*A story written by Renae, animal lover and volunteer coordinator at Jogja’s Wildlife Rescue Centre*
This isn’t something I would usually talk about unless questioned. Actually, it is something most people that work with animals usually wouldn’t talk about. But recently a very well renowned centre was heavily criticized by the public for this on Facebook. It’s the elephant in the room – a huge part of our job that we try not to show or discuss. Which seems rightly so given the reaction we receive.
I’m referring to keeping wild animals in “cages”. It’s barbaric; It’s archaic; It’s inhumane; It’s cruel! It’s the reality…
While it is unfortunate and far less than desirable, it is the reality of the current situation. We have cages for our animals. They are smaller than desirable. The animals do not leave these enclosures. We struggle with appropriate enrichment. Often the animals are bored. This is all true. What is also true is that this hurts us. We do feel for them. We want to see them in the wildlife parks and forest schools you are all asking for. But with less than half of Borneo’s forest left and a deforestation rate of 1.3 million hectares per year, where do we put them? By 2020 only 24% of the forest will be left. This does not leave much space for 222 mammal species, 420 bird species, 100 amphibians and 394 fish species. And that’s not including the beautiful diversity of fauna in the Borneo forest.
So, we are now left with very few options: forest schools, zoos or rescue centres with small “cages”. Does the answer seem easy to you? It’s not for us.
Forest schools are fantastic! Big open ranges for the animals to roam and play and act like the wild animals they are. But they face the same issue of deforestation. Deforestation for palm oil happens through burning. It’s not a carefully thought out process where they search for a “dead” part of forest where there are no animals and the trees are all dying. They go into the forest in the middle of the dry season, after months with no rain and they start a fire. Not a controlled fire. A wild fire that burns everything to the ground until the wet season returns, possibly months later, to ease the flames. The fires don’t see a forest school and think “oh no, I shouldn’t go there. The animals might be hurt”. The fire continues to burn where ever it can. The staff will do everything in their power to protect their animals and their centre, but often that includes forcing all animals into tiny emergency transport and fleeing the forest, never to return.
The next option is a zoo. We have all been to a zoo as a child and marvelled at the wondrous exotic animals before us. I remember as a child a baby gorilla being born in my city’s zoo. I begged my mum to see the baby gorilla when they first showed her to the public. I remember waiting not-so-patiently behind a large group of people before standing with my mouth wide open starring at the gorgeous little baby playing with her mum in a nursery-like room behind glass. She was so human like in the way she played and smiled. It was so wonderful that the zoo had “large” enclosures for all of their animals with huge structural enrichment. They had plenty of money for food and daily enrichment to stop the animals from being bored. There is a breeding program so the species can continue and all of the animals had friends in their enclosures! And most of all who doesn’t love being dragged from their large forest home where they lived by themselves (as many animals, like orangutans, do) to be forced into “large” cages with other animals that you don’t like and being told you can no longer spend the majority of your time foraging for food (as is your natural habit) and being forced to mate with a certain individual instead of choosing for yourself. And all for money…
The final option is rescue centres. With our tiny enclosures, lack of possibility for release, low budget,s meaning we struggle to pay staff, feed animals AND provide enrichment. Where is the good in it? First, being a centre in central Java, we are not prone to wild forest fires. We never need to put our animals under the stress of emergency relocation or health issues from haze. Next, we do not exploit our animals for money. Our centre is not open to the public. Our animals feel safe in their homes and are unthreatened by the unknown. We feed our animals daily a natural, healthy diet that they would find in the wild. We provide daily enrichment. We give them something to play with and think about and do. We have a vet on site who checks all animals daily for illness and stress. We struggle to do all of this. We do not receive large donations. We do not have huge amounts of money coming into the centre all the time. But we do it. We find a way. We do it for our animals in their undersized enclosures so we know they feel safe and secure and unthreatened. We do it for the hope of a better future where deforestation does not exist and our animals can go to their forest home again.
If you too believe in this future, I encourage you to donate to a SMALL centre. Not a big centre. They are big because they already have money. Find a small centre, any small centre, and donate to them. If you are unsure about donating, send them an email and ask them questions. Ask about their current projects and what they need money for. You can choose to donate to something specifically. If you see they have an animal you really like, tell them the money is for that animal’s enrichment and ask for photos of the enrichment. They will send it to you so you can see what difference your money has made. Or search for an adoption program. You will receive regular updates about your chosen animal and know that your money is going towards their general care.
The next thing you can do, is make yourself aware of the deforestation issues due to palm oil. Follow palm oil pages on Facebook. Sign the petitions. Download the palm oil app. But most of all, STOP USING PALM OIL! I know it SEEMS hard, but every time you think it is hard try to remember how much harder it is for the orangutans trying to flee the forest fires or gun shots. I thought it was going to be hard in the beginning until I realized it just meant having a healthier diet. More fresh fruit and vegetables and less processed “foods”. And my food bill was cut in half once I cut out all of the bad stuff. All of it! Not just some of it. Your body will love you and Borneon animals and forests will love you even more!