Significant habitat changes needed

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 07 May, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 07 May, 2002, 12:00am

I refer to the letter from Lawrence Cheung, of the Leisure and Cultural Services Department, headlined 'Orangutans have ropes and climbing frames' (South China Morning Post, April 22), replying to my letter of April 13.

Though appreciative of the fact that the department responded to my letter, Mr Cheung apparently did not understand the points I raised.

The periodic appearance of a few palm and banana leaves and the occasional presence of burlap bags, cardboard boxes and heavy-duty life buoys, are not a substitute for, nor even a pale imitation of, a natural habitat for orangutans. Mr Cheung appears to believe that a 'breeding programme' which has resulted in seven successes in 25 years is deserving of praise, perhaps because he has pointed out that these animals are endangered. Unfortunately, the Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens are not equipped to pursue a breeding programme for primates and larger mammals and should not try to mask real shortcomings by trotting out a noble goal as a cover.

Mr Cheung asserts that these creatures are not depressed, yet he does not provide the support of an orangutan behaviourist to support this claim. More telling, he does not state that they are actually happy, or even content. Mr Cheung does, however, seem to admit that they are bored, a fact which he masks as an expression of their natural languid behaviour - these are not the same things. It is deeply distressing to note that though the current trend worldwide is for zoos to provide habitats as close to nature as possible, Mr Cheung thinks that a few boxes, bags and buoys are an acceptable substitute. As he points out, orangutans are arboreal. So where are the trees? Finally, Mr Cheung cites disease and pathogens for the necessity of a bare concrete and wire cage. This is a specious argument. Why aren't all animals in every zoo similarly confined so as to avoid disease?

Clearly I am not the only one who sees a problem with the existing orangutan enclosure.

Rather than continue with the current situation, I implore the Leisure and Cultural Services Department to make immediate and significant changes to the orangutan habitat.