January 1, 2018

Shining a Light on the Plight of Three Chimps in Pahang

Shining a Light on the Plight of Three Chimps in Pahang

A chimp broods in a cage. Photo Credit: Tim Parkinson via Flickr

Imagine being locked into a grimy little enclosure just so that people can stare at you. You’re nothing but an exhibit for the amusement of others, yet your keepers care little about your wellbeing. And this goes on for years.

Horrific? It sure is.

Yet this is the fate that has befallen three chimpanzees at the Bukit Gambang Safari Park in Pahang, according to conservationists and animal rights activists.

A chimp inside a cage for primates at the Bukit Gambang Safari Park in Pahang.

The three chimps are two females and a male: 16-year-old Botan, 18-year-old Sumomo, and 29-year-old Gonbei. Since they were bought from a Japanese company (hence their Japanese names) and brought to the park in 2015, the apes have largely been cooped up in small 3m-by-4m cages without much of a chance to move around at will outdoors.

“The images and video are shocking,” says Upreshpal Singh, director of the animal rights group Friends of the Orangutans (Foto).

Chimps are highly evolved creatures that love exploring, hanging from trees and doing all sorts of mischief. Needless to say, at their present surroundings in the park they can do none of this. “Chimps in confinement can easily develop debilitating emotional trauma,” Gregg Tully, director of Pan African Sanctuary Alliance, an association of wildlife centers in Africa, has been quoted as saying by Free Malaysia Today. “They can display horrific self-harming and stereotypic behaviour, such as pacing back and forth for hours,” he added.

Worse: It appears that the three captive chimps may have also been reduced to subsisting on a substandard diet with one image taken by animal rights advocates showing them being fed nothing but plantains and thin slices of toast bread.

At many zoos and “wildlife parks” chimps and other apes like orangutans languish in similar conditions, so why pick on this one safari park in Pahang? True. Yet we have to start somewhere. All apes are our evolutionary cousins and they deserve far better treatment from us wherever they are.

Botan, Sumomo and Gonbei do too.


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  1. Mr. S M Mohd Idris

    Letter to Editor

    Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) raises concerns about an issue which has attracted much publicity since it became news after it was highlighted by animal rights activists—the shooting of a chimp at a zoo in Langkawi.
    Why was the chimp shot? Because it made a daring escape from its night den, into its enclosure and into the open. A sad and tragic ending for a chimp that had lived a life of misery along with two other chimps. Transferred from their dingy 3m by 4m enclosures at the Bukit Gambang Safari Park wherein they were incarcerated for close to three years, to the Langkawi Nature Park (LNP), which are both owned by the Sentoria group, did not allow for a good quality of life for these chimps.

    Adult chimps can be very dangerous and they can be a threat to people in zoos, if they escape. But zoos must also be prepared with humane options, or non-lethal methods of subduing a chimp, such as a tranquiliser dart, or net, for cases of escaped wildlife. At that time of this escape, the zoo was closed to public. In this case serious questions need to be raised immediately about how an adult chimp managed to escape, and why the animal was shot dead. Zoos are required to ensure that enclosures and boundary fencing are designed and maintained to prevent escapes. Obviously LNP is substandard and should be held accountable for the chimp’s escape in the first place.

    Judging from the banging on the cages, the chimps are not receiving the proper enrichment and stimuli. In the wild chimps live in large groups. Here at the park, it is psychologically damaging for them to be in small barren cages because they lack mental stimulation and the company of their own kind. These are the types of behaviors often seen in animals that are closely confined, lack proper care and habitat areas, and have little opportunity for mental stimulation or physical exercise.

    Is Perhilitan aware of the plight of the chimps kept in Bukit Gambang zoo? If Perhilitan has an eye for detail then action should be taken against the zoo’s management for the psychological abuse suffered by the chimps. Often animals’ normal behaviour is seldom discussed, much less observed, and their natural needs are rarely met.

    The Zoo Licencing Act should be amended to force zoo managers to ensure the psychological needs of the animals are met. The only welfare protection zoo animals have is not to be treated cruelly. The fact that an animal is not able to behave in a normal way for its species is not considered cruelty. This means that local zoos can continue to house animals in a space likened to a “menagerie from the last century.”

    Wildlife officials need to heed increased public awareness of the suffering of captive animals and listen to wildlife experts who recommend that zoos be phased out. SAM believes that visitor experience at zoos should not be considered more important than animal welfare.

    If one is truly concerned about the impact that zoos have on animal welfare, it is best to stay away from zoos and businesses which hold animals captive for profit, and as source of entertainment.

    S M Mohd Idris

    Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM)

    258 Jalan Air Itam

    10460 Penang

    Tel: 04-2286930 Fax: 04-2286932

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