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An organ-utan in a reserve (karma-police)

Indonesia to create 'orang-utan islands'

27th October 2011

Plans to make four new islands in northern Sumatra to accommodate orang-utans that are unable to be reintroduced into the wild have been announced

Dr Singleton – a UK conservationist who is behind the plans – believes the islands would free the sick or injured orang-utans from the life-long confinements of a cage. The islands will be specially designed to imitate the animal's natural habitat, with plenty of grass, shrubs and trees, and would allow the orang-utans to roam independently.

The procedure of securing the land is currently under-way. Local contractors will be employed to operate diggers carving up the ground in order to create moats thereby surrounding the land in water.

"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. "The biggest challenge is finding the right land that has the right security and a water supply that isn't full of effluent."

Based in Sumatra since 2001, Singleton leads the country's Orangutan Conservation Programme and is funded by a Swiss NGO, PanEco. With the help of his team, he has successfully reintroduced more than 150 orang-utans into the wild over the past decade.

The project's principal aim is to protect and rehabilitate the captive orang-utans, although Singleton also hopes an education centre and guided walks will help improve the local population's understanding of these shy creatures.

The most serious threat to orang-utans is deforestation. In the last 20 years an estimated 80% of their habitat has disappeared, and only around 2% of what remains is legally protected. Listed as endangered, it is thought that approximately 65,000 orang-utans remain in the wild, limited to rainforests in Borneo and Sumatra.

"I fluctuate between cautiously optimistic (and) very pessimistic," Singleton added.

"One minute the government will say that it wants to protect the forest and then they will grant a permit to clear 15,000 hectares of forest. Very few people are prosecuted for keeping an orangutan as a pet."

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