It has been brought to our attention by our good friends at Friends of the Orangutans (FOTO) Malaysia that each month, British company Travellers Worldwide sends up to 12 unqualified, paying individuals to the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre (SORC) to take part in the “rehabilitation” of rescued or recovering orangutans.
While at first glance, or to the untrained eye, this program may appear to have the best of intentions, FOTO Malaysia have been researching this issue deeply for a long time and have found that the program has something of a dark underbelly.
There are a wide variety of reasons why the program could be described as unethical or unsustainable, but the main takeaway point is this: allowing unskilled volunteers to have contact with orangutans is dangerous for both animals and humans and can have serious negative impacts for orangutans under rehabilitation.
Without their mothers, orphaned orangutans need familiarity and trust, but should not learn to trust humans in general. They should bond only with a minimal number of qualified caregivers. It is irresponsible to allow an ever-changing group of volunteers to work hands-on with rehabilitating orangutans, because this risks the orangutans becoming habituated to humans, putting their futures in peril.
In response to this, our coalition has produced an appeal letter, signed by 198 expert animal welfare organizations from all over the world. In it, we ask Travellers WorldWide to cease their program for the benefit of orangutans. You can read our letter in full here.
Featured image: tourists at the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre crowd near an orangutan. Image via FOTO Malaysia.