Why you should stay away from orangutan rehabilitation centres

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What’s wrong with visiting orangutan (and other great ape) rehabilitation centres? Orangutans undergoing rehabilitation should not/must not be exposed to the public for two reasons:

1. Risk of disease transmission – orangutans who contract diseases such as hepatitis, tuberculosis and influenza (from humans or other orangutans) may not be releasable into the wild and doomed to a lifetime of captivity. Humans can also get infected by orangutans as we share 97% of their DNA.

2. Habituation to humans – Habituated orangutans may fail rehabilitation and never make it back into the wild. It is for this reason ethical and responsible orangutan rehabilitation centres such as International Animal Rescue’s orangutan rehabilitation centre in Kalimantan, Indonesia, does not allow any form of tourism and strictly control the presence of people unconnected to their centres. To make matters worse, the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre (SORC) in the East Malaysian state of Sabah allows rotating volunteers to be part of the rehabilitation process. These individuals pay to volunteer at SORC for four weeks and there are a maximum of twelve people in a group. Click here to know why this can have an impact on the rehabilitant apes at SORC.

Please reconsider visiting or volunteering at rehabilitation centres which offer hands-on activities with rehabilitant orangutans, such as at SORC. The Sabah Wildlife Department, which manages SORC, is aware that tourism must not be allowed in great ape rehabilitation centres. Besides, the tourism at SORC doesn’t abide by the “Best practice guidelines for great ape tourism” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature [IUCN]. See here for more details. If you want to see orangutans in Malaysia, see them in the wild, like at Kinabatangan in Sabah, Malaysia.

Please also read Orangutan Project’s excellent article on human-orangutan contact and its consequences, click here to read.


Three photos in this post of visitors to Sepilok in contact with orangutans.


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The banks and investors exposed to deforestation risks in Southeast Asia

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Rainforest Action Network has produced an excellent report on financiers which backs companies involved in forest destruction, including for palm oil. The report can be viewed at this website: http://forestsandfinance.org/

Meanwhile, Clean Malaysia has published article with a summary of the report. Link to the article can be found here. Excerpt from Clean Malaysia’s article is as follows:

“Between 2010 and 2015 lenders from around the world gave an estimated total of US$50 billion (RM205 billion) to corporate entities, including palm oil companies, that engaged in extensive deforestation in the two countries. The total value of loans Malaysian banks gave to companies engaged in forest clearance amounted to US$7.7 billion (RM31.6 billion).

The top two financiers of companies that posed threats to forests were Malayan Banking and CIMB in Malaysia: each provided loans amounting to US$2.5 billion (RM10.25 billion) for such purposes.”

Help save Lasah the elephant

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Lasah is a 37 year old wild born elephant who has suffered in zoos, tourism and entertainment for over 25 years.


Please click here to help #FreeLasah.


Lasah has been forced to work in a logging camp, lived in zoos including Singapore Zoo, perform in shows including in a popular Malaysian entertainment outlet and used in commercials and the 1999 film Anna and the King.


Chained on all four legs


12 years ago he was sent to the popular Malaysian tourist island, Langkawi and since then has been used by the profit-making Langkawi Elephant Adventures [LEA]. There, Lasah is used for elephant rides and lives all alone, which is devastating for a social animal like elephants. LEA also continues to offer Lasah for other commercial purposes on their website.

In July 2016 activists exposed photos of Lasah chained on all four legs behind public eyes during LEA’s closing hours. In March 2017, eight months after the campaign for Lasah started, the Malaysian environment ministry said that Lasah is chained on two feet (when not exploited for tourist money).

Lasah has suffered for too long. This abuse must stop. Please help #FreeLasah so he may get to a sanctuary in Cambodia.

Click on the link below to take action now.






Indonesia’s zoos from hell

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Below we post a special commentary by the CEO of Nature Alert regarding the dreadful condition of many zoos Indonesia. Orangutans and other wildlife are mismanaged and abused by uncaring zoos and they need urgent help.

Zoos in Indonesia have been in the news recently for all the right and wrong reasons.

Let me explain. In one day the Jakarta Post, recently published two articles critical of what is supposed to be Indonesia’s flagship zoo: Ragunan. In reality it’s a horrible place to visit. Most people go there at weekends only to escape the mayhem elsewhere in Jakarta.

What was refreshing about one article were the candid opinions of a zoo keeper. He clearly cared about the tigers he was responsible for. Even so, he admits tigers should not be imprisoned.

People do not go to Jakarta Zoo to learn about the animals. Mostly, they go to tease and torment them, because this zoo, like all others in Indonesia, is there to entertain and attempt to make a profit. They have nothing to do with conservation or education. Any foreigner who has the misfortune to visit this zoo on a weekend will surely live to regret it – the stuff of nightmares.

I’ve been visiting Ragunan Zoo for about twenty years and in that time have seen nothing improve. Yes, I have had plenty of sleepless nights after each visit.


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Orangutan at Ragunan Zoo (Photo: Friends of the Orangutans Malaysia)

Elsewhere in Indonesia you can easily see, if so inclined, widespread cruelty in zoos. It’s impossible to avoid. One of the worst is known as the ‘Zoo from Hell’, at Bandung, the capital of West Java province.  This place is an endless pit of animal neglect and depravity. A sickening place to visit with starving animals and filth everywhere.

Now, anyone with a heart, might reasonably ask, ‘why does the government permit this zoo to remain open, especially as the Mayor of Bandung, agrees the zoo is hell on earth for animals and is on record as saying he’s told the ministry of environment and forestry many times to close the zoo, but they won’t?’

When well-meaning NGOs like SCORPION offered their help and free food for the animals at Bandung Zoo, the manager aggressively denied there was anything wrong. Tachrir Fathoni, director general of ecosystem and natural resource conservation, has shown no interest in this, or any other zoo, in dire need either of closing, or new management.

All the evidence suggests neither the minister, or Tachrir Fathoni, care one bit about this zoo or the many others where animal suffering is of a plague-like scale. If you are fortunate not to have visited any of these zoos, imagine a concentration camp for animals and you will get the picture.

What happens next? Probably, nothing. Why? Because no one in the environment and forestry ministry cares. Not a single individual in the ministry has shown the slightest interest, or concern, for the appalling state of Indonesia’s zoos.

What can you do to help? If you want to avoid encouraging animal cruelty and depravity, being reduced to tears by the sight of sick and hungry animals, your children being exposed to dirt and disease, it’s best to stay away from every zoo in Indonesia.

If you doubt what I say, you need only to look on TripAdvisor for comments about any zoo. Just remember these comments are made by visitors – not NGOs or experts in animal welfare – people whose comments would be a lot more detailed and harsh.

Am I biased? Yes. Along with others, I do my best to speak for the animals incarcerated in dreadful zoos, unable to speak for themselves.


Sean Whyte


Nature Alert

Poster campaign for Lasah

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Help us #FreeLasah! We have just launched our photo campaign in our continued efforts to free Lasah the elephant from a life of torment on the holiday island of Langkawi to a elephant sanctuary in Cambodia.

This wild born elephant has spent all his life in zoos, a logging camp, used in films and commercials and is now used for tourists to ride on him. Recently investigators found Lasah chained on all four legs when he was not being made to work for tourist money. For more information on Lasah’s plight click here.

Without your support none of our previous campaigns would have been victorious. The very unfortunate Lasah has got only YOU to rely on. Please help us free Lasah today and join our photo campaign.


1. Download and print the poster from this link: https://www.fotomalaysia.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/new-01.jpg

  • To save the photo onto your computer: right click anywhere on the poster,  click ‘Save Image As’ and save the poster in the folder of your choice in your computer.

2. Take a photo of yourself with the poster (example: photo of the child above)

3. Send your photos to info@fotomalaysia.org, OR

4. Tweet us your photos at https://twitter.com/fotorangutans


Please let us know if you need help!


Please remember to sign and share the petition for Lasah at this link.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
– Margaret Mead


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PepsiCo exposed again

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PepsiCo, one of the biggest food manufacturers in the world, has been exposed again for its use of Conflict Palm Oil.

Manik, who is trafficked into work on a Malaysian palm oil plantation, trapped in debt and without his passport; Sutantri, a young mother who accepts part-time work with toxic chemicals so she can provide for her family; and Adi, a father who must bring his wife and children to work on the plantation so he can make his quota and afford to make ends meet for his family.

These are just some of the victims of Conflict Palm Oil in Malaysia and Indonesia. FOTO joins Rainforest Action Network in exposing PepsiCo‘s use of Conflict Palm Oil. Please watch and share this short video to expose the truth.


Rampant deforestation in Kedah

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In May this year The Star exposed deforestation of valuable forests in the state of Kedah. Not long after consultancy group AidEnvironment released a damning report of thrashing of forest in the state. Timber from logging in the state is exported to outside Malaysia and given the ‘sustainable’ MTCC label. You can read AidEnvironment’s full report here.

Friends of the Orangutans revealed the extent of the deforestation currently taking place in Kedah in a publication by Malaysiakini and it can be read in full below. More news about the deforestation will be exposed on our website.


Rampant deforestation in Kedah needs to stop

Despite the Malaysian government’s promises to protect our forests and the environment, deforestation is occurring on a destructive scale. As you read this article, forests in the Kedah state are being devoured on a daily basis, and this needs to be stopped.

Only recently The Star exposed rampant deforestation in the Ulu Muda forest reserve. Ulu Muda is a vital water catchment area as it supplies water to over two million Malaysians. It is also teeming with wildlife. Destroying Ulu Muda will not only severely disrupt supply of water but will lead to increased illegal wildlife trade, which is taking place at a alarming rate, to say the least.

In recent years, the Kedah state government approved logging leases in the virgin forests of the Ulu Muda forest reserve and just over the past four years at least 10,000 hectares of forests have been logged in Ulu Muda. So let’s not blame on forces of nature alone when water supply in Kedah, Perlis and Penang is severely affected.

Aside from Ulu Muda the pristine Gunung Inas forest reserve is also being destroyed, including at very steep slopes. In 2012, Sirim QAS, one of two forest management auditors of the Malaysian Timber Certification Council (MTCC), stated that deforestation in Gunung Inas had stopped after clearing was exposed by The Star. However, earlier this year deforestation simply resumed, including in forests above 1,000m above sea level.

Is it not the case that our government policies prohibit clearance on steep slopes and in forests 1000 metres above sea level?

Clearing has also been spotted in the Chebar Besar forest reserve. Forests cleared here would most likely qualify as High Conservation Value (HCV) forest.

Meanwhile, the primary forests inside Pedu forest reserve have not been spared either. Hundreds of hectares were cleared in 2012 and open burning to clear land continued into 2014. Bukit Perangin forest reserve has also been affected.

Is there no end to this avaricious madness? Much of the forests cleared above are primary or High Conservation Value (HCV) forests. Villagers in the area surrounding the reserves mentioned above are at risk of facing water pollution/shortages, landslides and flooding. The government must take immediate action and stop all deforestation in Kedah.

To make matters worse, the Kedah state exceeded its Annual Allowable Cut (AAC) by 283 percent between year 2009 and 2014.

One might ask, what happens after logs have been cleared from the forest reserves? They will be marketed globally with the MTCS label, claiming the timber originates from sustainably managed forests. Malaysians know that this is a farce but even locally, voices of dissent are ignored by MTCC.


Direct link to publication can be found here.

Katarina’s new lease of life!

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Last year you helped us in our campaign for Katarina the orangutan at the horrible Kuala Lipis Zoo in the Peninsular Malaysia. She was the lone orangutan at the zoo and was kept in awful conditions. After several months of campaigning we won and Katarina was moved to Taiping Zoo.

Earlier this month [June] we visited Katarina at her new home [again] and was delighted to see her busy having fun with her new red ape friends, never still, always bugging the other orangutans to play with her!

Video of Katarina in the enclosure at this link: https://youtu.be/2MYcJFI5SBI

Thank you to all of you who participated in our campaign for Katarina. You’ve helped give an orangutan a better life!






Orangutan death exposes malpractice at Sepilok

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A letter by the director of Friends of the Orangutans Malaysia was recently published by Free Malaysia Today, regarding the impact of massive, unsustainable & unethical orangutan tourism at the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre (SORC)



May 18, 2016

Experts says ‘forests’ like the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre must be off limits to the public for purposes of tourism although this is something officials refuse to address.



Photo of Yoda, the Orangutan courtesy of Friends of the Orangutans (Malaysia).
















By Upreshpal Singh

Many tourists flock to Malaysia every year to see our majestic flora and fauna. Sadly both are rapidly disappearing as a result of continued deforestation for oil palm plantations, and the ongoing wildlife trade. Unfortunately unethical and unsustainable wildlife tourism is also currently being carried out at a number of wildlife establishments in the country.

One such centre is the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre (SORC) near Sandakan, Sabah. For many years SORC has been a popular tourist destination in the state, attracting thousands of visitors annually from around the world who come to view Sabah’s iconic orangutans. However, unbeknownst to these tourists, these orangutan viewing practices come at a heavy price to the orangutans themselves.

SORC is called a ‘rehabilitation centre’ for orangutans, yet orangutan experts and all reputable rehabilitation centres agree that for successful rehabilitation, these centres must be off limits to the public for several reasons, one of which is to minimise disease risk and habituation to humans. Exposing endangered orangutans to thousands of tourists greatly increases their risk of contracting diseases such as tuberculosis and hepatitis and vice versa. Habituated and diseased orangutans cannot ever be released into the wild. Some may argue that the small Sepilok-Kabili forest is a final release site for orangutans but at only 4,300 hectares it is actually a reserve for semi-wild orangutans. Experts however are in total agreement that tourism should not be allowed in ‘forests’ where ex-rehabilitant orangutans roam freely and live.

Visitors are informed not to touch or hold orangutans at Sepilok. But can we expect tourists who have flown in from various parts of the world to reject the opportunity of coming into contact with an orangutan? And in most cases, it’s the apes who approach visitors and the former might turn aggressive towards visitors if it is fended off. This is one of the reasons great ape rehabilitation centres must be off limits to the public.

As a direct consequence of the massive tourism at SORC, there are now many habituated orangutans who will never be viable candidates for true release completely back to the wild into Tabin Wildlife Reserve in eastern Sabah. Disturbingly, visitor reports and photos and our investigations have shown that Sepilok’s orangutans regularly get far too close to and even have direct contact with visitors at SORC. Alarmingly these habituated apes can also be seen outside the rehabilitation centre, in nearby hotels and at the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC). We were informed that a couple of orangutans used to smash equipment at a hotel outside SORC if they were not fed when they showed up. It all seems chaotic at SORC, doesn’t it?

It is therefore not surprising to know that in January this year, a habituated orangutan named ‘Yoda’ was tragically electrocuted to death just outside the centre whilst on his way to a hotel which he was known to visit. Friends of the Orangutans Malaysia (Foto) have in the past written to the Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD) about the risks to habituated orangutans and visitors regarding tourism practices at Sepilok, but to no avail. All our emails to SWD to know its mitigation plans following Yoda’s death have gone unanswered.

Foto has also received disturbing reports of orangutans harassing and ‘mugging’ visitors to the SORC. We have been informed that a handful of habituated orangutans have gone missing from SORC as a result of their continued harassment of visitors. Late last year Foto asked the SWD of the whereabouts of one orangutan called ‘Toby’ who has reported as gone ‘missing’ from SORC. SWD never addressed our question. Has something terrible happened to Toby and others? We have been informed of other nightmarish stories coming out of SORC.

Ethical and sustainable orangutan tourism can be achieved and at the benefit of Sabahans and the state. Through social media and word-of-mouth tourists are becoming much more aware of the detrimental effect of tourism practices at SORC for the orangutan and will start to boycott the centre unless urgent action is taken to halt tourism there.

Upreshpal Singh is Director of Friends of the Orangutans (Malaysia).


Stop the suffering of sun bears at Miri Crocodile Farm

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Below is the statement by FOTO regarding the sorry state of wildlife in the atrocious Miri Crocodile Farm in Sarawak. FOTO has written to Sarawak wildlife authorities asking for all sun bears to be confiscated and other animals helped, urgently.


Investigators from Friends of the Orangutans Malaysia (Foto) recently investigated the Miri Crocodile Farm (MCF) in Sarawak after we received numerous complaints of cruelty and exploitation of wildlife from concerned members of the public. We were shocked to find the conditions the animals are forced to live in at the farm (it’s not even a zoo).


At MCF we found three sun bears forced to live in appalling conditions. These sun bears are visibly stressed and are suffering from zoochosis as a result of living in a concrete tomb without enrichment. No readily available, clean drinking water was seen. These are conditions which resembles a 19th-century zoo. Sun bears are a protected species in Sarawak and with many bear experts calling for urgent action to prevent their extinction in the wild. These bears and other animals at the farm urgently need help.


The management of MCF also offers farm visitors opportunities to take photos with a sun bear cub. According to a staff, this cub is taken (away from its mother) from an enclosure and returned to it at the end of the day. Although no evidence of this practice could be determined by our investigators, it seems far more likely that the bear permanently resides in a barren metal cage next to the photo session area. Needless to say even if this is true it is extremely cruel to take this cub away from its mother so farm visitors can have their photographs taken with it.

It seems obvious that it is also extremely dangerous for both the bear and the public as the cub could at anytime, without warning, maul a farm visitor with its very large claws and when this happens would this just be the fault of the irresponsible and abusive MCF management or also the failing of the wildlife authorities in Sarawak who have allowed this practise to continue for almost 20 years despite repeated complaints from the public and media? Sun bears are extremely strong animals and by no means tame.




A farm visitor with the sun bear cub



Sun bears are listed as an Appendix I animal and therefore a totally protected species as listed by CITES, while the Sarawak Wild Life Protection Ordinance, 1998 states that Appendix I animals “shall (not) be reared, kept, grown or cultivated in any commercial wild life farm”. So why has MCF gotten away with keeping and abusing the sun bears all these years?


Our investigators also saw erratic and stressed macaques kept in near barren cages, forced to sit on cold concrete day in, day out. Horses look thin and pale, reptiles such as snakes housed in tiny aquarium tanks. The list is endless and to summarise MCF is a nightmare for all wildlife. It seems the management of the farm either doesn’t know how to, or cannot be bothered to provide even basic care for its animals or are severely underfunded. Possibly all three.



Short tail macaques



Foto asks the Sarawak Forestry Corporation, Sarawak Forestry Department or some other authority for wildlife in Sarawak to urgently re-home at the very least the four sun bears and all IUCN Endangered animals at MCF. The farm also needs to urgently improve the living conditions of all other remaining animals there. In neighbouring Sabah there is now a world recognised sun bear education centre and sanctuary of international excellence; also following our public campaign against cheap and nasty tourist traps abusing sun bears for profit. The Sabah Wildlife Department earlier this year rescued the now internationally infamous Tawau Hot Springs bears and rehoused them at the sun bear sanctuary.


All animals need our care and respect and they must not be used and abused for monetary or other purposes. We call on all Malaysians to speak out and take action for the voiceless animals. Citizens of our country should also remember that wild animals belong in the wild and not in captivity for the entertainment of zoo/farm visitors.