Lessons in wildlife conservation

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  • Saturday, 18 Mar 2017

Filepic of Changgau playing with leavesat the Matang Wildlife Centre.

NEWS that a baby orangutan had been born at Matang Wildlife Centre in Kuching sent a ripple of excitement through the assembled media and corporate personnel on Monday.

We were there for the handover of a Triton pick-up truck from Mitsubishi Motors Malaysia to the centre for its wildlife rescue and related conservation works.

In his welcoming speech, Sarawak Forestry Corporation chief executive Wong Ting Chung said a 12-year-old orangutan named Tingsan had delivered a baby at about 10am on Sunday.

“This is a rare occasion. The newly-born orangutan is male and is currently in the good care of its mother,” he said.

According to Matang Wildlife Centre manager Siali Aban, this was Tingsan’s first baby and the first at the centre in eight years.

“The last birth we had was in 2009. We do not have a breeding programme here because our focus is on rehabilitation,” he said.

To date 30 orangutans have been rehabilitated at Matang, a 180-ha site located within Kubah National Park. They comprise 17 living in enclosures at the centre and 13, which have been released into the surrounding forest reserve.

We got to see some of those in the enclosures during a tour of the centre after the truck handover.

There was Peter, 32, the oldest orangutan at Matang, who was rescued from captivity as a pet. This is an offence under Sarawak’s Wild Life Protection Ordinance as orangutans are a totally protected species which may not be kept as pets, hunted, captured, killed, sold, exported or disturbed in any way, and offenders face a penalty of a RM30,000 fine and two years’ jail upon conviction.

There was George, who lost an eye in a fight with another dominant male over a female at Semenggoh Nature Reserve and was subsequently brought to Matang. In another enclosure, a three-year-old female named Changgau perched on a wooden platform playing with a pile of leaves.

Then there was 28-year-old Aman, one of the star attractions at Matang, who became the first orang utan to successfully undergo cataract surgery in 2007.

Siali explained that the rehabilitation of orang utans is done in three stages dubbed nursery, primary school and secondary school.

The nursery stage caters for orangutans up to two years old, while those three years and above will go through “primary school” to learn basic skills.

“We don’t expose them to the public in the primary school stage as we want to minimise their interaction with humans,” he said.

Finally, the “secondary school” stage is meant to prepare the orangutans to be released into the wild.

“We will bring them to spend some nights at our ranger stations in the jungle about 5km from the centre. We want to assess them on their skills.

“For example, they must spend at least 90% of the time up in the trees. The most important criterion for them to be released is they must know how to build a nest to sleep in every night,” Siali said.

Incidentally, he said new mother Tingsan was not released because she could not build a nest.

At the end of the tour, Mitsubishi announced that it would adopt the baby orangutan and name it Triton in conjunction with its visit.

Under the orang utan adoption programme at Matang, individuals can adopt an orang utan for RM200 a year while corporate adoption starts from RM10,000 a year.

Besides orang utans, Matang rehabilitates other protected animals which have been rescued, relocated or surrendered by the public.

Siali said the centre currently houses over 250 individual animals, mostly reptiles such as crocodiles, turtles and tortoises. Other endangered animals include Bornean gibbons, Bornean clouded leopards and various species of hornbills.

Seeing these animals underlines the importance of wildlife conservation, which requires concerted efforts and support from the authorities and the public so that we do not lose these species.

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