The Orang Utan, which literally means Man of the Forest, can only be found in Malaysia and Indonesia. Belonging to the primate family, Orang Utans are classified as either of pongo pygmaeus or pongo abelli species.
Physically, orang utans and humans look almost the same. This is not surprising since there is only a 3% difference in the DNA between the two! However, based on studies, an adult orang utan is seven times stronger than an adult human. They also learn and memorize better than human beings. Having a life span of between 35 and 40 years, orang utans live in a group of around 10 to 20, spending most of their time in treetops.
With 97% of DNA similarities with human beings, orang utan have a mental note of trees, seasons and timing. They are also aware of edible, inedible or poisonous and beneficial plants in the wild. Basically they feed on local fruits, shoots, barks, small insects and bird eggs, among others.
Based on studies, there are only about 7,000 orang utans left in the wild. They are classified as an endangered species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the world’s oldest and largest global environmental organisation. The main cause of the endangerment is the destruction of forests where logging and forest fires occur without limitation and monitoring. Fragmentation of forests into plantations and other agricultural use also contributes to this decline. Apart from that, the smuggling of orang utans to turn into pets and other uses affect their numbers in the wild.
Built on an approximately 35 acres of natural tropical rainforest, the Orang Utan Island (OUI) was officially open to the public in early 2000. Founded by Tan Sri Datuk Mustapha Kamal, the Executive Chairman of a renowned property developer MK Land, the Orang Utan Island Foundation is a haven for this endangered species where they are treated well and taken care of. Home to currently 18 orang utans, Orang Utan Island provides the best facilities for these creatures.
There is the Infant Care Unit (ICU) set up on the island to make sure that each orang utan infant gets the best treatment and grow up to be healthy adults before being released back into the wild. Besides, there is also a resource centre for students and researchers to do their research on orang utan. A theatre is also available for visitors to hold seminars or discussions. An outdoor educational centre is available, giving option to visitors who want to hold seminars or programmes outdoor. On that same island, visitors could also spend time at the Herbal Garden where common Malaysian herbal plants are cultivated to educate visitors on local herbals.
Pursuant to the success of OUI, in February 2008, the Bukit Merah Orang Utan Island Foundation was incorporated. The foundation upholds the practice of ex-situ conservation of orang utans and sustainable development through the establishment of this island. Prevention and removal of threats were effectively measured to make sure that the orang utans are well taken care of. Besides that, this foundation helps to develop and foster cooperation and meaningful constructive engagement with relevant parties like the state governments and federal authorities, including NGOs, with regards to the ex-situ conservation of orang utans.
The Orang Utan Island Foundation is a platform where educators and researchers cross paths to discuss issues relating to orang utans. Being the training ground for orang utan conservationists, it provides space for education, development, research, practical training and attachment. It also helps to maintain the orang utan genetic pool, helping the species to recover from extinction.
Orang Utan Island Foundation tries to make the environment as natural as possible to the orang utans’ natural habitat. There are seven stages in the rehabilitation programme that the orang utans have to undergo before being released back into the wild:
- Infant Care Unit (ICU) – To provide veterinary care and husbandry fir the infant orang utans, which are monitored 24 hours daily and provided with a carefully formulated nutritional diet plan to ensure their well being.
- The Enrichment Development Unit – The infant orang utan is placed in a suitable space where they are exposed to natural surrounding and taught basic skills such as climbing, swinging, nest building and water sourcing.
- The Introductory Controlled Release Unit – Orang utans get visual contact with the environment and the other orang utans. However, contact with human remains limited.
- Exhibit Controlled Release – At this stage, juvenile orang utans will have zero contact with humans and will be placed in a large area for enrichment. The juvenile orang utans at this stage tend show development and start to develop wild behaviours.
- Exhibit Release – Juvenile orang utans will be released into the main exhibit where they will share the space with other social groups.
- Training Wild Release (BJ Island) – At this stage, orang utans are released on an island of approximately 14 acres within the Bukit Merah Laketown Resort. On the island, the orang utan will have minimum human contact and studies will be conducted with regard to the ecological and sociological behaviours of the orang utan in the wild.
- Wild Release (Place of Origin) – After consultation with the government and related organisations, orang utans will be released into their place of birth or suitable area.
All travellers should visit the Bukit Merah Orang Utan Island Foundation, located in Bukit Merah Laketown Resort, Perak, for a truly educational and memorable experience. It costs RM20 per adult and RM17 per child to enter.
Bukit Merah Orang Utan Island Foundation
(Yayasan Pulau Orang Utan Bukit Merah)
Jalan Bukit Merah
34400 Semanggol, Perak
T: +605-890 8888
F: +605-890 8000