Humans’ closest cousins may be extinct in ten years

Ropes . . . Bidu-Bidu enjoys new life

Sue Sheward, Brit gran known as Godmother of Orangutans, tells of heartbreaking plight of Borneo primates

The orphaned orangutan now spends his days gleefully guzzling fruit and swinging in trees — but the youngster is still not safe.

One human cough or sneeze could kill him.

The rampant destruction of other jungle areas means it is simply too risky to release them anywhere else.

There are now just 11,000 of Bidu-Bidu’s sub-species, the North-East Bornean orangutan, left in their native Sabah, a state on the tip of the Malaysian island of Borneo.

Their population has plummeted by more than 50 per cent over the past 60 years.

By far the greatest threat is loss of their jungle habitat.

At least 55 per cent of their forest home has been cleared in the past 20 years, mainly to make way for the production of palm oil.

Sue, 69, whom locals have dubbed the Godmother of Orangutans, first became aware of the animals’ plight 14 years ago.

She said: “I went to Sabah on holiday in 2001 and instantly fell head over heels in love with them.

“I knew I needed to help and started planning immediately. That’s when the charity was born.”

Sue, of Effingham, Surrey, set up Orangutan Appeal UK, which helps to fund the Sepilok Rehabilitation Centre in Sabah, where orphaned and injured apes are cared for.

She explains: “Our aim is to look after them but ensure the orangutans are left independent enough that they don’t rely on us. We want them to eventually thrive in the wild.”

Devoted Sue talks animatedly as she sets about giving Bidu-Bidu a meal — wearing a surgical mask and gloves to protect him from germs, as everybody who comes into contact with him must do.

The former inspector with the Department of Health and Social Security recalled: “Bidu-Bidu was just a one-year-old baby when he was brought to us two years ago.

“He’d been found in a palm oil plantation and was being kept as a pet by the owner’s daughter.

“She was feeding him sausages and condensed milk, which was leaving him malnourished and very sick.

“He was the size and weight of just four bags of sugar when our head vet examined him.

“Although orangutans are our closest cousin, they cannot eat human food, nor is it good for them to be handled too much.”

Breakfast today is banana and a tropical fruit called rambutan — a much healthier combination.

Mother-of-three Sue, who also has four grandchildren, continued: “The wonderful thing about orangutans is that they help each other.

“If one is making a nest, the others will help out. If the youngsters don’t know how to shell or peel a fruit, the older ones will come over to show them how.

“Bidu is now a mentor to his younger peers. It is joyful to see him showing the others the ropes.”

Tucking in to the juicy feast, the youngster playfully snatches an extra rambutan from her hand, grinning at his handiwork.

He also enjoys a walk with environmental campaigner Stanley Johnson, 75.

The writer and former MEP is an ambassador for Sue’s charity — as well as being the father of Mayor of London Boris.

Sue said: “The charity relies on donations. It is the only thing that can make a difference to Bidu-Bidu and his friends’ future.” Orangutan Appeal UK has raised €1.7million to date, but there is still a mountain to climb.

Sue admitted: “I never thought it would be easy to save an ape from extinction but then I never realised it would be this difficult either.”

The charity, working with the Sabah Wildlife Department, has set up new nursery and quarantine wards at the rehabilitation centre to better help the apes in their care.

It also funds vets, nurses and research and has recently transformed the all-important hygiene standards to keep human germs at bay.

But while the centre is doing its best within the Sabah Nature Reserve, beyond these kinds of protected jungle tracts the orangutans have never been in more peril.

Demand for palm oil, already the cause of so much of habitat destruction, has increased sharply in just the past few years.

Cheap and versatile, it is in everything from pasties and sandwich spreads to chewing gum and lipstick.

In fact, more than half of the packaged food products on the world’s supermarket shelves contain palm oil.

So when the centre’s apes are ready to go back to the wild, as Bidu-Bidu is expected to do in five years’ time, they have to go to protected reserves.

The rampant destruction of other jungle areas means it is simply too risky to release them anywhere else.

But Sue, who was awarded an MBE in 2012 for her work with the orangutans, is undaunted by the battle ahead.

She said: “I sometimes visit the rehab centre five times a year to ensure that everything is OK — it’s my life now.

“I will go on working with the orangutans until I can’t anymore.”


Reproduced from the original article posted by The Sun.