Sunday, July 24, 2011

Vanishing world of the orangutan


Borneo's rainforests are home to thousands of endemic species of mammals, reptiles, and insects. Its most famous mammal is the 'old man of the forest' that is, the endangered orangutan.

Over 90 per cent of the world's orangutan live in Borneo. However, deforestation and hunting are taking such a toll that, within two decades, the orangutan is likely to vanish from the wild in the only two places it still lives - the island of Sumatra, which is part of Indonesia, and the island of Borneo.

In Sarawak, active conservation programmes include rehabilitation of orphaned and displaced orangutan at the Semenggoh and Matang Wildlife Centres.

The Matang Wildlife Centre lies on the western corner of the Kubah National Park and encompasses over 180 hectares of lowland forest. It caters for researchers from local and oversea universities, as well as students and interested adults.

In addition to orangutan, other endangered species found here include sambar deer, crocodile, sun bears, civets, bear cats and native birds of Sarawak such as hornbills, eagles, kites and storks.

Other attractions include a series of rock pools, swimming area, picnic spots, camping sites, scenic nature trails and waterfalls

During a visit to the centre, we saw five adult orangutans and two infants.

We were fortunate to get a glimpse of an adult orangutan, whom we were told, rarely made an appearance. At the age of 25 years, the Bornean orangutan is an impressive male with large cheek pads, a tremendous laryngeal sac and long hair. As we peered through the cage in awe of the red ape, it stared back at us in curiosity.

In Matang, there is an infant care unit built to provide medical care for infants.

Premature orangutan babies or those which are unable to suckle are taken to the unit and monitored round the clock. Newly arrived orangutan undergo a medical check-up before being quarantined for 90 days to undergo observation. After another check-up and evaluation, the healthy apes go through several stages of rehabilitation.

One of the stages is the enrichment level where they are introduced to the rest of the troupe in large outdoor socialising cages.

Swings and ropes are placed in cages for the orangutans to build up their strength and stamina in preparation for their return to the forest. Once they are about five to six years old, they will slowly be weaned off human care and contact, and brought back into the forest in stages.

Courtesy of Borneo Bulletin Sunday

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