Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Plan for man-made orangutan islands in North Sumatra

A British conservationist is leading an audacious plan to create a chain of man-made islands in northern Sumatra that would liberate the Indonesian island's population of caged orangutans.

Dr Ian Singleton aims to create four islands of grass, shrubs and trees for sick and injured orangutans – those who are unable to be reintroduced to the natural habitat – to roam, freeing them from the 3x4m cages in which they currently reside.

Singleton is currently in the process of securing land for the islands. The ideal location would be near the coast with a consistent supply of fresh water via a stream or river.

Diggers, operated by local contractors, will then carve up the land to create moats, thereby encircling the land with water. The earth removed by the digging will be used to landscape the islands to make them ape-friendly.

Orangutans, which can't swim, will be reluctant to leave the islands due to the water, although Singleton plans to erect an electric fence to ensure the creatures don't drown.

"Depending on the site, it shouldn't take us too long to create the islands, as long as the moats don't leak," Singleton told the Guardian from northern Sumatra.

Singleton has been in Sumatra since 2001, following stints at zoos in Jersey and Edinburgh. He leads the Orangutan Conservation Programme in the country and is funded by a Swiss NGO, PanEco.

While the immediate aim is to protect the captive orangutans, Singleton hopes the project will inform local people about the threat to the animal's survival via an education centre and guided walks.

There are only an estimated 6,000 orangutans left in Sumatra, due to deforestation and conflict with humans.

Singleton is working with the Australian Orangutan Project to raise funds for the island development.

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