Good news tinged with sad reality

Although I am always pleased to hear that an animal has been rescued from an horrific situation, this happiness is always overshadowed by the fact that this animal was put in a position from which it had to be rescued – problems such as illegal trade and exploitation continue to negatively impact wildlife around the world.

News from Thailand recently described the confiscation of eleven orangutans by authorities after they were discovered by the investigation team of the Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand. These highly intelligent and highly endangered primates had apparently been smuggled into Thailand over the course of several months.   I imagine the conditions they were being kept in were far from ideal – before they were confiscated, some of these animals were being used as photographic props.  Almost certainly captured from the wild, using orangutans (or any animal) in this way will be harmful. Repeated handling by humans can be very stressful and when they are no longer small and cute or easy to handle, these animals often end up in slum zoos, circuses or even being killed.  With this in mind, the confiscation of these orangutans is a great step in the right direction and I hope that with continued pressure from the authorities the illegal trade will be tackled far earlier in the process, before confiscations are necessary.

The dangers wild orangutans face are numerous, not least from the encroachment of humans into orangutan habitat.  Born Free are working to protect the “person of the forest” (the literal translation of orangutan) within its natural habitat, finding unique ways to help humans and orangutans live in harmony.  A recent report from the field in north Sumatra where Born Free funds research into the causes and solutions of human-orangutan conflict, describes a novel, community-led answer to lessening human impact on orangutans’ habitat.  With funds from Born Free and Humane Society International, Gail Campbell-Smith, the project leader, organised the villagers and provided tools and materials for them to improve the local road system constructing very low impact, 18 inch wide cement tracks which will make travel and communications vastly easier.   These small yet unique solutions are a real benefit to communities living with wildlife. 

From habitat destruction to illegal trade and human conflict, orangutans are facing an uncertain future – the IUCN Red List 2008 states both species of orangutan have a “decreasing” population.  However, by encouraging the authorities to enforce wildlife trade legislation and by delivering small scale, practical solutions like those in north Sumatra, there is hope yet for the orangutan and I look forward to the day when they no longer need to be rescued.

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