On the orangutan observation platform at Shangri-La's Rasa Ria Resort in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia, an eager bevy of 70 camera-ready spectators are waiting for a close encounter that never comes. The orangutans keep their distance, scrambling about the foliage and doing not much else. Half an hour into the hour-long show, the crowd of spectators has dwindled to a dozen. For Sail Jamaludin, a man who started rehabilitating baby orangutans there 12 years ago, this is good news. "If they don't get close to humans," he says, "it shows successful rehabilitation."
Since 1996 a collaborative project between the State Wildlife Department and Shangri-La's Rasa Ria, www.shangri-la.com, has seen 24 baby orangutans reintroduced into the wild, with about half going to the protected forests on the east coast of Sabah. Most were originally taken from their mothers to be kept as caged pets by local people, and had to be taught survival skills such as climbing trees, building sleeping nests and looking for wild food from scratch. The transformations wrought are heartening. Jagot arrived at the resort as a terrified 3-year-old. After careful nurturing, he has grown into a confident, mischievous juvenile, trailing golf carts and stealing golf balls at the adjoining Ted Parslow designed 18-hole course.
Educating local folk is part of the work. Each month, 80 Sabahan children are invited to the center, where they learn that these winsome apes belong in the wild, not in cages.
Next Free Port