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Video: Orangutans and the Matang Wildlife Centre

The conservation of the orangutan is one of the most important undertakings in the Malaysian state of Sarawak. Deforestation is the greatest contributing factor to the orangutan’s endangered status. The government and wildlife centres are doing everything they can to avoid the depletion of the species, a reality already faced by the dwindling white rhino population.

About a 40-minute drive from Kuching, situated in Kubah National Park, is the Matang Wildlife Centre. It’s a sanctuary for orangutans who have either been abandoned in the forest or rescued from their previous owner. The centre’s fundamental goal is releasing them back into the wild.

Although it is against the law to buy and sell orangutans in Malaysia, the centre still receives orangutans that were previously owned by humans. These animals pose the biggest challenges as they need to be taught basic survival skills in order to be reintegrated back into the wild. The most important skills include foraging for food and building nests to sleep in so they are away from nocturnal predators.

The Matang Wildlife Centre currently has a total of 28 orangutans; 17 males and 11 females. 8 of them are being held in enclosures, 5 are undergoing rehabilitation (potential candidates to be released), 4 are still in quarantine (as they’ve been acquired from zoos), and 11 are living freely in the nearby forest.

Orangutans in Borneo
At 30 years old, Peter is the oldest orangutan at the centre. He arrived in 2009 after he was confiscated from a rich family because the owner didn’t want him anymore due to his size.

The workers not only take care of the animals but they protect the surrounding area and perform boundary patrols. There are only 14 workers in total who take care of all these duties, so they rely on volunteers from time to time to help with the everyday tasks required to maintain the centre.

My visit to the Matang Wildlife Centre was part of their “Heart 2 Heart With Orangutan” volunteer program. For half a day, my group and I helped clean and arrange one of the enclosures, prepare enrichment food packages, and feed the orangutans as showcased in the video above. It was incredible to see these animals in such close proximity and to observe how human-like they are. In fact, the genetic code of humans and orangutans is 96.4% alike, the only difference being that humans can read, write, and talk.

I was really impressed with the passion and dedication our leader and the workers displayed. The rehabilitation process can be lengthy and requires patience and perseverance on behalf of the workers, as there are various stages that the orangutans must complete successfully before they can be released into the wild.

The centre fundamentally believes in minimizing the interaction between human and animal and therefore don’t allow visitors to touch the animals. They really do believe that every animal has the chance to be released back into the wild.

Borneo Orangutans
Aman is 25 years old and is the first orangutan to undergo cataract eye surgery back in 2007. For 10 years prior he had been blind because he was electrocuted after grabbing electric cables where he was previously held captive.

The Heart 2 Heart With Orangutan volunteer program was also created to raise additional funds for orangutan conservation and rehabilitation work. It’s expensive to rehabilitate the animals, from food to medicines, to maintenance of the centre. The Matang Wildlife Centre also wants to extend ownership of this program to cities around the world so we can feel the importance of orangutans living on earth. They want to disseminate the correct information about orangutans and conservation efforts done in Sarawak to show people they are doing things correctly.

Participation isn’t limited to just visiting the centre, you can also get involved through their orangutan adoption program. At 200 ringgits per year (approx 70 CAD), you can ‘adopt’ an orangutan and receive updates on their progress in the centre 4 times a year. All the money goes towards the welfare of the animals.

 My visit to the Matang Wildlife Centre was arranged by the Sarawak Tourism Board and the Malaysian Tourism Board.

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