Welfare concerns: an analysis of orangutan management at Bukit Merah Orang Utan Island

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Friends of the Orangutans • 27 Jan 2020

Our report ‘Welfare concerns: an analysis of orangutan management at Bukit Merah Orang Utan Island’ raises concerns about the management of the critically endangered Bornean orangutan species at the Bukit Merah Orang Utan Island, a captive orangutan facility managed by the Bukit Merah Orang Utan Island Foundation (BMOUIF) near the city of Taiping, Perak.

Download the full report here (PDF): Welfare concerns: an analysis of orangutan management at Bukit Merah Orang Utan Island

We have analysed the following issues in the report:
· orangutan births and orangutan mortality at the facility
· orangutans unaccounted for
· interbirth intervals and infant separation
· orangutan rehabilitation
· disease management
· husbandry and welfare concerns
· three scientific research articles authored by BMOUIF’s chief executive officer and veterinary surgeon.

The sources of the information in this report include the 2018 International Studbook of the Orangutan, published in 2019; a 2018 research article entitled ‘Behavioral studies and veterinary management of orangutans at Bukit Merah Orang Utan Island, Perak, Malaysia’; the book entitled The Orangutans of Bukit Merah, published by the BMOUIF; and personal communications with the BMOUIF and orangutan conservationists.

A copy of our report was sent to the BMOUIF in September 2020. The Foundation received the report but is yet to confirm if recommendations made in the report will be adopted.

Appalling Video of Elephant in Chains at Kemaman Zoo Rings Alarm Bells Again

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Talong and Seri are two young Asian elephants at Kemaman Zoo, the only zoo in the east coast Malaysian state of Terengganu. Both elephants were caught in a forest in Terengganu, indicating that they were born in the wild. We estimate they arrived at the zoo in 2011.

In a set of disturbing videos and photos, taken in May 2019 and obtained by Friends of the Orangutans, Talong, a ten-year-old male, is seen appallingly shackled at Kemaman Zoo.

A one minute video reveals both of Talong’s front feet chained, which would have rendered him almost immobile – under the searing Malaysian sun. Water is seen available in the video. However, elephants are inclined not to consume warm water.

CLICK HERE to watch the video.

The area in which Talong is tethered is the ‘new’ elephant enclosure at Kemaman Zoo, constructed several years ago and appears to have remained unused as the two elephants at the zoo are still kept in a different enclosure.

Both him and Seri – a twelve-year-old female – were sent to Kemaman Zoo about ten years ago. The transfer was made possible by PERHILITAN, the Peninsular Malaysia wildlife department.

A 2017 video shows Talong chained on one foot in the rain at the zoo. He can be seen swaying his head back and forth, a stereotypical behaviour among captive elephants under psychological distress.

While the photo below, likely taken in 2011, show either baby Talong or Seri shackled in chains at Kemaman Zoo, surrounded by two individuals with a bullhook in their hands. One of the staff is wearing a shirt bearing the PERHILITAN logo (image has been resized).

 

Photo: Baby Talong or Seri at Kemaman Zoo

The use of bullhooks is no secret in many captive facilities in Southeast Asia and around the world. An elephant keeper uses a bullhook to assert and maintain dominance over elephants in their care. According to Dr Philip Ensley, an elephant veterinarian with almost 30 years experience working at the San Diego Zoo:

“Elephants are conditioned to fear the bullhook at an early age. The bullhook, which has a metal hook and spiked tip, plays a critical part of the [captive] baby elephant’s early training.”

Why was Talong seen in chains in the 2017 and 2019 videos? PERHILITAN needs to respond and inform the public how it will guarantee that elephants at Kemaman Zoo will be treated humanely.

Could it be due to inadequate facilities to meet both elephants’ complex needs? Do the elephants receive sufficient enrichment daily? The current elephant enclosure at the zoo, like at most Malaysian zoos, is tiny. These may also increase the frustration of growing elephants, making them more challenging to be managed. In the wild elephants travel through wide, open areas for miles.

 

Photo: Talong and Seri in the current elephant enclosure at Kemaman Zoo

PERHILITAN should also explain what improvements will be made in the new enclosure, as an elephant previously stated that it is “flawed.”

PERHILITAN must stop sending elephants to zoos in pairs. Elephants, especially females, are herd animals. Young elephants need to grow up around older elephants, particularly females. 

Forcing elephants to only live in pairs, especially from a young and in a substandard environment may cause psychological problems for these gentle beasts.

According to a June 2018 news report, a stunning RM 60 million had been spent on expanding Kemaman Zoo, a state-owned zoo which is reportedly bleeding money.

The images and videos undoubtedly raise questions about the welfare of elephants and other animals at the zoo again. See other articles and reports related to Kemaman Zoo at the end of this article.

Elephant management in captivity

Commonly, two techniques are applied to manage elephants in captivity; direct contact and protected contact.

In short, direct contact management, unlike protected contact management, involves elephant keepers often having to manage elephants without safety barriers between them and the elephants.

Direct contact management regularly requires keepers to assert dominance over elephants from a young age. While dominance over elephants is said to secure the safety of keepers, it often leads to serious questions about the welfare of elephants in their care, like at the National Elephant Conservation Centre in Kuala Gandah.

In 2011 Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) announced that North Americans zoos would need to make the transition towards protected contact management:

“As soon as possible and no later than September 1, 2014, elephant care providers at AZA facilities with elephants shall not share the same unrestricted space with elephants, except in certain, well-defined circumstances”

PERHILITAN should stop sending elephants in its care to zoos that do not have or are unwilling to provide modern facilities for captive elephants to ensure their welfare.

 

NGOs: End the Abuse of Animals at Kemaman Zoo

Perhilitan: Nothing Untoward at Kemaman Zoo

Nothing wrong at Kemaman Zoo? Nonsense, say Animal Rights Activists

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

 

Wildlife authorities not transparent about orangutans at Sepilok, but asks the public to donate

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The Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD) is appealing the public to donate to the controversial state-owned Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre. However, it will not show transparency about the future six Sepilok orangutans and has not informed if investigations were carried out to determine what happened to the mothers of two orphaned infant orangutans now at the centre.

The SWD appears to have set up the Sepilok Orangutan Trust Fund. In a 15 November post on the department’s education unit Facebook page, details were provided on how the public can donate to the centre: to pay for the care of orangutans at the SORC.

 

Screenshot of the SWD run Facebook page requesting donations for the SORC. Post available here

Friends of the Orangutans have previously revealed that tourism at the SORC does not abide by the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) great ape tourism guidelines. As our article explains, tourism should not take place at the SORC, and we have narrated the adverse effects of tourism on orangutans at the centre.

For months the SWD has remained silent about welfare concerns for six orangutans at the SORC; apes whose futures are uncertain and legitimate questions about their ability to live independently in a forest have been raised. The six orangutans are humanised apes and humanisation, which is the over-habituation and overdependency on humans, may fail an orangutan’s successful return to forest life and doom the apes to a life of captivity.

Hands-on paid 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.

In September, we asked the SWD if it conducted investigations to determine the fate of the mothers of a couple of orphaned orangutan infants. The department has yet to answer, and yet it also allows public donations to be collected for the two infants.

Even more worrying, we recently questioned if an orangutan was needlessly euthanised at the SORC. The SWD has not confirmed or denied the allegation.

Now, the SWD, which previously sanctioned the supply of orphaned infant orangutans to a luxury hotel in Sabah on the pretence of rehabilitation, is requesting donations for the SORC.

It is worth remembering that distinguished and ethical orangutan rehabilitation centres in Indonesia are NGO-run and do not receive financial support from the Indonesian government. Is the SWD asking for donations because the Sabah state government is not able to adequately fund the SORC, a centre where for years orangutans have been used to increase profits for the state?

 

Further reading:

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

FOTO condemns Taiping Zoo’s breeding of orangutans

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Published 10 November 2020. Main image: Wasabi (L) and Katarina with their newborn infants
Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

In December 2019, Katarina, a 16-year-old orangutan, gave birth at the Taiping Zoo & Night Safari. Two months later, 18-year-old Wasabi also produced an offspring at the zoo. Previously, Wasabi gave birth to an offspring in December 2017. The infant died before reaching one year old.

We contacted Taiping 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.

Captive breeding of orangutans is not conservation. Tweet to PERHILITAN, the Peninsular Malaysia wildlife dept., to ask them to stop Malaysia zoos breeding orangutans. CLICK HERE to tweet now.

Friends of the Orangutans (FOTO) believes zoos want exotic animals such as orangutans, chimpanzees and tigers – and especially cute newborns – to increase visitor numbers. In other words, orangutan breeding in captivity is about profits.

In mid-September, the president of the Melaka Hang Tuah Jaya Municipal Council (MPHTJ) stated that Melaka Zoo was attempting to acquire more orangutans to increase visitor numbers.

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.

Katarina’s origins are unknown, but she will remain captive for life. Both Wasabi, who was born at Taiping Zoo, and the two newborn infants will remain in captivity for life, and die without ever knowing what a rainforest is.

According to an article by two wildlife experts, orangutans do not and cannot thrive in zoos. Orangutans are highly intelligent and complex animals, and it can be a challenge to meet their needs in captivity. Till this day FOTO continues to reveal substandard living conditions of orangutans in Malaysian zoos.

In September we revealed a distressing image of Wasabi with her new infant inside a dilapidated cage at the Taiping Zoo. The cage is off-limits to zoo visitors; they are not allowed to see where the zoo orangutans are kept when they’re not in the outdoor enclosure.

Image: Wasabi with her newborn infant at Taiping Zoo

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.

Before arriving at Taiping Zoo, Katarina was kept alone in a dilapidated zoo in Kuala Lipis. Six years ago, FOTO campaigned for her to be sent to a sanctuary, the Matang Wildlife Centre, near Kuching, Sarawak. The sanctuary does not breed orangutans.

However, PERHILITAN, the Peninsular Malaysia wildlife department, instead sent Katarina to Taiping Zoo. We only found out about Katarina’s transfer to Taiping Zoo through media publications.

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? Ask PERHILITAN, the Peninsular Malaysia wildlife department, to stop the breeding of orangutans in zoos. CLICK HERE to tweet to PERHILITAN now. If you are not from Malaysia, please send contents from this article to your local elected officials and zoos and demand the same of them.

Why won’t PERHILITAN prosecute Zoo Negara?

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Friends of the Orangutans  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.

In May this year, we demanded Zoo Negara to stop the breeding of its chimps and orangutans. We also asked the zoo to provide evidence to the Malaysian public about how its wildlife ‘research’, ‘conservation’ and ‘education’ (as stated on the Zoo Negara website) helps to protect the habitat and increase the wild population of all animal species the zoo maintains.

The Zoo Negara management has yet to respond.

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?

 

Captive breeding of orangutans is not conservation

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Friends of the Orangutans • 23 Oct 2020

In December 2019 and February this year, two orangutans were born at Taiping Zoo & Night Safari, Malaysia. We contacted the zoo’s president 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 [orangutan] population … in the event that there is a need for reintroduction to the wild.”

We believe the captive breeding of orangutans should stop everywhere.

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 forest survival skills by their mothers. These include nest-building, avoiding predators, foraging and integrating into a wild orangutan population. The natural conditions in a forest are near-impossible to replicate in a captive setting.

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 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 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 of orangutan conservation. Moreover, the IUCN does not include any orangutan species in its species list 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 – is the financial motive. The Aspinall Foundation put it bluntly: “[Zoos] are in the conservation of business and not in the business of conservation.”

In mid-September, the local council that manages Melaka Zoo, a zoo two hours south of the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur, stated that the zoo 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. To this day, we continue to reveal substandard living conditions of orangutans in Malaysian zoos.

Legitimate ape sanctuaries do their best to avoid animals in their care from breeding. According to the Center for Great Apes, an American sanctuary caring for unreleasable orangutans and chimpanzees, “it would be 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 sensitive and emotional animals to only hold 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 struggles such as protecting and connecting wild orangutan habitats, addressing human-orangutan conflict, and tackling the illegal wildlife trade. Advocacy support from the general public to courageously fight deforestation and the destruction of nature is crucial to secure the future of dwindling wildlife species.

If you too think that orangutans should not be bred in zoos, share this article on your social media outlets, and send this article to your local officials and zoos and demand them to stop the captive breeding of orangutans.

 

What happened to the mothers of two orphaned Sepilok orangutans?

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Friends of the Orangutans • 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, has not informed 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 ask for 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 plantation [sic]” 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 – the SORC is a rehabilitation 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:

           Augustine.Tuuga@sabah.gov.my

           Copy the two email addresses below into the CC list. They are emails of the SWD and the Sabah environment ministry:

jumrafiah.abdshukor@sabah.gov.my
rhinosbh@gmail.com
jamilinais@gmail.com

 

 

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.

    kadir@wildlife.gov.my
    Dato’ Abdul Kadir bin Abu Hashim
    Director, PERHILITAN (Peninsular Malaysia wildlife department)

    Add these emails in the CC list:
    azhar@wildlife.gov.my
    shamsul.anuar@ketsa.gov.my

 

Treatment of Bornean orangutans at Zoo Negara distasteful

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Published 18 September 2020. Main image: Two Bornean orangutans at Zoo Negara
Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

Six years ago, two pandas were imported into Zoo Negara from China. Since then, millions of dollars have been spent on the maintenance of the animals. Zoo Negara vice-president, Rosly Ahmat Lana, boasted back in 2014 that the zoo’s Giant Panda Conservation and Exhibition Centre was the “biggest and best in the world.”

Zoo Negara houses four Bornean orangutans. While the pandas are kept in what appears to be a state-of-the-art facility, the four apes are constrained in two visibly substandard outdoor enclosures. These enclosures are not fit for purpose and unacceptable, especially since Malaysia is a country home to the critically endangered Bornean orangutan species.

 

Two Bornean orangutan enclosures at Zoo Negara

What the apes need in the odd-looking, sloped enclosures are elevated platforms connected by robust horizontal ropes to allow them to mimic some of the natural behaviours of wild orangutans, and enable them to exercise to maintain their physical and mental wellbeing. There is an insufficient shade to protect the apes from the searing Malaysian sun in one of the enclosures.

Both enclosures also lack privacy barriers, another essential feature for captive orangutans to rest out of the sight of zoo visitors and other apes when they choose to do so – important to reduce the apes’ stress in captivity.

Friends of the Orangutans (FOTO) first contacted the zoo management about these concerns over two years ago. We also wrote to the zoo in May this year. The zoo management has only taken minimal action. Based on our investigations at the zoo, the orangutans are mostly seen on the ground, looking bored and listless.

Orangutans are arboreal animals, and wild orangutans spend most of their lives in trees. Arboreal locomotion, the ability to travel off the ground is a vital element for captive orangutans. According to captive orangutan management guidelines by esteemed orangutan expert Leif Cocks:

 

‘The most important aspect of the captive physical environment for orang utans is the amount of arboreal space available for both rest and locomotion (Maple 1979; Maple and Stine 1982; Jones 1982). Horizontal arboreal pathways and nesting/resting platforms are the main elements of the natural physical environment (Jones 1982). The lack of opportunity for arboreal locomotion promotes lethargy and contributes to obesity (Maple 1980). The combination of lethargy and living on the ground causes health hazards.’

 

An orangutan enclosure at an international zoo. Not the best, but a far cry from Zoo Negara’s enclosures

Zoo Negara is a member of the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA). According to the WAZA Code of Ethics and Animal Welfare:

 

‘All exhibits must be of such size and volume as to allow the animal to express its natural behaviours. Enclosures must contain sufficient material to allow behavioural enrichment and allow the animal to express natural behaviours. The animals should have areas to which they may retreat …’

 

Zoo Negara, a member of the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA), is no stranger to controversy. Earlier this year, FOTO exposed the zoo for its cruel treatment of Sumatran orangutans and chimpanzees and failing to comply with zoo regulations. Although the zoo was forced to take action, PERHILITAN, the Peninsular Malaysia wildlife department, is yet to announce if it will penalise the zoo.

This year alone, the Malaysian media raised two other cases of animal welfare concerns at the zoo. A 2019 Malaysian media article indicated that the Malaysian anti-corruption authorities would investigate the zoo for “possible corruption.”

In our letter to the zoo in May, we asked the management to provide evidence to the Malaysian public about how its wildlife ‘research’, ‘conservation’ and ‘education’ (as stated on the zoo website) helps to protect the habitat and increase the wild population of all animal species the zoo maintains.

The management has not responded, and in the meantime, Zoo Negara continues to ask the public for donations.

The zoo also did not respond to our demand for it to cease breeding its Bornean orangutans and chimps. (Sumatran orangutans at the zoo are fraternally related, and must not be bred). 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. The Malaysian public can assist in genuine conservation initiatives by donating to and campaigning with organisations that fight to protect rainforests and wildlife habitats, not zoos that keep animals captive.

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

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Friends of the Orangutans  •  2 Sept 2020  •  Updated 19 Jan 2020

There are genuine concerns over the unexplained fate and welfare of six Critically Endangered orangutans at the controversial Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre (SORC).

The Sabah Wildlife Dept (SWD) is the Sabah state wildlife agency that controls the SORC. It has not demonstrated transparency to the public about these six apes’ current situation since June 2020.

What can you do now to help?

CLICK HERE to tweet to the authorities

CLICK HERE to sign and share our petition to demand transparency

The six orangutans are Ceria (age 15), Rosa (female, 18), Mowgli (18), Poogle (17), Tiger (22) and Sen (15). They arrived at the SORC in their infancy – supposedly for rehabilitation to prepare them for wild-release – after becoming orphans in the wild; their mothers might have been killed.

All six apes are humanised orangutans, and the details presented below also raise concerns if their rehabilitation may have failed – leading to welfare concerns of these apes.

To help you understand why there are concerns for the six apes, we first need to describe orangutan humanisation, its probable causes at the SORC and impacts on the animals.

Orangutan humanisation

In orangutan conservation humanisation refers to an orangutan’s over habituation to, and/or overdependence on, humans. It can fail an orangutan’s rehabilitation for forest-release. Humanisation (and disease transmission) risks led the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to conclude that tourism should not be allowed at orangutan rehabilitation centres.

Unscrupulous hands-on voluntourism practices at the SORC for over 15 years until early 2020, and contentious orangutan tourism may have well increased the risk of orangutan humanisation at the SORC, which could jeopardise the apes’ future. For 20 years until 2016, the SWD sanctioned the supply of orphan, infant SORC orangutans to a luxury hotel in Sabah under the pretence of rehabilitation. We campaigned and stopped this exploitative tourism in 2016.

According to conservationists, the effect of humanisation on orangutans undergoing rehabilitation can, among others:

  • Encourage terrestriality, divert their interest away from natural behaviours and interactions within the forest environment
  • Affect their nest building and foraging skills, thus hampering an orangutan’s chances of surviving in a forest
  • Cause the apes to lose their fear of humans, making them far too comfortable with human presence and even seeking interaction with humans. This can increase their proximity to humans, which in turn can increase:
    • the risk of attacks on both humans and orangutans
    • the risk of contracting disease from humans (e.g., hepatitis, tuberculosis, influenza)
    • their vulnerability to poachers and hunters

Wild-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 humanised orangutans is simply a public relations move, one that could lead to the apes’ early death.

Why are the concerns for the six humanised apes?

Rosa, the only female orangutan among the six, was known to steal from items at the SORC and “her next victim”. Through no fault of his own, Ceria has displayed worrying behaviours, including attacking a SORC tourist. He has been injured by a pack of dogs near the centre – as was revealed in ‘Meet the Orangutans’, a maleducative 2016 Animal Planet documentary series about the SORC.

According to our sources, Tiger has been kept in a cage at the SORC since December 2018 after his second release into Tabin Wildlife Reserve* (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. This suggests that these apes are a physical risk to tourists and staff (when left to roam around the centre). The SORC was close to getting sued by a tour company for safety negligence (physical danger by a humanised orangutan).

Based on information from a 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 tourists. 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 the media finds out about it. It is no surprise then that according to our sources, like Tiger, Ceria and Sen are also kept in cages at the SORC.

No transparency from the Sabah Wildlife Department

An October 2019 Borneo Post news report indicated that Ceria and Rosa would be released from the SORC into TWR. In January 2020, we wrote to the SWD to express our concern about the reported release plan and asked the department first to present release plans and available data which led the department deciding to move the orangutans to TWR to the IUCN/SSC Primate Specialist Group. We also asked the SWD to inform for how long post-release monitoring** (PRM) would be carried out.

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 provide details about the six orangutans stated above.

We continue to demand the SWD to show complete transparency on the management and futures of Ceria, Rosa, Mowgli, Poogle, Tiger and Sen.

Tweet to the SWD to demand transparency. CLICK HERE to tweet now. Sign and share our petition for the six apes

 

*A 120,000 hectare protected forest reserve in East Sabah. It is surrounded by oil palm plantations

**When rehabilitant orangutans are released into a forest, researchers need to monitor them to ensure that they can adapt and survive, including to forage efficiently. During monitoring, vital data is collected. Monitoring also enables human intervention if an orangutan is unable to adjust or requires medical attention. Therefore, post-release monitoring (PRM) is also crucial for welfare reasons. The IUCN recommends PRM be conducted for at least one year. Only when an orangutan has consistently proven to adapt and survive independently can the ape’s rehabilitation be considered a success.

 

Further reading about the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre:

When profits rule – Sepilok orangutan release disaster

Sepilok orangutan tourism – here’s what’s wrong

What happened to the mothers of two orphaned Sepilok orangutans?

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