria, Rosa, Mowgli, Poogle, Tiger and Sen. These are humanised (over habituation to, and/or overdependency on humans) orangutans.

Rosa, the only female orangutan among the six, is known to steal from items at the SORC and “her next victim”. Ceria has displayed worrying behaviours, including attacking a SORC tourist in 2017. He has also been attacked and injured by a pack of dogs near the centre.

An October 2019 Borneo Post news report indicated that Ceria and Rosa would be released into the Tabin Wildlife Reserve (TWR) forest from the SORC. In January 2020, we wrote to the SWD to express our concern about the release plan and asked the department to first present release plans to the IUCN/SSC Primate Specialist Group, including available data which led the department deciding to move the orangutans to TWR. We also asked the SWD to inform how long post-release monitoring (PRM) would be carried out. Persistent PRM is a necessary conservation action to ensure orangutans can survive in a forest after release. The IUCN recommends PRM be conducted for one year.

According to our sources, Tiger has been kept in a cage at the SORC since December 2018 after his second release into the TWR failed.

We discovered that before Tiger’s second release the founder of a British orangutan organisation that supports the SORC privately expressed concern that significant problems could arise if the media found out about Mowgli, Poogle, Sen, and Ceria’s behaviour. These apes are a physical risk to tourists and staff (when left to roam around the centre). Sources also revealed that the SORC was close to getting sued by a tour company for safety negligence caused by a humanised orangutan.

The SWD did not respond to our January email, and we sent our third email in June this year. The Director of the SWD, Augustine Tuuga, replied and stated that the department was exploring new forest release sites for SORC orangutans and that the SWD acknowledged the importance of carrying out post-release monitoring.

Mr Tuuga also indicated that the SWD was contemplating building an enclosure to keep some unreleasable orangutans in, instead of confining them to life in cages. He, however, did not inform the SWD’s plan for the six orangutans stated above. Why is there a concern?

Based on information from our source Mowgli, Sen, Ceria and Poogle are very terrestrial at the SORC and have shown not much interest in forest life.

Allowing humanised orangutans to roam around the SORC may be a threat to staff, and it would be a public relations disaster for the SWD and the Sabah Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Environment (KePKAS) if an orangutan injures another tourist at the SORC and media finds out about it. It is no surprise that according to our sources, like Tiger, Ceria and Sen are also kept in cages at the SORC.

Humanisation can fail orangutans’ successful return to a fully independent forest life as it can affect their ability to build nests and forage in a forest. It causes the apes to lose their fear of humans and makes them far too comfortable with human presence and diverts their interest away from natural behaviours and interactions within the forest environment. This can increase their proximity to humans, escalating both the risk of attacks on humans and the risk of the apes contracting a disease from humans.

Releasing humanised orangutans that are known not to persistently show that they can survive independently in a forest, away from humans, is highly questionable. Some conservationists may even question if releasing these types of orangutans is simply a public relations move that may doom an orangutan to an early death.

For 20 years until 2016, the SWD supplied infant SORC orangutans to a luxury hotel in Sabah under the pretence of rehabilitation. We campaigned and stopped the exploitation. Hands-on volunteering practice, which took place at the SORC for over 15 years until early 2020, and unsustainable orangutan tourism increased the risk of humanisation among orangutans at the SORC, putting the apes’ future in jeopardy. Is the Sabah state government prioritising profits over the welfare of orangutans at the SORC? Can the public trust authorities at the SWD?

We continue to demand the SWD to show complete transparency on the future and management of the six orangutans mentioned above.


Further reading about the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre:

When profits rule – Sepilok orangutan release disaster

Sepilok orangutan tourism – here’s what’s wrong

General public finally barred from involvement with orangutan rehab at Sepilok

Perilous orangutan tourism resumes at Sepilok amid COVID-19 pandemic

COVID-19: Time for change at Sepilok Orangutan Rehab Centre

SWD’s dubious plan to release two orphaned Sepilok orangutans