PERHILITAN must cancel impending transfer of orangutans to Melaka Zoo

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Published 3 November 2020. Updated 27 November. Main image: Mardia the orangutan at Melaka Zoo

Melaka Zoo has one orangutan and wants more. However, the zoo shouldn’t get any. CLICK HERE to ask the Peninsular Malaysian wildlife department to cancel the impending transfer of orangutans to Melaka Zoo, and to transfer Mardia, the lone orangutan at Melaka Zoo to a different zoo.

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

Two days later Friends of the Orangutans (FOTO) wrote to Datuk Zurinah Pawanteh, Secretary-General of the Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources (KeTSA), to object the transfer of orangutans to the zoo.

However, following response from PERHILITAN, the Peninsular Malaysia wildlife department, FOTO informed the department on 29 September that before Melaka Zoo is allowed to import more orangutans, the zoo would first need to agree to several conditions, including completing an improved orangutan enclosure and the prohibition of breeding. Click here to see the prerequisites in full. 

The quality of the orangutan enclosure at Melaka Zoo is inadmissible and deplorable; Malaysia is one of only two countries in the world home to the critically endangered orangutan species. The enclosure has virtually been unchanged for over five years.

                             Orangutan enclosure at Melaka Zoo                                                               Orangutan enclosure at an international zoo

What captive orangutans need 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.

The Melaka Zoo orangutan enclosure also lacks 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.

Based on our investigations at the zoo, Mardia, whose offspring Icha died at the zoo in 2019 at age 11, is mostly seen on the ground or in a hammock, 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 the 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.’

 

On 6 November we wrote to Datuk Zurinah again to express our belief that the orangutan enclosure at Melaka Zoo does not meet the following zoo regulations and standards:

Wildlife Conservation (Operation of Zoo) Regulations 2012
6 (2) The enclosure referred to in subregulation (1) shall have a design appropriate to the natural behaviour and basic needs of the wildlife

Garis Panduan Standard Zoo

1.26 Hidupan liar hendaklah diberi ruang yang mencukupi dan furniture yang bersesuaian untuk membolehkan hidupan liar menunjukkan perilaku semula jadi (Wildlife should be given adequate space and appropriate furniture to allow wildlife to exhibit natural behaviour)

1.43.45 Kawasan kurungan hendaklah memenuhi keperluan fisiologi dan psikologi spesies tersebut (The enclosure area should meet the physiological and psychological needs of the species)

 

We have previously revealed concerns for Mardia’s weight, and recently to PERHILITAN. She is visibly obese in this 2019 video, involving zoo visitors freely tossing food at her.

On 15 October, we asked the Melaka Zoo to inform us by 28 October if it will agree to our prerequisites. Both PERHILITAN and Melaka Zoo have not notified us if the latter has agreed.

FOTO made the conditions in the best interest of orangutans, including to secure their welfare at Melaka Zoo. It doesn’t appear that the zoo will adopt them, and thus PERHILITAN should cancel the impending transfer of orangutans to the zoo.

In our previous article about Melaka Zoo, we revealed how its current management, installed in late 2018, had denied its lone chimpanzee an opportunity to be retired at an accredited chimpanzee sanctuary in Africa.

Melaka Zoo wants more orangutans to increase visitor numbers. This may indicate that the zoo’s desire to acquire additional orangutans is to increase profits. However, refusal to show compassion to its chimp and the apparent rejection of our demands suggest that the zoo places its interests above the welfare of its animals. Melaka Zoo should not keep any great ape species.

Friends of the Orangutans had previously asked the Sarawak Forestry Corporation if it could accept Mardia to place her at the Matang Wildlife Centre, a sanctuary which doesn’t breed orangutans in their care. We were recently informed by the SFC that there isn’t sufficient capacity for Mardia at the sanctuary. Mardia should be sent to the next most appropriate zoo in Peninsular Malaysia, one that can meet her needs. Breeding must be avoided.

What can you do today? Tweet to PERHILITAN to ask that it cancels the transfer of orangutans to Melaka Zoo, and transfer Mardia. CLICK HERE to tweet now.

You can also 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

 

Friends of the Orangutans is opposed to the breeding of orangutans in captivity, and of great apes in general. Breeding these highly intelligent animals to only keep them captive for life is not conservation, and it is also unethical. 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.