KOTA KINABALU: Sabah’s move to protect key orang utan habitats in the state’s east coast is paying off with a sharp decline in orphaned animals being sent to a rehabilitation centre in Sepilok.
Sabah Wildlife Department assistant director Dr Sen Nathan said only two orang utan were brought to the centre, about 30km from Sandakan, last year.
In comparison, the centre received about 15 to 20 orang utan two or three decades ago.
“This decline is mainly because as much as 80% of orang utan habitat are now protected, thanks to the efforts of the Forestry Department,” Sen added.
He said these areas included the Ulu Segama-Malua forest reserve, Dermakot as well as the Lower Kinabatangan wildlife sanctuary.
Sen said that Sepilok and the adjoining 4,300ha Kabili forest reserve were home to dozens of the rehabilitated creatures that now had their own offspring.
Meanwhile, a 20-year orang utan rehabilitation and conservation programme is set to come to an end in April with the last three orphaned primates returned to the Sepilok rehabilitation centre.
The programme is being run by the Sabah Wildlife Department and Shangri-La’s Rasa Ria Resort & Spa.
Launched in 1996 under Shangri-La’s orang utan care project, the orphaned primates were provided sanctuary within a private 25.9ha nature reserve belonging to the resort.
Nearly 40 orphaned primates had completed the first phase of their rehabilitation under the care of trained rangers.
They would be sent for a reintegration programme in Sepilok first.
After this stint they will be released to the nearby Kabili Sepilok Forest Reserve.
General manager of Shangri-La’s Rasa Ria Resort & Spa Jonathan Reynolds said the resort was grateful for the opportunity to bring close to 12,000 students from 276 schools in Sabah to view the pro-ject.
“They can better understand the need to protect these endangered primates,” he said.
The programme, however, had its own share of critics, especially from conservationist and non-governmental organisations, who claimed that the orang utan were being exploited for tourism.