Mon, Jan 26, 2004 - Page 12 News List

An eye on the future for orangutans

Orangutans and other apes are threatened by forest fires, illegal logging and poaching of their babies to supply an illicit pet trade

REUTERS , Sepilok, Malaysia

The Jakarta orangutan meeting, although not a GRASP event, did much the same for Indonesia and Malaysia, and spread word of a previously unknown population of a few thousand animals in Borneo's Kalimantan.

Ashley Leiman, director of the Orangutan Foundation's UK office, said the finding was welcome but not the critical issue.

"It's not how many orangutans there are right now, we have to look at the trend," she said, citing a projection that just 1 percent of the Asian ape's habitat would remain by 2030.

That put projects like Sepilok, albeit with a proud 40 years of successfully returning distressed and orphaned animals to the wild, further down the list of priorities.

"Rehabilitation is very much a welfare issue. Putting them back in the wild isn't anywhere near as important as saving the wild population," she said from the Jakarta meeting sidelines.

Cede Prudente, a Sabah photographer and former wildlife guide, knows what Leiman's talking about, having recently visited Gunung Palung National Park in Indonesia's West Kalimantan.

"We were filming here and there was, about 200m behind us, a chain saw rattling. I could not believe that could happen in a national park," he said, visibly saddened by his memories of watching one of mankind's closest relatives in distress.

"You could tell from their faces they are losing hope. They know there's disturbance, they know there are chain saws, they can hear. They are very intelligent animals."

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