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.

SWD’s dubious plan to release two orphaned Sepilok orangutans

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Photo: two young orangutans grab a tourist at the SORC

Based on an October 2019 Borneo Post news report, it appears that the Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD) is planning to move two “rehabilitated” yet humanised (over habituation to, and/or overdependency on, humans) orangutans, Rosa and Ceria, from the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre (SORC) to release them into the Tabin Wildlife Reserve (TWR), a forest in eastern Sabah.

Both Rosa and Ceria are reported to have arrived at the SORC for forest-release rehabilitation at age one, as orphans. As of 2020, Rosa is 19 years old while Ceria is 14.

In the area of orangutan rehabilitation, it is not typical for orangutans rescued in early infancy to take 10-15 years to be rehabilitated and released into a forest as adults.

Rosa has been labelled as often seen at the centre (instead of the forest adjacent to SORC) while she waited to steal from “her next victim”. She gave birth to her baby in captivity at SORC in May 2018. An alarming YouTube video shows Rosa and her baby on a tourist boardwalk near the SORC (they should be in a forest). We invite SWD to comment if Rosa’s infant is still in her care.

The 2016, 8-part Animal Planet documentary series about the SORC, Meet the Orangutans, labelled Rosa as “head and shoulders above the rest [of orangutans at the SORC]” when it came to stealing items at the centre. This behaviour indicates that Rosa has become humanised.

Ceria is known among the SORC staff as a physical risk to them and tourists. We confirm that he attacked a tourist in 2017. The Meet the Orangutans documentary revealed that Ceria was attacked and injured by a pack of feral dogs near the centre.

We have discovered that the founder of a British orangutan organisation which supports the SORC privately expressed concern that significant problems could arise if the media found out about the behaviour of several (humanised) SORC orangutans. These male apes – Ceria, Sen, Mowgly and Poogle – are apparently a physical risk to tourists and staff at the centre. Sources also revealed that the centre was close to getting sued by a tour company for safety negligence caused by a humanised orangutan.


Below are statements which have been made by British organisation Orangutan Appeal UK regarding Ceria’s behaviour.

– … causing mischief whenever possible! Keep a safe distance from Ceria if you spot him1
– … Bad boy Ceria has been hanging around the outdoor nursery again throwing rocks this time and now Kala has started to copy him!2
He’s supremely interested in the human goings-on at the Centre and studies visitors and staff intensely, waiting for the next opportunity to wreak havoc3
– … he and a gang of other adolescent orangutans raided the Centre’s café… Ceria managed to open the ice-cream freezer and grab some treats4
– … one of the rangers was in the small wooden boat on the lake cleaning debris away, when Ceria came up to the shoreline, untied the rope and then tried to haul the boat in whilst the ranger was frantically trying to keep himself afloat5


It is no surprise that a source informed us that Ceria is now kept in a cage at the SORC, likely humanising him even more as he will be dependant on staff to care for him. We were also informed that Sen and is now also kept in a cage at the SORC.

All that is stated above undoubtedly raises doubts about the real reasons for the SWD wanting to release Ceria and Rosa into the TWR.

Ceria’s behaviour is extremely alarming and he does not seem to be a viable and safe forest-release candidate any longer. Both Ceria and Rosa should now be living independently in a forest, away from humans, but the unsustainable and unethical tourism and hands-on volunteering* practices at the SORC cause humanisation among orangutans at the SORC, putting the apes’ future in jeopardy.

Humanisation can affect orangutans’ ability to build nests and forage in a forest. It can also cause the apes to lose their fear of humans and makes them far too comfortable with human presence. Read more about the effect of humanisation on orangutans here, and here.

On 22 January 2020 we wrote to the SWD to ask that no SORC orangutan is released into the TWR without the centre first fulfilling these two demands:

– Present its plans for the release of Ceria and any other SORC orangutan into the TWR to the IUCN/SSC Primate Specialist Group. This should include available data which led the department deciding to move the orangutans to the TWR.

– Inform how long it plans to conduct Post-release Monitoring and publish the monitoring data (as recommended by the IUCN), or at least submitting it to the IUCN/SSC Primate Specialist Group. The IUCN recommends monitoring be done ideally for at least a year.

The department has yet to respond.

If Ceria and Rosa are released into the TWR without the two demands being met members of the public and the media may mistakenly believe that the release is an immediate conservation success. A release can only be called a success if an orangutan is proven to be self-reliant in a forest after release – building nests and foraging efficiently while steering clear of humans. This can only be determined through Post-release Monitoring.

Previous releases of a humanised orangutan called Tiger unsurprisingly failed and his fate is now in doubt once more. In September 2019 the SWD once again said they plan to release Tiger. There should be full transparency in plans for his future. release. Read more about Tiger here.


Photo: Tiger in a cage at the SORC

We welcome the SWD and the KePKAS Ministry to respond to this article.


*The British company which ran the unethical volunteering programme at the SORC ceased trading in February 2020. However, neither the SWD nor the Sabah environment ministry has confirmed that the programme will not continue. Read more here.



1 https://www.orangutan-appeal.org.uk/about-us/meet-the-orangutans

2 https://go.aws/3bu9kF8

3 https://go.aws/2xXPC6U


5 https://go.aws/3bu9kF8

Lasah denied freedom

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Dear supporter,

On May 10th the Malaysian environment ministry announced that Lasah will remain at the Langkawi Elephant Adventures [LEA] after an evaluation.

In a publication by a government owned news agency [re-published by The Sun Malaysia] the ministry claimed that Lasah is in a “healthy condition” based on checks by the Wildlife and National Parks Department (Perhilitan) and the Malaysian Association of Zoological Parks and Aquaria (Mazpa). Mazpa has previously said that elephant rides provides Lasah with exercise, an excuse while ignoring the fact that elephants used in rides are abused.

You may read the government’s response at the link below:


Our remarks:

– Our concerns regarding Lasah’s health, use and abuse has never been addressed to us, including in the article above.

– In March, eight months after the campaign for Lasah started, the environment ministry finally said that “only two of Lasah’s legs are tied” [when not exploited for tourist money] and called it normal practice.

– LEA claims Lasah was chained on all four feet to help him recover from wounds. We responded, no one replied. Our response here: http://tinyurl.com/fmtlasah

– The ministry and LEA claim the latter abides by the law. However our emails to the former regarding Lasah’s [daily] chaining relating to Malaysian wildife laws were never responded.

What you can do today:

1. The wildlife department posted a photo of Lasah on their FB page with a quote “Lasah safe in Langkawi”. Please comment: http://tinyurl.com/lasahperh

2. Supporter Ms. Julia Savory started a petition demanding Tripadvisor remove LEA’s listings promoting them. Please sign and share her petition:


3. Donate, please help us keep our campaign going. Click on the donate button on the right of this page. Any amount will be of help.

We will not give up on Lasah and will continue campaigning. More updates soon. Thank you for all you have done so far.

Any comments? Please click here.



Friends of the Orangutans Malaysia

Lasah update – Malaysian government responds

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Dear supporter,

As we have previously informed, we had a meeting with the environment minister of Malaysia. During the meeting, which was also attended by the West Malaysia wildlife department, we informed the minister why Lasah needs to be transferred to the elephant sanctuary, the fact that Lasah has been a working elephant for over 25 years.

Soon after our meeting, the minister visited Lasah on 14th March. The ministry then announced that Lasah is in “good shape and healthy” [which we are skeptical about]. However, our concerns regarding Lasah’s condition & treatment since the start of the campaign were not addressed in the announcement.

That said, the ministry did announce on the same date that they would “hold discussions” regarding transferring Lasah to the Kuala Gandah elephant sanctuary. No further news have been forthcoming since then and we are keeping the pressure up as usual, with your support.

Supporters Christina Ku and Ariane Gogny organised a demonstration for Lasah in Santa Monica, California. While Hannah Morris Photography organised one outside the Malaysian embassy in London, U.K. Thank you! Some photos from both at link below:


The good news is that the Malaysian government have responded to this campaign, thanks to you, the supporters. Public show of support is extremely vital to this campaign and we urgently need more supporters to organise similar demonstrations. Please get in touch with us at info@fotomalaysia.org if needed.

If you have comments, you may post them at this link.

Thank you, friends of Lasah.


Meeting with the environment minister

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Dear Supporter,

After several months of trying we have today been granted an audience with the environment minister of Malaysia, which will take place tomorrow, 1st March. Could you please help us tweet to the environment ministry to let them know you continue to demand for Lasah’s freedom? Simply click on the link below to tweet now!


Thank you to those who have recently written to the environment minister, we appreciate it.

Updates on our meeting with the minister and others will be posted soon. In the meantime please check this link to know what else you can do for Lasah.


We now only need just under 1,400 signatures to reach the 400,000 signature mark. Will you please help share this petition on your social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter?


Thank you for your kind, persistent support. With you, we have campaigned for Lasah for seven months now and we won’t give up.

Friends of the Orangutans Malaysia



Lasah Elephant Campaign – Care2.com Update

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Update: 28 November 2016

Note to supporters: It seems that we might only be able to send out five updates through a Care2.com petition and we have just made our 5th update on the Care2.com petition for Lasah. Therefore, we suggest you sign the other petition for Lasah at Change.org as there are no limits to sending out updates on Change.org petitions. After signing the Change.org petition for Lasah you will automatically receive future updates into your email. We apologize for any inconvenience.

Dear supporter,

Thank you for helping us reach 389,450 signatures. We hope you will share the Care2 petition so we may reach 400,000 soon. We appreciate your persistent support for the campaign to #FreeLasah from his daily misery at the Langkawi Elephant Adventures [LEA] on the holiday island of Langkawi, north of Malaysia.

We recently submitted this petition and the one at Change.org to the Malaysian prime minister’s office. We will submit both petitions to the Malaysian wildlife department this week. In the meantime we are still making efforts to secure a meeting with the Malaysian Environment Minister to submit the petitions personally and to ask the minister to get Lasah transferred to the elephant sanctuary here.

To date 649 supporters like yourself have written to the Environment Ministry Malaysia to demand that Lasah be freed. Thank you very much! If you haven’t written please help keep the pressure up by writing today. Click here for details.

In the meantime, if you would like to, please leave a comment/rating on these pages to help other travelers do the right thing. Click on both links below to know more:



Follow FOTO Malaysia on Twitter today and please help us retweet our tweets to #FreeLasah.

Since our campaign for Lasah started we have persistently asked the government, through the Environment Ministry [NRE], [the wildlife department and prime minister’s department are also copied] to urgently transfer Lasah to the Kuala Gandah Elephant Sanctuary. And we will continue to do so.

The Asia for Animals coalition continues to support this campaign and have shared latest details regarding this in their November newsletter.

Thank you for your support which we truly appreciate.



Free Lasah the elephant

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If most of the email addresses below fail/bounce please re-send the same email to all the email addresses. If some fail/bounce, no worries!


Please write to:

Y.B. Dato Sri Dr. Haji Wan Junaidi Bin Tuanku Jaafar (Environment Minister of Malaysia)



CC your email to:



It would be great if you could also CC emails of the Malaysian embassy in the country you live. Emails can be obtained from this link.

You may use this email draft below if you wish. Please feel free to make changes.

Dear YB Dato Sri Dr. Haji Wan Junaidi Bin Tuanku Jaafar,


The Langkawi Elephant Adventures on Langkawi island has held the elephant Lasah under deplorable conditions for ten years and used him for elephant rides. Investigators also found Lasah kept in brutal conditions behind public eyes, chained on all four legs. Is Lasah chained in this cruel manner during LEA’s closing hours? This is devastating for a social animal like Lasah and his treatment is unacceptable.

Lasah has spent over 20 years in several zoos, forced to work in a logging camp, perform in shows including in a popular Malaysian entertainment outlet and used in commercials and films.

Lasah has endured a lonely life of exploitation at the Langkawi Elephant Adventures and other places long enough. Over 370,000 supporters around the world have spoken up for Lasah through the Care2.com petition at this link http://tinyurl.com/freelasah3. It is disgraceful what this elephant has endured all these years. It is time the Malaysian government put an end to Lasah’s suffering.

I join FOTO Malaysia and other animal lovers like myself from around the world in asking you to please order the transfer of Lasah to the Kuala Gandah elephant sanctuary where he will have the companionship of other elephants, space, and care that he deserves for the rest of his life.

Thank you.


Yours Sincerely,

[Your name here]


State project threatens Kinabatangan’s endangered wildlife

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A state project consisting in building a paved road and a bridge in the Kinabatangan region in accordance with the Sabah Development Corridor’s plan (SDC) launched in January 2008, one of the economic corridors initiated under the 9th Malaysia Plan – and approved under the 11th Malaysia Plan – has been a center of a lot of attention and concerns by local organizations and researchers since January this year.

At the moment, the project comprises a 240 m long bridge expected to connect the western river bank to the Sukau village on the East and a road which would connect Sukau to Litang and Tomanggong, over 40 km away to the South-East. A 1000 m long viaduct would be included to the project across elephant habitat. The SDC plan states this project is to stimulate local economic activities and ensure the sustainable management of the state’s resources.

Any of the different options proposed for the project at the moment will worsen the forest fragmentation, which is already bad in the area. A lot of forests have been converted to oil palm plantations or other form of development since the last decade.

Researchers raised their concerns on the impacts the project would generate on the elephant populations and the threat to their survival. He said that the elephants wouldn’t go under the bridge because of the vibrations and noise which would result in splitting elephant herds in Sukau with those in Lokan and Tangkulap.

Orangutans are also found in the Lower Kinabatangan region at a quite high density. There would be 700 to 825 orangutans in the Lower Kinabatangan floodplain. As for the pygmy elephants, the project would go against the Lower Kinabatangan’s forests site-based priority action from the State’s Orangutan Action Plan which stipulates that efforts should be focused on preventing “any process that would further fragment the orangutan habitat (highways, bridges etc)”.

On the other hand several local communities in Sukau and surrounding villages are pushing for the project. They say they need it to facilitate the access to Sandakan or Lahad Datu for public healthcare services in a more secure and fastest way than presently. Broadly this bridge and the connected road would meet the villagers’ needs for development and improve their general living conditions.

It wouldn’t be in anyone’s interest to block the people from improving their livelihood especially when it comes to healthcare. But it shouldn’t be at the expense of wildlife survival and remaining forests.

The issue is very sensitive as a protest was organized by some villagers from Sukau an around on March 6th in kampung Sukau, to push the project to start and to show their objections to the NGOs for going against the project, thus causing the needed development to be postponed.

We hope and will push for an alternative solution to be discussed, a solution that minimizes the impacts on wildlife and forests and still allows the people to conveniently have access to healthcare and to meet their needs as much as possible.
Foto will post updates as soon as we hear any on our Facebook page and website.

FOTO Press Statement – BLD Plantation continues to destroy Sarawak peat forests

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On 25th February Sarawak Report published our press statement regarding BLD Plantation’s continued destruction of peat forests near Sibu, in the Malaysian Borneo state of Sarawak. Below is the full statement. Link to the statement on Sarawak Report’s website can be found here.



After Bunge Limited, one of the world’s largest agribusiness companies, announced last year its suspension of new commercial activity with Malaysian palm oil company BLD Plantation Bhd, BLD’s trading partner Apical Malaysia Sdn Bhd declared earlier this month they would be suspending trade with BLD until the latter addresses the issues brought up against them by Malaysian environmental NGO Friends of the Orangutans Malaysia (FOTO).

This significant action comes after BLD’s peat destroying activities near Sibu violated American headquartered Bunge and Apical’s sustainability policies. According to FOTO other major companies in Asia, Europe and America sourcing and trading palm oil products have been alerted and the NGO’s ally Rainforest Foundation Norway have asked numerous companies if they are in business with BLD.

At this date BLD continues to massively clear carbon-rich peat forests for oil palm agriculture which severely affects the environment and the local communities in BLD’s 20,446 hectares (ha) concession.

“Since year 2000 the amount of peat forest lost in BLD’s Sibu concession has been well over 12,000 ha and before long there might not be any peat forests left in the concession”, attested Upreshpal Singh, FOTO’s Director.

Clearing peat forest for agriculture, especially where it is very deep like in BLD’s concession, has disastrous consequences such as a massive release of carbon dioxide (from peat draining through canals), increased fire risk, and prolonged flooding which will eventually cause the land to be unproductive for agriculture, as has been highlighted in a study by Wetlands International in mid-2015.

In addition to harming the environment BLD’s activities also impact the Iban and Melanau communities whose NCR lands overlap with the company’s concession. According to data provided by the Sarawak Dayak Iban Association (SADIA), the company’s Sibu concession covers about 47% (4,127 ha) of the Iban villagers’ NCR lands in kampung Tutus, one of the affected communities which will bring the case of land-grabbing by BLD to court, scheduled this month. It will not be the first lawsuit BLD will face for land-grabbing allegations by local communities.

Kampung Tutus villagers interviewed by FOTO and SADIA late last year said that their livelihood has been severely affected in many ways by BLD.

According to Upreshpal, FOTO repeatedly contacted the Sarawak chief minister’s office through email after a meeting held in early October 2015 with state premier Tan Sri Adenan Satem to discuss BLD’s transgressions. However, all of the NGO’s emails have been ignored as there appears to be no sign if the chief minister will intervene and stop BLD.

The NGO also contacted banks which had been financing BLD, urging them to investigate their client as BLD’s activities violate sustainable financing commitments made by of several of its financiers.

In early 2015 chief minister Adenan declared “We have enough of that already and we are not going to open up any more [palm oil] plantations”. BLD’s activities are in stark contrast to Tan Sri Adenan’s committment; however the chief minister does not show evidence of his intention to stop BLD from further destruction.

“We are very disappointed we never received any reply from the chief minister’ office when Tan Sri Adenan claims to want to protect Sarawak’s forests. BLD’s unsustainable and destructive activities besmirch Malaysia’s reputation in regard to environment conservation and it looks like it is still business as usual in Sarawak”, concluded Upreshpal.