Hype about orang utan’s release but not his return

Back home: Tiger seen here was released into the wild of Tabin Wildlife Reserve in Lahad Datu, but he returned home two months later.

KOTA KINABALU: Animal rights activists are calling for more transparency by the Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation centre, especially over its silence with the high-profile release of the orang utan named Tiger at the Tabin wildlife reserve late last year.

Friends of the Orangutans Malaysia director Upreshpal Singh said it was clear that Tiger was unable to go back to its natural home and was brought back to the Sepilok rehabilitation centre.

“We are aware that it is now in Sepilok but its management continues to use videos of its release back to the wild as a success story to tourists visiting the internationally famed rehabilitation centre.

“The use of such video portraying Tiger’s release may not be the appropriate representation, ” he said, adding that it was important for Sepilok authorities to explain what happened to Tiger, which was rescued as a baby 17 years ago.

Having spent 17 years in the Sepilok Forest Reserve, it was set free at the Tabin Wildlife Reserve in Lahad Datu on Oct 3 last year.

However, it was learned that he did not adapt well to his new environment, and was seen venturing into human settlements before he was recaptured and taken back to Sepilok.

“Why were they silent when Tiger was taken back to Sepilok? We have written to Sepilok authorities but they have never responded, ” Upreshpal said, adding that Tiger’s release was highly publicised as the “journey to freedom” and “return to the wild” by the Sabah Wildlife Department.

“We would like to question whether Tiger’s release into Tabin was a success for orang utan conservation in Sabah, especially since Tiger was relocated back to Sepilok two months later, ” he added.

Upreshpal said when rehabilitated orang utans were released, there needed to be post-release monitoring but there was none when it came to Tiger.

He said the International Union for Conservation of Nature also recommended that post-release monitoring data be made public as part of conservation efforts of orang utans.

He noted that Tiger was a fully mature male, and in a forest, dominant orang utan males establish their territory and generally stay within it their entire lives.

He felt that putting Tiger into a forest could possibly have led to brutal physical conflicts with other resident males.

“Tiger has been at Sepilok for more than 15 years, so he may not have the survival skills of a totally wild dominant male orang utan, ” he said, adding that Tiger might not have the ability to establish and defend himself in his new home.

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