I just read two news reports about orangutans that are quite disturbing. The first is a report about the Malaysian orangutan sanctuary that has sparked much controversy amongst environmentalists and wildlife veterinarians due to the way the staff treats the animals. Perhaps abuse by babying the animals? Baby orangutans taken from their mothers to sleep in cots and play with baby rattles while tourists coo at them probably isn’t the best way to get them ready for release back into the wild. The second article is a flash forward several years into the life of a rehabilitated and released orangutan. Two so called “semi-wild” orangutans have been seen cannibalising the bodies of their recently deceased babies. The hypothesis is that mothers’ stressed upbringing may have triggered their later actions. These stories are shocking and suggests a very bleak future for the mental well-being of these rehabilitated animals. Here are both news reports, the second article includes a link to a video of one of the orangutans eating her baby’s corpse.
Newsflash: Malaysian orangutan hospital sparks controversy
BUKIT MERAH, Malaysia (AFP) – A Malaysian orangutan sanctuary where baby apes wear nappies, sleep in cots and are cared for by nurses dressed in masks and starched uniforms has drawn the wrath of environmentalists.
Atin ‘s north, tourists snap photos as they file past large windows looking onto a facility billed as the world’s only rehabilitation and preservation facility for the endangered primates.
Behind the glass, adorable baby orangutans like two-month-old Tuah lie swaddled in nursery sheets and cling to baby rattles.
“He is separated from the mother because his hands got entangled in the mother’s hair and was unable to breastfeed,” says the facility’s chief veterinarian D. Sabapathy.
Tuah lies calmly in his cot with his eyes wide open and hands across his chest, hooked up to cables monitoring his heart beat and oxygen levels, ignoring the passing parade.
But the care lavished on the animals, which are fed every two hours by a staff of seven nurses on duty round the clock, is lost on environmentalists who say this is no way to treatfacing the threat of extinction.
Managers of the 35-acre island, which is part of a resort hotel development, say they aim to return the animals to their, but so far none have been released.
“It is ridiculous to have orangutans in nappies and hand-raised in a nursery. How are they going to reintroduce the primates back in the wild,” said senior wildlife veterinarian Roy Sirimanne.
Sirimanne, who has worked in zoos inand the Middle East over the past four decades, said baby orangutans need to be with their mothers to learn survival skills.
“First, we need to save their habitat which is quickly disappearing. And it is the mother that will teach its young for the first four years or more on what to eat and how to look for food,” he told AFP.
“Keeping the orangutans in captivity on an island is not a conservation programme. It amounts to desecration (of the species) as it is nearly impossible to reintroduce them back to the forest.”
Experts say there are about 50,000 to 60,000 orangutans left in the wild, 80 percent of them in Indonesia and the rest in Malaysia’s eastern states of and on Borneo island.
Butis situated in the north of , far from the jungles of Borneo where the orangutan’s natural habitat is being lost to logging and .
A 2007 assessment by thewarned that orangutans will be virtually eliminated in the wild within two decades if current deforestation trends continue.
The Malaysian branch of conservation group Friends of the Earth said the best way to save the orangutan is to address rampant poaching and shrinking habitats.
“We are opposed to the orangutan sanctuary. We are opposed to this theme park resort having wildlife in captivity,” said its president Mohamad Idris.
“Captive-bred orangutans have no natural resistance against diseases, making them susceptible to diseases. Death is inevitable,” he said.
The centre’s veterinarian defended the facility, situated in the tourist town of Bukit Merah, which opened in 2000 and now houses 25 orangutans.
He admitted the centre had suffered a highin its early days, with seven deaths of infant orangutans between 2000 and 2003, but said it had learned a lot since then.
“It is the pride of Malaysians and it is aimed at helping ensure our orangutans do not become extinct,” said Sabapathy.
He said the facility was originally stocked with orangutans obtained from the forestry department in Sarawak state on Borneo, who had been confiscated from individuals there.
“Now we can study the primate and collect data. The orangutans will eventually be returned to Sarawak. That is our objective,” he said.
Sabapathy said infants were only removed from their mothers if they were underweight, neglected and at risk of dying, and that some mothers raised their own babies, including one born in May.
“I will not be disheartened by the criticism,” he said. “We are not ill-treating them. People say the species is getting endangered but what are they doing? We are trying to increase the numbers in the wild.”
Nearby, 21-year-old nurse Nadiah Mohamad smiled fondly at one-year-old April who was rejected by his mother, and fed him with formula while four-month-old June showed off by jumping around her cot and pulling the bedsheets.
“I love them. It is like taking care of a small child,” she said.
When the baby apes are a year old, they are transferred to an “infant development unit” designed to teach them to live in the wild.
In another zone, enclosed with electrified barbed wire, adult orangutans are free to roam and build their nests in the treetops.
Most of the visitors, fromand abroad, are delighted to interact with the animals and are unaware of the criticism.
“I don’t think it is wrong keeping them here. It is a practical solution to save the orangutans and educate our children,” said 26-year-old Vikki Kendrick from http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/ malaysiaenvironmentwildlifeorangutan). (from
Newsflash: Orangutans cannibalise own babies
by Matt Walker Editor, Earth News (click here to see a short movie clip taken by the researcher.
Two female orangutans have been seen cannibalising the bodies of their recently deceased babies.
Such behaviour has never before been recorded in any great ape species.
The two incidences occurred just one month apart in the same region of forest in Indonesia.
The conservationist who witnessed both incidences suspects they were examples of aberrant behaviour, triggered by stressful living conditions suffered by both mothers.
Humans aside, chimpanzees were the only great apes known to engage in cannabilism, the eating of members of the same species. The behaviour had also been inferred but not seen in gorillas, after the remains of infants were found in the faeces of two adults.
But until now, no ape has been recorded eating its own offspring.
“Cannibalism has been documented in chimpanzees and reported in gorillas. Never before has any ape species been seen treating its own offspring as a consumable resource,” says David Dellatore of Oxford Brookes University, in Oxford, UK.
That was until Dellatore begun tracking orangutans living in Bukit Lawang, an area of forest within the Gunung Leuser National Park in Sumatra, Indonesia.
Dellatore, who now works with the Sumatran Orangutan Society based in Medan, Sumatra, initially monitored the physical health of once captive orangutans that have been rehabilitated and released back into the wild.
But soon he noticed that tourists in the area were interacting closely with the apes. Despite a ban on doing so, some tourists would feed or touch the semi-wild apes. So Dellatore switched his research to monitoring the behavioural health of the orangutans, following them from dawn till dusk.
During this research he twice witnessed female apes he recognised eating the corpses of their recently deceased babies.
“While following Edita, whose infant had just died in the forest, on the eighth day myself and my assistant Tumino saw her begin to consume the corpse,” Dellatore says.
“At first we did not believe it, but there was no mistaking it. Edita was engaging in filial, or mother-infant cannibalism.”
“Then a month later I was following Ratna by myself, whose infant had also just died, and observed her also cannibalising her dead infant.”
Seeing the first instance surprised Dellatore, while he found the second even more shocking.
“Such behaviour had never been seen before in more than four decades of orangutan research. Surely it’s not happening here twice in a one month period?” Dellatore recalls asking himself.
But Dellatore managed to collect further evidence of the second event. “I recovered a fallen piece of the infant’s skeleton that Ratna spat out, as well as rather clear video footage of the event.”
Dellatore is unsure why the orangutans behaved so. “It makes little evolutionary sense for orangutan females to kill their infants, nor is there any evidence that this happened here,” he reports in the journal Primates.
But he points out that it is not uncommon for orangutans and other nonhuman primate mothers to carry their deceased infants. “It may be part of a grieving process,” he says.
Indeed, Edita, a 23 year old female, carried and protected the body of her one year old infant for seven days, occasionally inspecting it while vocalising a whimper. Only on the eighth day did she start to consume it, when it was already heavily decomposed. Twenty year old Ratna’s seven month old infant appeared unwell a few days before death.
Dellatore is reluctant to make any definitive claims as to why the behaviour occurred. But he suspects that the mothers’ stressed upbringing may have triggered their later actions.
“Semi-wild orangutans are all exposed to considerable traumas, such as witnessing the deaths of their own mothers,” he says. To feed the pet trade, an orangutan is often captured from the wild as an infant, with its mother being killed as she would not otherwise let her baby go. Captive orangutans also suffer long periods of social isolation.
“Studies have shown that early social deprivation can have deleterious effects on later levels of cognitive ability. It is possible that the cannibalism events are an extension of these effects,” he says.
Although rare, mothers have been recorded cannibalising their infants in a few species of monkey. In galagoes, another primate species also known as bushbabies, the behaviour has been linked to stressful living conditions.
The presence of tourists may also be stressing the apes.
Dellatore supports proper ecotourism in the area, which can bring in important funds that can help conserve the great apes. But he says too many tourists visit and interact with the apes without a sense of environmental or social responsibility.
His organisation is running an ecotourism development programme in Bukit Lawang to try and mitigate these problems. (from http://news.bbc.co.uk/earth/hi/earth_news/newsid_8058000/8058365.stm)