Jakarta (ANTARA News) - Orangutans are usually cute, adorable and smart that some people want to keep them as pets. Besides, orangutans and other big apes are always the center of attractions at zoos in many countries.

Are those apes happy being cuddled as pets or given public attention at zoos? The recent death of Virang, a 15-year-old male orangutan at Punti Kayu Zoo in Palembang, South Sumatra, gave a picture of tragic life of orangutans outside their natural habitats.

Virang died of illness, most likely because the zoo did not have adequate medical facility, according to Indonesian NGO Center for Orangutan Protection (COP) in a statement posted on COP Website on February 6, 2013

"Bad management could cause animal deaths. Virang died of illness. It could be due to lack of health facility at Punti Kayu Zoo, so the zookeepers or management do not know if there is a sick animal. In addition, the cages are very bad and full of trashes. Visitors can easily touch the animals. Such a condition can cause many diseases," Daniek Hendarto, COP`s ex-situ conservation program coordinator, said.

COP has urged the Indonesian forestry ministry to close down the Punti Kayu zoo and rescue all the animals there because the zoo is illegal, and its management does not have the capacity and experience to take care of wildlife outside their natural habitats.

"If this condition continues, we are afraid that the remaining animals would face similar fate. Therefore, this zoo should be closed down soon, so the remaining animals, including five sun bears, a gibbon, three siamangs, two elephants and 25 other animals

could be rescued to better places," he said.

Another tragic story concerning orangutan came from Mata Ie, Aceh Besar District, Aceh Province (northern-most part of Sumatra Island). The Aceh Orangutan Forum (FORA) reported to the Aceh Natural Resources Conservation Agency (BKSDA) on January 10, 2013, about an orangutan which is being kept illegally at a tourist attraction in Mata Ie.

The Sumatran Orangutan (Pongo abelii) is being chained and caged, FORA Chairman Badrul Irvan said in Banda Aceh, Aceh Province, on February 6, 2013.

FORA also found other animals such as an eagle, a banded linsang (Prionodon linsang), and siamang monkey (Symphalangus syndactylus) at the site.

FORA asked BKSDA Aceh to seize the animals and release them to their natural habitats in accordance with the existing regulations.

In line with the Law No. 5/1990 on Bio Natural Resource Conservation and the Law No. 8/1999 on Flora and Fauna, illegal ownership of wildlife could face a fine of Rp200 million and/or their business license is revoked.

COP has intensified rescue operation of orangutans living outside their natural habitats, and rehabilitation efforts before they could be released to the wild.

The environmental NGO recently sent an APE Warrior Team to Sumatra with a main mission to help Sumatra`s zoo management to meet the goal as an ex situ conservation, Daniek Hendarto, APE Warrior captain who leads the Sumatra Mission, said in a statement before starting the Sumatra journey on February 3, 2013.

Unlike the APE Crusader and APE Defender teams which work directly in orangutan habitats in Kalimantan, the APE Warrior team is a unique team because they try to rescue orangutans that are living outside their natural habitat.

The APE Warrior has so far helped at least 36 orangutans in six zoos in Indonesia. Currently, two illegal traders are charged with violating the Law No. 5/1990 on Conservation of Biodiversity and Ecosystem.

The Sumatra Mission will last for 30 days as the team will travel across Sumatra Island, which will include South Sumatra, Jambi, West Sumatra, Riau and finally North Sumatra.

"In this mission, we will work at four zoos in Sumatra. A total of six orangutans will be under our care, and there are also some others primates. We will also campaign about closing down the zoos that technically could not improve and send the animals to a better place," he explained.

The team is also expected to visit several schools and community organizations in order to gather the support against poaching and animal trading.

"Most of zoos in Sumatra keep collections of animals that have come from the community, meaning that the animals are victims of poaching, trading and illegal captive. Therefore, we need to stop this cycle," he stated.

Before this mission, COP had assisted Kinantan zoo at Bukit Tinggi in West Sumatra to improve the welfare of three orangutans.

In addition to rescuing Sumatran Orangutans, COP also helps protect Kalimantan orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus).

COP and the East Kalimantan Natural Resources Conservation Agency (BKSDA) recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding on the protection of orangutan Pongo pygmaeus morio sub species.

Under the MoU, a new orangutan rehabilitation center will be built in East Kalimantan, COP Director Hardi Baktiantoro said. Currently, East Kalimantan has Samboja Orangutan Rehabilitation Center near Balikpapan.

"The existing rehabilitation center has exceeded its capacity, and if they are forced to accept new orangutans, we worry it would interfere with the on-going rehabilitation process," he said.

According to Hardi, at least 15 orangutans are currently in his NGO`s waiting list to be rescued, and four of them are 4 year-old. They could be reintroduced to their natural habitat in two or three years later.

An integrated partnership is needed to among other things build and run a new rehabilitation center, he added.

"This collaboration, up to 5 years is largely funded by Orangutan Appeal which is based in the UK," he stated.

In the implementation of reintroduction program, COP will collaborate with BOS Foundation and PT. Restorasi Habitat Orangutan Indonesia.

It is estimated that there are 4,825 orangutans of Pongo pygmaeus morio sub species in East and North Kalimantan. Besides pongo pygmaeus mario, there are also around 7,500 heads of pongo pygmaeus pygmaeus in West Kalimantan, and 46,000 heads of Pongo Pygmaeus wurmbii in Central and West Kalimantan.

Reportedly, around 50,000 to 60,000 orangutans are left in the wild, 80 percent of them in Indonesia and the rest in Malaysia. Of the total number, about 7,300 orangutans are to be found in Aceh Darussalam and North Sumatra, and many others in Central, West and East Kalimantan provinces.

Central Kalimantan is considered as "the orangutan capital of the world" with more than 50% of all wild orangutans living there.

There are two genetically distinct species of orangutan, namely the Sumatran orangutan (Pongo abelii) and the Bornean orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus).

The two species show slightly different physical characteristics. Sumatran orangutans have lighter hair and a longer beard than their Bornean relatives, and Sumatran males have narrower cheekpads. Both species are highly endangered due to habitat loss and poaching.

The Kalimantan orangutan and Sumatran orangutan are classified by the World Conservation Union (IUCN) as Endangered and Critically Endangered respectively, with the population of Sumatran orangutans down by 91 percent since 1900.

The survival of the great apes very much depends on their habitat, namely the tropical rainforests on the two islands.

Indonesia has a total forest area of approximately 137 million hectares, the world`s third largest after Brazil`s and Congo`s.


Reporter: Fardah
Editor: Jafar M Sidik
Copyright © ANTARA 2013