Saving threatened habitats worldwide

The Red Ape Debate - The Future for the Orang-utan

Red Ape Debate slide
Date and Time: 
27 November 2009
Royal Geographical Society, London

Event history

At the end of November 2009 a group of experts* in the field of orang-utan research and conservation came together to discuss and debate issues relating to the Future for the Orang-utan in both Borneo and Sumatra.

The World Land Trust (WLT) followed up April's highly successful Great Ape Debate with this second orang-utan conservation debate to further explore two conservation strategies: Maintaining populations of orang-utans in rehabilitation centres and the conservation of habitats for wild populations of the apes. In particular, we wanted to involve a larger audience and take a vote on where the onus for conservation expenditure should lie.

The event

The event began with the experts discussing some of the key areas for concern during a series of workshop sessions. Following this, their findings were presented to the public in the main lecture theatre of the Royal Geographical Society.

Workshops on orang-utan conservation topics

During the afternoon workshops, four groups discussed the following broad topic areas of orang-utan conservation:

  • Rehabilitation as an effective conservation strategy
  • Constraints on reintroduction
  • Problems of conservation in non-protected habitats
  • Obligations and impediments for the plantation industry

A speaker from each group then presented the conclusions at the public debate: Roger Wilson (World Land Trust), Michelle Desilets (Orangutan Land Trust), Wilfred Landong (Sarawak Forestry Corporation) and Helen Buckland (Sumatran Orangutan Society).

Debating rescue and rehabilitation versus habitat conservation

Prior to the presentations the audience was asked to vote on the following motion: Even with limited funding available, reintroduction of captive orang-utans is as important for their survival as habitat protection.

The majority of the audience rejected the motion, feeling that habitat protection IS more important for the future of the orang-utan than the re-release of rehabilitated, captive animals. The four presentations that followed were highly thought-provoking and persuasive, with Roger Wilson and Michelle Desilets arguing for the motion and Wilfred Landong and Helen Buckland against. The main points of the presentations were summed up by the chairman of the event, Lord Cranbrook, before the debate itself started with a series of extremely insightful questions from a very passionate and diverse audience.

The audience was again asked to vote at the end of the debate and this resulted in an even larger majority of voters calling for greater habitat protection throughout orang-utan ranges. However, many members of the audience and expert panel maintained that rehabilitated orang-utans should be identified as a resource with which to boost the wild population in the future, not as a welfare conundrum. Other conservationists felt strongly that the very large amount of funds spent on captive orang-utans is unjustified, given the limited funds that are available for the conservation of wild orang-utans.

One main theme to emerge from the debate was the moral obligation that we, the human species, has to stem the flow of orphaned, injured or displaced orang-utans that end up in rehabilitation centres. Experts and audience agreed that with greater areas of orang-utan habitat under stronger protection, fewer animals should find themselves forced into care at these oversubscribed rescue centres.

Event Extras

The Red Ape Debate was filmed to enable those who were unable to attend the debate to learn about the topics discussed. This playlist show 6 videos (the Introduction, workshops 1, 2, 3 and 4 and the final disscusion and debate) and in total lasts for 1hour 50minutes.

List of participating experts

* List of participating experts (PDF document, opens in new window)

You will need Adobe Reader to open PDF files.

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