Spending time with a particular animal undoubtedly creates a bond that stays with you for a long time, if not for life. In my life, this has been the case for my horses, dogs, the elephants I looked after at the zoo, as well as a certain cheeky tapir that liked to have his tummy tickled. Another animal I became particularly attached to was the Orangutan.
During my time in 6th form I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to go and stay in Borneo for 2 weeks. I have so many memories from those 2 weeks, and am relieved I kept a diary of all my activities and emotions while I was there. At the time I was 16 and even at that age what I saw on the flight into Brunei stamped an impression on me I will never forget. Flying over the coastline, the ocean was not the brilliant blue you would expect, but a dark, mucky brown colour flooding straight from the island’s rivers into the sea. Once past the coastline we began to fly inland. I do not think it is possible for me to describe to you how vast the palm oil plantations on that island are. They stretch on, mile after mile after mile. I thought I knew how bad the deforestation was out there, but I was mistaken on an unimaginable scale.
During our time in the rainforest we were privileged to witness wild Orangutans, separated from us only by a couple of metres of water. I could have sat and watched them for every hour of every day I was on that island. Funnily enough, we even met some people who do just that. In an effort to learn more about their behaviour there are people who silently follow several wild Orangutans and note down everything from what and how much they eat, to how many times they excrete.
While we were there we also helped plant part of a new rainforest corridor linking two parts of undamaged rainforest. The purpose of which was to give Orangutans more space, and by connecting different territories, there would be more chance of mating and therefore greater gene flow between the populations. This helps the Orangutans in the wild but what about the ones rescued and rehabilitated? An adult male Orangutan is capable of ripping a human in half. As such it is neither practical nor fair to keep these animals in captivity if it can be avoided.
A novel idea proposed by the Australian Orangutan Project and an eco-tourism company are partnering up with an Orangutan conservation group in Indonesia. They are trying to raise money to buy land in Sumatra to create land isolated by moats to protect these animals while keeping them in their natural environment. The rehabilitated Orangutans can then be observed and monitored to ensure they are safe and healthy
The project organisers are hoping to raise 80,000 Australian dollars to lease 3 hectares of land for the Orangutans as well as an education centre. The education centre would try to teach the locals how they can live with the Orangutans still in the wild without conflict.
I know this proposal isn’t exactly ideal. In an ideal world the Orangutans would be able to roam free and safe in their natural habitat. But that isn’t the case and I can’t see it becoming the case any time soon. It would seem to me the damage done is too great. So we have to look at what can be done. The idea of a half-way house seems to me to be making the best of a bad situation. I would be devastated if things get so bad the only Orangutans were found in captivity, and this is certainly a step in the right direction.