Saving our close relatives

The resort I stayed at has a nature reserve and one of the activities for the guests is to go to see the six orang utans during their feeding time.

These orang utans were rescued when they were babies after their mothers were killed or their forest was destroyed. The reserve is part of a rehabilitation programme under which captive orang utans are taught the skills they need to survive in a natural environment. The reserve is a kind of half-way home where these primates may roam free but under the care and protection of rangers. When the time is right, these orang utans will be released to the jungle to live an independent life.

Before we went to the observation platform, we were shown a short film which was meant to give us some background information. There were two episodes that I found to be particularly powerful. One was about some young orang utans which have been taken care of by humans all their lives being taken to the reserve to learn how to survive on their own. When their cages were opened for the first time in their lives, the orang utans were so afraid to be free that they huddled in the cage or clung desperately to each other. I have heard it said that captive birds are so used to being caged and fed that they won't fly away immediately when the door is open. In a figurative sense, this is also true of human life. We have got so accustomed to the various controls and confines that we even derive a false sense of security from them. The drive and courage to take risks and to enjoy freedom are lost. If we ask ourselves what is stopping us from pursuing our dreams, most probably the honest answer is "nothing". But still we somehow prefer to stay in the comfort zone.

The second episode was that some of the people being interviewed observed that the conservationists do not have much chance of success because the loss of the forests is much faster than the saving of the orang utans. The rich natural resources are snatched by greedy humans. Forests are cleared, habitats are destroyed, and orang utans are made homeless, captured and sold as illegal pets or even killed. Well-meaning conservationists are fighting a losing battle to save them.

Orang utans, like other primates, are our close relatives, sharing 96% of the human genes. They also have a very close familial bond, with the mothers taking good care of the children and teaching them all the survival skills. So it is a miserable life for baby orang utans who are orphaned after their mothers were killed or captured. In taking care of these young orang utans and preparing them for a life back to nature, this conservation project is pursuing a good cause, but if humans do not change their greedy ways and the destruction of the natural habitat is not arrested, endeavours like that may not have much chance of success.

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