All 30 captive orangutans negative for Covid-19, says Sabah Wildlife Dept

KOTA KINABALU: All 30 captive orangutans in Sabah have tested negative for Covid-19, says Sabah Wildlife Department.

The orangutans at the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre in Sandakan and also at the Lok Kawi Wildlife Park near here were screened in the wake of increasing Covid-19 cases in Sabah.

The department's assistant director Dr Sen Nathan said the decision to test - the first of its kind done on the primate in Malaysia - was decided after some of their keepers at the two facilities had contracted Covid-19.

"We immediately initiated a full lockdown on the primates’ facilities by testing all of the orangutans to make sure that they are free of the infection” he said in a statement here.

Dr Nathan said there were concerns about primates getting infected by the virus after two gorillas at the San Diego Zoo in the US tested positive in January this year.

"We believe that primates could also be susceptible," he said.

As such, Dr Nathan said it was important for the orangutan population to be tested as the virus could be detrimental to their health and cause a setback in their rehabilitation.

"With all results coming back negative, this is a testament to the stringent care being carried out by our staff,“ added Sen.

He said a total of 30 orangutans were tested by a veterinary team from the department and also Wildlife Rescue Unit headed by Dr Rosa Sipangkui and Dr Nabila Sarkawi.

The department's director Augustine Tuuga has instructed the veterinary team to continue monitoring all the orangutans closely for any symptoms of Covid -19 and to repeat the test on a scheduled basis.

“This is the first time that any orangutan has been tested using a Covid-19 antigen test in the whole of Malaysia. It is of our utmost priority to make sure the health and well-being of the orangutans are given the best veterinary care possible,“ added Tuuga.

He thanked NGO Orangutan Appeal UK (OAUK) headed by Datuk Sue Sheward for assisting in getting the funding of the Covid-19 rapid antigen test kits, pulse oximeters, and preventive medication for the orangutans, as well as for their caregivers.

Sheward said that orangutans share 96.4% of our DNA and it was vital to test them for the virus in order to continue to protect the species.

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