Why won’t PERHILITAN prosecute Zoo Negara?

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Published 30 October 2020

In May this year, Friends of the Orangutans (FOTO) exposed a dark side to Zoo Negara. Unbeknownst to the Malaysian public, the zoo had been keeping most of its chimpanzees and Sumatran orangutans in indoor dens so small that its size was not compliant with the 2013 Wildlife Conservation (Operation of Zoo) (Amendment) Regulations. 

On 22 January FOTO provided several photos of Zoo Negara chimps and Sumatran orangutans in their indoor dens to PERHILITAN, the Peninsular Malaysia wildlife department, and we asked if the size of the dens was compliant with zoo regulations. 

On 1 April we received the department’s feedback through the Malaysian Public Complaints Bureau (PCB). A complaint was lodged with the PCB as PERHILITAN did not respond to our follow-up email about this matter.

In its response, PERHILITAN confirmed that the size of 37 of 38 indoor dens, used to keep the chimps and Sumatran orangutans outside Zoo Negara’s visiting hours, was not compliant with the amended 2013 zoo regulations.


Image: two chimpanzees and a Sumatran orangutan in non-compliant indoor dens at Zoo Negara

Based on a 5 October email from the department, it appears that Zoo Negara has taken corrective measures to ensure its ten chimpanzees and Sumatran orangutans are now kept in dens which size comply with zoo regulations. 

However, despite Zoo Negara’s remedial action, we had already established that it was not compliant seven years after the 2013 Wildlife Conservation (Operation of Zoo) (Amendment) Regulations took effect.

As there were no signs Zoo Negara would be prosecuted, FOTO wrote to Datuk Zurinah Pawanteh, Secretary-General of the Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources (KeTSA) to inform her of PERHILITAN’s apparent reluctance to uphold the law.

More than five months after we revealed Zoo Negara’s non-compliance, PERHILITAN has not informed the public if punitive action will be taken against the zoo.

In 2012, a former ministry chief indicated that zoos were given six months to comply with the then-new zoo regulations, which we believe is the 2012 Wildlife Conservation (Operation of Zoo) Regulations, the principal zoo regulation in Peninsular Malaysia, or face closure. The 2012 regulations also specify the minimum indoor den sizes for zoo animals. 

PERHILITAN might have given zoos more time to comply with both the 2012 and the amended 2013 regulations, but it’s undoubtedly not seven years.

We have also demanded Zoo Negara to stop the breeding of its chimps and orangutans. Captive breeding of chimps and orangutans is not conservation and intentional breeding of these animals to only keep them captive for life is unethical. Genuine conservation initiatives involve activities such as protecting the apes’ habitat. Research has shown that even under the best conditions, captive chimps display signs of compromised mental health.


PERHILITAN zoo audits

In June, we had asked PERHILITAN if the department was aware of Zoo Negara’s non-compliance before the department investigated the zoo after our enquiry was made. PERHILITAN has not answered this question. The department does conduct annual zoo audits, and its 2018 annual report articulates:

An annual audit is conducted to ensure that every Zoo and Permanent Exhibit premises are always in compliance with the requirements of the Wildlife Conservation Act 2010 [Act 716] and its subsidiary regulations.” 

As Zoo Negara appeared to have only acted on its non-compliance after being exposed, either PERHILITAN is incompetent at zoo audits, or the department turned a blind eye to Zoo Negara’s non-compliance until FOTO’s enquiry about the size of the dens early this year.

Is the size of all indoor dens and cages at Zoo Negara and zoos across the peninsular compliant with zoo regulations?


Was an orangutan needlessly euthanised at Sepilok?

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Friends of the Orangutans have been informed of an alleged case of euthanasia of an orangutan at the popular Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre (SORC), in the East Malaysian state of Sabah. The centre is owned by the Sabah state government and managed by the state government’s wildlife agency, Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD).

Based on details made available to us, the orangutan suffered electrocution at the SORC and, as a result, suffered severe injuries. The orangutan was placed in a cage at the centre and was able to survive, but was later euthanised. Consequently, it appears that the euthanasia was not necessary. 

On 14 October, through an email, we invited the SWD to comment on and verify these allegations but did not receive a response. 

We had also asked the department these details:

  • Full-bodied, post-electrocution photographs of the ape while she was alive, including when she was in a cage
  • The post-mortem report
  • Date and time of the electrocution incident

Evidently, these three requests were made based on the premise that the euthanasia did occur. Friends of the Orangutans invites the SWD to respond to this report to clarify the allegations.

We have previously revealed numerous concerns about the SORC. See our reports below for details.


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

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

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

Captive breeding of orangutans is not conservation

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Published 23 October 2020

In December 2019 and February this year, two orangutans were born at Taiping Zoo & Night Safari, Malaysia. We contacted the zoo in September to ask about its purpose for breeding orangutans.

In its response, the zoo stated that its reason for breeding the apes is to maintain a viable captive population in case a need to reintroduce them into the wild arises.

On average, wild-born orangutans spend around seven to eight years with their mothers. The first few years of life are crucial as infant orangutans are taught a wide range of skills on forest survival such as nest-building, avoiding predators, foraging and integration into a wild orangutan population. The natural conditions in a forest are near-impossible to replicate in a zoo.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) indicated in its guidelines for the wild reintroduction of great apes that it is a significant challenge to rehabilitate and release rescued wild-born infant orangutans that had not lived in the wild with their mothers for at least a year. Such is the importance of mother-infant interactions in the wild.

Orangutans in zoos may also be too habituated to humans; over-habituation to humans can cause forest-dwelling orangutans to be more susceptible to poachers and hunters. Additionally, captive-born and bred orangutans may not be as resistant to diseases as wild orangutans.

Breeding orangutans in captivity with the aim of releasing them into a forest is currently not common practice in the area orangutan conservation. The IUCN does not include any orangutan species in its list of wildlife species for which captive breeding has been recommended as a conservation action.

We argue that the primary reason zoos import, breed and keep exotic animals such as orangutans, chimpanzees and tigers are to lure visitors. In mid-September, the president of the Melaka Hang Tuah Jaya Municipal Council (MPHTJ) stated that Melaka Zoo, a zoo two hours south of the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur, was attempting to acquire more orangutans to increase visitor numbers.

Orangutans are highly intelligent and complex animals, and it can be a challenge to meet their needs in captivity. Till this day Friends of the Orangutans continue to reveal substandard living conditions of orangutans in Malaysian zoos.

Legitimate ape sanctuaries that care for rescued orangutans do their best to avoid animals in their care from breeding. According to the Center for Great Apes, a sanctuary caring for unreleasable orangutans and chimpanzees, it is irresponsible to intentionally breed great apes and add more individuals to a life of captivity when there are already so many in need of rescue.

Captive breeding of orangutans is not conservation, and breeding these highly intelligent animals to only keep them captive for life is unethical. Zoos around the world should stop breeding orangutans.

Instead of breeding orangutans in captivity resources would be better spent on genuine orangutan conservation efforts, such as protecting and connecting the habitats of wild orangutans, addressing human-orangutan conflict and tackling the illegal wildlife trade. Support from the general public to fight deforestation is also crucial to secure the future of dwindling wildlife species.

What can you do today? Share this article on your social media outlets, and send this article to your local elected officials and zoos and demand them to stop breeding orangutans in captivity.

What happened to the mothers of two orphaned Sepilok orangutans?

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Published 14 October 2020. The featured image above is not of either of the two orangutans mentioned below.

The Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD), the Sabah state government wildlife agency that manages the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre (SORC) in Sabah, Malaysia, will not inform if investigations carried out to determine what happened to the mothers of Nami and Zorro, infant orangutans that were orphaned and now at the SORC.

CLICK HERE to tweet to demand transparency from the Sabah authorities.

According to the British charity Orangutan Appeal UK website, Nami was “surrendered” to the department when she was 18 months old, while Zorro was found “all alone at the edge of [sic] plantation” when he was three.

On 30 September Friends of the Orangutans emailed the SWD to ask the department these questions about Nami and Zorro:

  • In which area in Sabah were these two infants found?
  • Were both infants found in an oil palm plantation?
  • Was there any investigation carried out by the department to determine how these infants ended up as orphans, and what happened to their mothers?
  • If there were investigations, what is the outcome of them?


The SWD has yet to respond. The department deserves praise for saving the two infants. However, it should be transparent and explain to the public if investigations were carried out to determine what likely happened to the mothers of the two infants. Orangutan mothers do not easily abandon offspring in their care and may even put their own life at risk to defend their young. Investigations should be started if they were previously not done.

Transparency from the SWD is also crucial as funds are publicly being raised for Nami and Zorro at the SORC, a centre owned by the Sabah state government.

Friends of the Orangutans have previously revealed questionable practices at the SORC – see our publications at the end of this article.

Based on information we received, over 150 orangutans were sent to the SORC between 1998 and 2008 (we welcome the SWD’s response if this figure is inaccurate). Were most of them infants? What happened to their mothers?

You can help raise awareness and ask the SWD to be transparent and inform the public if the department had carried out investigations to determine how Nami and Zorro ended up orphans. Here is what you can do:

  • Tweet to the authorities in Sabah. CLICK HERE to tweet now.
  • Write to Mr Augustine Tuuga, the Sabah Wildlife Department Director:


           Copy the two email addresses below into the CC list. Both are emails of the SWD:




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

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

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



In pictures: Years of appalling treatment of Malaysian orangutans at Kemaman Zoo

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Published on 6 October 2020

Kemaman Recreational Park and Zoo, or simply Kemaman Zoo, is located in the Kemaman district in Terengganu and is about one hour from Kuantan, Pahang. The zoo, opened in 2009, is state-owned and managed by the Kemaman Municipal Council (MPK). Concerns about the welfare of animals at the zoo, including that of orangutans, have been raised in the past.

CLICK HERE to tweet to Perhilitan, the Peninsular Malaysia wildlife department, to ask them to improve the lives of orangutans at Kemaman Zoo, and ensure that the apes are treated humanely.

Photos from mid-2015 show orangutans kept in unstimulating, near barren cages at the zoo. The zoo does have an outdoor enclosure.

Note: there is an infant baby orangutan, called Boboy, with the female orangutan in the images above



Near the end of 2017, Boboy, the infant orangutan who at the time was only four years old, was found kept in a cramped cage at the zoo. Three days later he was seen in the same cage. Just over two weeks later Boboy was again found in the same cage, at the same location. Shockingly photos from January 2018 once more showed this infant in the cage.



Did Boboy spend over a month in the cage? We also have images that show this infant kept in the same cage after the zoo was closed. On 10 January 2018, an article was published at Clean Malaysia, an environmental news website, about the plight of orangutans and other animals at Kemaman Zoo. Images of Boboy, a chained elephant and a tiger in a barren cage appeared in the article. Several days later the MPK and PERHILITAN, the peninsular Malaysia wildlife department, both denied any ill-treatment of animals at the zoo. A Terengganu state official claimed that Boboy had to be separated from his mother and provided three different reasons, including to treat an eye infection, while adding that “the baby was temporarily placed in a small cage so as to easily retrieve him for treatment without using sedatives.”

Understandably, at times animals may have to be separated from their mothers or other animals for treatment. However, the manner in which Boboy was kept is unacceptable. The Wildlife Conservation (Operation Of Zoo) Regulations 2012 state that zoos must have a quarantine area to temporarily place or isolate newly acquired animals and to provide treatment to animals that are sick. Assuming that the zoo has a quarantine area, it is unknown why the infant orangutan was kept in an inhumane manner while undergoing treatment.

Photos that were taken near the end of 2017 also show orangutans, the most iconic Malaysian animal, kept in an appalling manner at Kemaman Zoo.



There were also photos taken in mid-2018 and at the end of the year that show the same unacceptable conditions.




The latest photos of orangutans at Kemaman Zoo show some fire hoses in two larger cages.


While any improvement is welcome, orangutans at the Kemaman Zoo need so much more than what the photos above reveal. It is unknown why the orangutans have often been seen sitting on concrete in their dreadful cages when there is an outdoor enclosure at the zoo. To reduce stress on captive orangutans they need the autonomy to get out of zoo visitors’ view when they wish to do so. It is unknown how the zoo enables the apes to do so when they are kept in the two larger cages. Orangutans are extremely smart and complex animals. Yet, most of the time the apes at the zoo look bored and boredom can cause them psychological issues. Lack of physical activity may also cause health problems.

As of 2018, there were four orangutans at the zoo. Three females arrived from Melaka Zoo while Boboy was born at Kemaman Zoo. In 2014, Marina, a female orangutan at the zoo was sent to the Bukit Merah Orangutan Island (OUI) in Perak for breeding. She gave birth to an offspring in July 2016. The infant died several weeks later and Marina herself died a few days after her infant’s demise. Marina could still be alive if she remained at Kemaman Zoo.

Breeding of orangutans in captivity should be stopped as there is little likelihood of captive-bred orangutans ever being released into their natural habitat. Furthermore, orangutans do not thrive in captivity. Kemaman Zoo should not transfer its female orangutans to a different zoo for breeding purposes, and male orangutans should not be sent to the zoo for the same reason. The OUI announced in a 2 September Facebook post the arrival of Melur, a female orangutan from Kemaman Zoo, at its facility for treatment. We do not know if there are also plans by both the Kemaman Zoo and OUI to breed Melur.

As they are highly intelligent animals, orangutans at Kemaman Zoo should be given different types of enrichment every day. If the zoo doesn’t have one, an enrichment schedule should be drawn up to ensure enrichment is provided daily, both in their cages or in the outdoor enclosure.

What has changed to improve the quality of life of orangutans and other animals at Kemaman Zoo? Was it necessary to send orangutans from Melaka Zoo to Kemaman Zoo? Is the zoo even needed?

What can you do today to help orangutans at Kemaman Zoo?

  • Share this article
  • Tweet to PERHILITAN, the wildlife department. CLICK HERE to tweet now
  • Write to PERHILITAN. Use the email addresses below.

    Dato’ Abdul Kadir bin Abu Hashim
    Director, PERHILITAN (Peninsular Malaysia wildlife department)

    Add these emails in the CC list: