Eco tourism does its bit to help save the Sumatran Orang-utan
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.
“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 Orangutan Project RAW Island Project
Jessica McKelson, Founder Director of Raw Wildlife Encounters.
Image: Leseur waiting for a new island home - Photo courtesy SOCP
This article has been published in 'Eco Voice' e-news and can be viewed at www.ecovoice.com.au/eco-news/7035