Fate of six Sepilok orangutans: we need answers!

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There are genuine concerns over the unexplained fate and welfare of six Critically Endangered orangutans at the controversial Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre (SORC).

The six orangutans are Ceria (age 15), Rosa (female, 18), Mowgli (18), Poogle (17), Tiger (22) and Sen (15). They arrived at the SORC in their infancy – supposedly for rehabilitation to prepare them for forest-release – after becoming orphans in the wild; their mothers might have been killed.

The Sabah Wildlife Dept (SWD) is the Sabah state wildlife agency that controls the SORC. It has not demonstrated transparency to the public about these six apes' current situation for over six months.

All six apes are humanised orangutans, and the details presented below also raise concerns if their rehabilitation may have failed - leading to welfare concerns of these apes.

Orangutan humanisation refers to over habituation to, and/or overdependency on, humans. It can fail an orangutan's rehabilitation for forest-release.

Humanisation (and disease transmission) risks led expert conservationists to prohibit tourism at orangutan rehabilitation centres

Unscrupulous hands-on voluntourism practices which took place at the SORC for over 15 years until early 2020, and contentious orangutan tourism may have well increased the risk of orangutan humanisation at the SORC, which could jeopardise the apes’ future. For 20 years until 2016, the SWD sanctioned the supply of orphan, infant SORC orangutans to a luxury hotel in Sabah under the pretence of rehabilitation. We campaigned and stopped this exploitative tourism in 2016.

Rosa is known to steal items at the SORC and "her next victim". She gave birth in captivity at SORC in May 2018. An alarming YouTube video shows Rosa and her baby on a tourist boardwalk near the SORC (they should only be in a forest). We do not know the status of her infant.

Ceria was identified among SORC staff as a physical risk to them and tourists - through no fault of his own he attacked a SORC tourist in the past. We have been informed that Ceria is labelled as a "problem" orangutan and near impossible to handle at the SORC.

According to our sources, Tiger has been confined to a cage 24/7 at the SORC since December 2018 after three failed forest release attempts. Sources informed us that Ceria (and Sen) are also kept in cages at the SORC.

As for Mowgli, Poogle, and Sen, we discovered that the founder of a British orangutan organisation that supports the SORC privately expressed concern that significant problems could arise if the media found out about the behaviour of these three apes and Ceria. As a consequence of humanisation, these apes are a physical risk to tourists and staff.

Based on previous information from a source, Mowgli, Poogle, Sen and Ceria were never seen building nests (in the forest adjacent to the SORC), indicating that these orangutans were highly terrestrial at the SORC.

Considering their age now, all six orangutans should be living independently in a forest, far away from humans.

Friends of the Orangutans have been asking the Sabah Wildlife Department's plans for the six orangutans since June 2020. The department hasn't shown transparency - no explanation on the apes' fate and welfare. We cannot confirm if all six are still alive.

You can also tweet to the authorities in Sabah to ask for transparency: CLICK HERE to tweet now.

To see our publications about the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, please visit our website: www.fotomalaysia.org