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Wildlife at Lok Kawi in good hands: Dept
Published on: Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Kota Kinabalu: The Sabah Wildlife Department on Tuesday denied allegations that orang-utans and Borneo pygmy elephants are being mistreated at the Lok Kawi Wildlife Park.Its Senior Veterinarian Officer, Dr Sen Nathan, said all animal lovers out there can rest assured that currently orang-utans, elephants and other wildlife at the park are in good hands.

He said this at a press conference at his office at the Wildlife Park.

Dr Sen addressed points brought up to Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister, Datuk Masidi Manjun, in an email sent by Nature Alert's Chief Executive Officer, Sean Whyte.

Backing up his statement with photos, Whyte gave the thumbs down to the zoo keepers who he claimed were caught red-handed feeding orang-utans with junk food (potato crisps) and referred to it as a show that was put on to entertain visitors.

Dr Sen, who replied the email, said: "Let me assure you that this was a one-off case. The keeper concerned has been questioned and severely reprimanded to stick to the food items for token feeding which among them include prunes and raisins."

Token feeding is one of the regular enrichment activities at the park to reduce boredom. Other enrichment activities include hiding food material inside a bamboo and making ice cubes with fruits inside.

"Sometimes the zoo keepers would just throw some sunflower seeds on the ground so that it can be an activity for them to go and look for each seed.

These are the kind of activities that animals in captivity are being exposed to."

"It is not actually a show as Whyte mentioned in his email."

As for the issue of shelter which was also raised, he explained that although the outdoor exhibit will be renovated very shortly to further improve the facility, currently there is still ample shade available to protect them.

Orang-utans are kept in their night stalls during heavy downpours.

"That's where they sleep when the exhibit is closed. They are not left out in the sun or rain to be toasted and soaked," Dr Sen clarified.

Another point raised was on Whyte pointing out that more orang-utans would face the same situation of an orang-utan in the park which drowned in a moat.

To this allegation, Dr Sen said the drowning of their orang-utan in year 2007 was a very sad event and a tragic accident that he hoped to avoid in the future.

"A zoo keeper is stationed at the exhibit at all times to monitor the activity of the orang-utans.

"I must stress here that accidents happen to even the best of zoos."

Dr Sen gave an example of a critically endangered komodo dragon's tragic death which according to him, only number 5,000 in the wild.

The video of the poor animal croaking due to scaling an 8-foot wall can be seen at http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/england.london/3583440.stm

When asked about elephants being hit, he said he does not blame animal lovers for caring about animals to that extent as the perception of someone in that position is different from someone who is an animal trainer who knows the methods from A to Z.

"In Burma and Vietnam, the training methods to train an elephant is horrific as it involves a lot of beating," he said, adding that methods used in Thailand and India are more humane.

"We have a lot to learn and we are looking forward to improve the quality of our zoo."

Meanwhile, SPCA KK's President, Iskandar Ali, who also took time out to visit the Wildlife Park, said no wildlife park is perfect in its operations.

He added that he did not see any visible markings, scarrings or other wounds that would indicate that elephants were being tortured.

"The skin of the elephant is so thick and tough that it is rather difficult for the trainer to hurt the animal with the small tool that they use.

The elephants are so intelligent that a small nudge with the 'angkus' coupled with the verbal commands by the trainer was enough to get the massive animal to sit and move around.

"I think the trainer who excessively knocks the head of the elephant would end up confusing the animal more than hurting it.

Anyone in Sabah who has ridden a buffalo or a horse will know that these animals will sometimes be a little stubborn and I can only imagine that if an elephant wanted to be a little stubborn, it would be really difficult for a trainer to get it to cooperate.

I understand that the State Wildlife Department has corrected this incorrect training method."



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