Malaysian resort preps orangutans for the wild

Tue Mar 10, 2009 5:25am EDT
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By Varsha Tickoo

BUKIT MERAH, Malaysia (Reuters Life!) - Deepa peeks out from a gunny sack while Fatt Fatt swings from grills as visitors watch the young orangutans at a Malaysian resort that is also trying to increase the population of the endangered species.

Orang Utan Island, a 35-acre island part of Bukit Merah Laketown Resort in Perak state, is a tourist attraction and conservation center that is home to 23 orangutans which resort officials say will eventually be released into the wild.

But some animal welfare experts have criticized the concept, saying rearing the animals outside their natural habitat, and separating the young from their mothers, is just wrong.

"I don't believe the orangutan should be kept in isolated places, like a penal island," said Malaysian Nature Society senior member Neal Nirmal Ariyapala.

"I want to know ... how successful the Orang Utan sanctuary in Bukit Merah is. Bukit Merah is a commercial enterprise and I think money takes precedence more than environmental concern."

Orangutans, a great ape species native to Malaysia and Indonesia, are highly endangered due to destruction of their rainforest habitats and poaching.

They are not endemic to western Malaysia, where Bukit Merah is located, but roam free in the eastern states of Sarawak and Sabah on Borneo island.

There are several orangutan conservation programs in Malaysia and at Orang Utan island, five acres are used for the project that started in 1999 with three animals brought in from their native Sarawak.   Continued...

<p>Orangutans play at Orang Utan island, in Bukit Merah Laketown Resort, Perak, 300 kilometres (186 miles) north of Malaysia's capital Kuala Lumpur, March 3, 2009. REUTERS/Zainal Abd Halim</p>