Baby orang-utans should be allowed to stay with their mother in zoo

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 19 July, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 19 July, 2011, 12:00am


As a representative of Orangutan Aid in Hong Kong, I am compelled to comment on the recent captive birth of twin orang-utans.

While we are totally opposed to zoos, the sad reality is that these two infants will never be able to be released into the wild, as recommended by an animal organisation quoted in your article.

We are also astounded that the Leisure and Cultural Services Department is still undecided as to the fate of these babies, and their plans for improving the orang-utan enclosure at the zoo. It has had at least the last seven or eight months to think about this. It would seem completely irresponsible to have allowed the breeding to occur without having a clear vision of how any future offspring would be cared for and accommodated.

These two infants should be kept with their mother for the next seven or eight years, as they would be in the wild. They are not simply inanimate possessions to be sold, 'swapped' or passed from pillar to post at will. They are sentient, intelligent beings who can live up to 50 years, and by allowing the breeding to take place, the department has taken on that responsibility of caring for these new lives in the best and most humane way possible.

The existing orang-utan enclosure falls far short of the currently acceptable standard of habitat for captive wild animals. At the minimum some attempt to approximate the living condition of orang-utans in the wild should be made. No such attempt has been made here.

Although the climate in Borneo is very similar to Hong Kong, the trees in the rainforest act as a natural 'air-conditioner' where orang-utans can escape the heat, whereas their enclosure here is simply concrete, glass and smooth metal pipes - no foliage with which to build their nests, no trees or climbing structures made from natural elements and certainly no enrichment programme to prevent excessive weight gain, extreme boredom and depression.

Rehabilitation centres, such as that run by Orangutan Foundation International in Kalimantan, are already full to overflowing with orphaned and displaced orang-utans due to habitat loss, the illegal wildlife trade and poaching. With continuing rainforest destruction, their biggest challenge is finding any protected areas where rehabilitants can be released. The last thing they need is to have to deal with the results of irresponsible captive breeding programmes too.

Mara McCaffery, Orangutan Aid