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Retirement Islands for Orangutans
An innovative plan to create man-made islands for sick and injured orangutans in Indonesia is offering hope of a better life for animals who have previously been destined to spend their remaining days in cages.
While much of the fight to save the critically endangered Sumatran orangutan focuses on protecting their natural habitat, for some orangutans it is already too late.
Environmentalists say they are rescuing a growing number of orangutans that are unable to return to the wild because they are too ill or injured, often the result of coming into contact with humans.
Now, Australian zoo keepers, the Australian Orangutan Project and an eco-tourism company are partnering with an orangutan conservation group in Indonesia to raise money to buy land in Sumatra to create four “islands” where sick and injured orangutans could live in an environment more akin to their natural habitat, with staff on hand to care for them.
The plan is to dig moats around the land, which would prevent the orangutans, which cannot swim, from escaping. The animals can live for up to 50 years.
Four orangutans being cared for by the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Program have already been identified as possible residents of the planned islands, said Jessica McKelson, supervisor of the primates department at Melbourne Zoo and founder of Raw WildLife Encounters, the eco-tourism company involved in the project.
Ms. McKelson said one orangutan who could benefit from the project had been shot 62 times after wandering past a village on the edge of a forest. He was left blind after being shot in both eyes, and cannot return to the wild.
“He’s becoming large and mature and he really needs to get out of the cage,” said Ms. McKelson. Another orangutan the organizers hope to relocate has been diagnosed with the human strain of hepatitis B.
But first the organizers must find suitable land for the orangutans and raise money to lease the land.
Ms. McKelson said they hoped to raise 80,000 Australian dollars ($77,432) to lease about three hectares of land near the city of Medan, in north Sumatra. A clean water supply for the orangutans would be crucial.
There are also plans to establish an education center near the site to help teach locals about how they can live in harmony with orangutans, which is Indonesian for “man of the forest”.
Environmental groups blame palm oil and logging companies for encroaching on the animals’ natural habitat, and Ms. McKelson said villagers were increasingly coming into contact with orangutans as a result of deforestation. She said the animals sometimes approached villagers’ fruit trees, which could lead to conflict.
“We will be able to use this as a key education center to educate locals with the orangutans and also educate them about human-animal contact,” said Ms. McKelson, adding that there were an estimated 6,000 Sumatran orangutans left in the wild.
By LIZ GOOCH
November 25, 2011, 8:29 AM
“If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito.” ― Dalai Lama XIV
I always smile at this quote because it is supremely fitting for an eco-adventure-travel company. Mosquitoes? – Check. Yours free with every Raw Wildlife Encounter! Making a difference? - You bet. Thanks to our travellers and supporters, we’ve already improved the lives of orangutans and will continue to do so.
To save a species, save the ecosystem. To save Sumatran Orangutans, protect Indonesia’s forests. This is the philosophy to which Raw Wildlife Encounters (RWE) prescribes. The not-so-secret formula for saving a species from extinction is ensuring its habitat remains diverse, healthy, and safe.
As much as we’d like to, we can’t all hop a plane and spend months with our sleeves rolled up tending to orphaned orangutans or protecting elephant forests from logging. So we support those who can. We strive to empower the local community of Tangkahan to protect and preserve their own. And we travel to their country respectfully and ethically. Our reward is panoramic views of remarkable beauty and memorable, personal encounters with unique wildlife.
This desire to provide a future for wild orangutans drives our mission to discover the best ways for Raw Supporters to provide practical, tangible, life-changing support for the community and the wildlife.
Here are some of the projects we’re currently sponsoring.
- We employ Tangkahan community members in Indonesia to deliver the tourism experiences outlined in RWE travel itineraries. This alternative livelihood program is a great way for the local community to make an income, rather than participating in illegal logging or working in the palm oil plantations. Our team consists of a Communications Officer, a Project Manager, two experienced Tour Guides and four trainee Tour Guides. They are able to showcase their backyard and have a wealth of knowledge to share.
- We implemented a Litter and Waste Management Programme to educate the local community and tourists about waste disposal. Not only is it a way to combat litter issues, it has been great for the community and assisted in cleaning up the environment which they live in. The program employs locals to collect and sort rubbish for recycle and organic compost for use on community gardens, and minimizes the use of harmful chemicals on their plantations.
- Higher Education Scholarships to study at University STIM Medan are awarded to successful students from the Tangkahan district. To date, we have provided three 4-year scholarships for Ecotourism Management, Finance Management, and Tourism. By up skilling the poorer communities, they have a better chance to improve their education and find employment.
- A group of 25 city-based students from STIM University have formed MAPALA ‘Students for Nature Lovers’ to learn about conserving natural regions like Tangkahan through our funded workshops. These students installed bins and developed the interpretive signage for the Litter and Waste Management Programme. Connecting indigenous communities is a great way to strengthen messages in other areas without the information being diluted.
- We contribute all conservation levy money from Australian Orangutan Project (AOP) members who book with Raw back towards AOP Projects.
- We support Conservation Response Unit Tangkahan to continue elephant patrols to monitor activities in Gunung Leseur National Park and employs them for eco-tourism activities.
- We financially support the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme to build a new baby house and new quarantine cages at Medan Quarantine Centre, necessary for rehabilitation of illegally-held and confiscated baby orangutans before release to the wild.
- Our current priority project is raising funds to secure land for the Orangutan Island project, a sanctuary to permanently house orangutans who through injury or illness can never be returned to the wild. This sanctuary will become a conservation education centre for local and international visitors. Donations can be made directly to this priority project via the AOP website at https://australianorangutanproject.worldsecuresystems.com/donations/paneco-raw-island-donation
To finish, here’s another quote from the Dalai Lama that surely sums up why eco-travel with us is the superior travel experience for mind, body, and soul:
You can contribute to our programs by contacting us now.
Over the past 6 weeks we’ve gathered information via our online survey from guests of Raw Wildlife Encounters (RWE), enquiring about what they enjoyed most about their adventure holiday with us. Their detailed responses have blown us away and will serve to inform the direction of RWE’s exciting future travel adventures.
In full appreciation of the respondents’ time, here’s a snapshot of the results for everyone to read…
The top three age categories are:
Only 23.3% of the tours taken by this age category were customised to meet travel needs and were family-based holidays.
The 5 day Orangutan and Elephant Escapade was the most popular tour.
76.7% of these guests participated in a ‘Signature Encounter’; a tour where experienced staff deliver the travel encounter on a stress-free adventure organised and led by our Australian wildlife hosts. The most popular Signature Experience was to North Sumatra on the Elephant Odyssey Adventure.
44% of guests within this age category customised their tours.
The majority had experienced prior travel to Asia and sought further, family-based adventures.
The most popular tour durations were 4-6 days.
A number chose Raw Wildlife Encounters based on referral by previous RWE guests.
56% participated in a ‘Signature Encounter’. Our North Sumatran Experience was the most popular.Guests in this age group were looking for unique and ethically sound tours where private wildlife encounters were essential.
Once again, our 5 day Orangutan & Elephant Escapade was the most popular tour, being affordable, private, and exclusive to our guests.
53.8% of guests booked Signature Encounters with our North Sumatran experience being the most popular. Guests in this age category felt that professional tour operators and wildlife guides were important for the first-time traveller in a country that is not ‘touristy’. These guests showed keen interest in the local community programs we support with our conservation partners, and returned home with a greater understanding and motivation to participate further.
What our guests enjoyed most about their adventure – in their own words
‘The passion about the animals, the extremely personalised service provided and the access fully guided tour that took one into a special place of the world that is not commercialised. The fact that animal conservation is before tourism.’ – Female 32yrs, Elephant Odyssey Adventure, North Sumatra.
‘Observing local village life in Sumatra and learning about wildlife conservation programs’ – Female 60 yrs, Elephant Odyssey Adventure, North Sumatra.
‘With a lot of help I had a wonderful, challenging, once in a lifetime experience with friends, and met much supportive, kind, funny new friends’ - Female 59 yrs, Elephant Odyssey Adventure, North Sumatra.
‘The personal care given by Fleur - and her obvious devotion to what she is doing.’ - Female 80 yrs, Man of the Jungle Adventure, Malaysia.
‘The organization of the whole trip. Everything was planned beautifully’ - Female 49 yrs, 3 Day Orangutan Escapade Adventure, North Sumatra.
This article has been published in 'Eco Voice' e-news and can be viewed at http://www.ecovoice.com.au/eco-news/7035
The Sumatran Orang-utan is critically endangered. In 2004, between 4000 and 6000 lived in the wild in Sumatra, down to less than 14% of its population 60 years ago. Efforts to prevent the extinction of the “man of the forest” is a race against time for conservationists. Awareness of the urgency to save these animals is increasing as more travellers opt for eco-tours to Sumatra.
A male orang-utan called Leuser was rescued in 2004 by the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme (SOCP) and released into the wild a few months later. Two years later, he was shot 62 times with an air rifle, including in the eyes, rendering him totally blind. Leuser recovered, and is now 14 years old. But he can never be released into the wild. He is one of five at SOCP’s orang-utan quarantine facility near Medan, North Sumatra, that cannot be released because of injuries that prevent them from surviving in the wild. These animals are currently housed in cages that are inadequate as permanent homes.
Photo courtesy SOCP. 'Leseur waiting for a new island home'
“An ideal solution would be to find some land, about 3 or 4 hectares, with a clean water supply, on which to construct a number of small enclosures,” says Ian Singleton, Director of Conservation at PanEco, one of many international organisations that fund the SOCP.
The word “orang-utan” means “man of the forest” in Malay. As orang-utans live in trees and rarely come to ground, illegal logging and the clearing of forests for palm oil and rubber tree plantations has devastated 80 percent of their habitat over the last 20 years. And logging is not the only threat. Many of the orang-utans rescued by SOCP were illegally held pets, and the number of babies being stolen for the pet trade is increasing.
Awareness of the catastrophe facing orang-tans is spreading as more and more travellers opt for eco-tours to North Sumatra. Raw Wildlife Encounters is an eco-tourism company that not only includes specialised visits to the orang-utan quarantine facility but also contributes financial assistance to the SOCP. Raw Wildlife Encounters contributed to the building of SOCP’s much needed orang-utan baby house along with new quarantine caging facilities for rescued orphans. “They are all a bunch of refugees,” says Singleton. “For almost all of them, their mother was killed. Their mothers are like human mothers. They die defending their kids.”
By engaging the most highly skilled tour leaders and conservationists to deliver up close and personal encounters with the orang-utans, Raw Wildlife Encounters hopes to instil in their guests an emotional experience that will stay with them long after they leave and go home. The tour company believes that the more people are aware and educated about the plight of the orang-utans, the better chance these animals have of surviving.
But only time will tell. While the efforts of conservationists and eco-tourism companies, such as Raw Wildlife Encounters, go some way towards slowing the extinction of the orang-utan, the prospects of these animals remain bleak.
You can support this island development by making a donation to the Australian Orangutan Project RAW Island Project: http://www.orangutan.org.au/Projects/SOCPLongTermCare
Jessica McKelson, Founder Director of Raw Wildlife Encounters.