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Kim’s Travel Diary

Friday, 14 Dec 2007

Location: KL, Malaysia

MapSorry that this is so much in fits and starts but I have been working and I mean working. Each day now has a pattern, leaves at the start of the day, cages and food for the rest of the morning and play in the afternoon. I am still trying to work out how racking leaves can enrich the lives of the orangutans and chimps but it does - I really think that it is for the visitors and I suppose that by coming to the zoo, they are putting money into the kitty.
There are several chimps here, three terrors, one female and two males that normally go outside and I mean they are terrors, when they screech, it is like a knife on a blackboard and the noise that can be made by thumping a steel door is second to none. After a week here, it still makes me jump each time they do it. It is unfortunate but there is really nothing that I can say about these three that would make them more loveable and even the keeprs are careful with them, keeping extra doors locked and making sure we do not get too close. Rambo, another male is kept indoors in a small cage or cell would be a better word. He is here for breeding at some stage but at the moment does not have the chance to go outside with the gang as they would probably kill him if they could, talk about claiming territory. Rambo is much gentler than the others but still as scarey when he wants to be and often takes great delight in teasing the others across the cells. Max and Joe are the final pair of chimps and although they are not on show to the public get a chance to go outside every day into a large pen that is at the back of the centre. Joe is the same age as me and orginally came from the UK and Max is a little younger. They are still as messed up as the others though and Joe, who does not like men has a delightful habit of throwing poo as and when he can, which is often!! - Believe me, a chimp can throw a fair distance and is accurate - its the cleaning up afterwards that is foul and scrapping the bars is no fun.
The Orangutans are another story - I did not really know what I was expecting but the sheer size is breath taking, they are huge. The zoo has several of them but once again, only the select few get to see the outside and not always in the public gaze. They often weigh in at 150kgs plus for a female and larger for a male and come in two sorts - Borneo and Sumartra. The ones from Borneo are the much larger versions and have the large face jowls and when it is allowed to grow, rasta hair do's!!!!!. They all have their own smell, a cross between greasy hair smell and damp forest but it is something that you get used too and fairly quickly stop noticing. We have three large males, two smaller females and one youngster and then a female and baby from Sumatra. The baby in this case is now two years old and strong.
After morning duties, there is a chance to hand feed the younger animals including Mum and baby and just like humans, they have likes and dislikes when it comes to their food, choosing from the bucket directly what they want and putting the pieces they don't like back - feeding can take ages and ages. It is amazing just to watch they use their feet as hands and just how gently they take a long green bean and split it down the middle to get to the pods.
Out of the large males, there is one that is on show day in and day out. He is a big boy and very instutionalised, a set routine each day - out of his cage, into show area, sex with his partner for about twenty minutes and then onto the top platform with as much food as he can gather for the rest of the day. Thought the sex thing was a one off on the first day but without fail, everyday - just part of the routine. The other boys share a pen at the back of the centre just like the chimps but in this case, one at a time, orangutans are not group animals and like their own space. I could go on and on about conditions but there is nothing that I can do to change them and nothing gained by making you all feel miserable - just to say that a cell, 6 x 6 is not big enough for a fully grown male orangutan. Zoos are important and there is a place for them in the world but they should be to the best standard that man can make and these are not - it all comes back to money and resources. The orangutans like the chimps are their own persons, where it is making as much noise that you can by thumping the doors and walls or by blowing raspberries when a drink is wanted. One of the less endearing habits is spitting either water or a mix of chewed food and water. It smells and does not wash out easily.
Tuesday is milk day, only really meant for the younger ones but somehow, they all have a taste - orangutans are clever, clever animals and it has not taken them long to learn how to drink with a straw and Thursday is beef stew day, a revolting dish cooked up for the chimps as they need meat in their diet but given to all - cage cleaning on friday is not fun. The week has flown by and each day has been one of great joy but also sadness.