Move over, ER! Welcome to the world's only orang-utan hospital Print

By Sarah Chalmers, 20th March 2009

Hooked up to a drip, wearing just a nappy and a forlorn expression, the tiny infant stares out
through the bars of his cot at the frenzy of activity around him.

A few feet away, a nurse makes up a bottle of formula while another prepares a bath. On a
nearby table lies a thermometer, a blood-pressure gauge and bottles of medication.

The scene is typical of any infant care unit and the staff are dedicated to saving their tiny patients.
The only difference is that these 'babies' are not human but infant orang-utans.


Here's looking at you, kid: Little June-Junior is recovering well in the unit

Situated in the heart of the Malaysian jungle, the Infant Care Unit at Bukit Merah Lake Town
Resort - dubbed Orang-Utan Island - is a very special hospital.

All of its patients are from the endangered Borneo species of orang-utans, the Pongo Pygmaeus.
Without the facility, built in 2004, the species would probably be extinct.


Baby orangutans April and June Junior at the Infant Care Unit at the Bukit Merah Orang Utan island reserve

April and June-Junior cause mischief in the Infant Care Unit at the Bukit Merah island
wildlife reserve

Many of the 23 baby orangutans treated here were rejected or abused by their mothers.
Without milk, they develop severe malnutrition.

In hospital, they are cared for just like human babies. Every two hours the patients are
bottle fed, and their vital signs are monitored - including blood pressure, blood oxygen
content and pulse.

Three-month-old June Junior is hooked up to monitors and IV drips at the wildlife park, which is at the cutting edge of animal welfare

Three-month-old June-Junior is hooked up to monitors and IV drips

Bed is a cosy cot, with blankets and pillows, while incubators are reserved for those who
have particularly low body temperatures.

Each morning, the baby orangutans are sponged with antiseptic body wash and weighed.
They are also monitored by vets, who make sure they have the required 15 to 22 hours
of sleep a day.

Two of the current patients are typical of those cared for since the unit opened five
years ago.

orang utans

Abandoned: Eleven-month-old April was rejected by her mother


orang utans

Hitting the bottle: Baby June-Junior feeds from her bottle just like a human

Ten-month-old April was rejected by her mother, while three-month-old June-Junior weighed
just 2lb 6oz when she was born and had severe respiratory problems.

But there is also time for play. This mischievous pair like nothing more than trying to pull
off their heart monitor cables.

Dressed in nappies, 10-month-old April chews her cot and makes faces at fellow patient June Junior

Dressed in a nappy, 10-month-old April chews her cot and makes faces at June-Junior

When they are a year old they will be moved to the infant development unit, where the
animals are taught how to survive in the wild.

The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) says there are only 3,000 Borneo orang-utan
left in the world. But thanks to the tender care administered to babies such as June-Junior
and April, this decline could be halted.

A dedicated team of seven nurses care for the creatures, headed by one of Malaysia's
most experienced vets.


The orang-utans get all the comforts of a hospital, including nappy changes, top, and
even cuddles, bottom

Born in an eco-tourism park on the Malaysian mainland, June-Junior and April are the
latest of twelve orang-utans to have passed through the doors of the £70,000 facility
since it opened in March 2004.

'We have a total of 23 orang-utans here at the Bukit Merah resort,' said Dr D. Sabapathy.

'We work with the state government of Sarawak on the island of Borneo, who send us ill
or abandoned orang-utans that we care for here.

'The ultimate plan in the next year is to enact the return of our 23 apes to the wilds of
Borneo, into a secret location.

orang utans

Playmates: April and June-Junior like to have fun together in their cots

'It is a matter of the survival of the species.'

The low birth rate of orang-utans and encroachment on their natural habitat has seen
the species' population dwindle.

Recognised as an endangered species, the Borneo orangutan is estimated to number
between 45,000 and 70,000 in the wild.

'April was rejected by her mother, who was very aggressive towards her,' said Dr Sabapathy.


Nap time: One of the centre's cute residents gets some shut-eye

'She will stay inside the ICU until she is almost one-year-old and then she will be moved
to our Infant Development Unit. There she will be taught how to survive in the wild and
gradually her human contact will be cut to a bare minimum.

'June-Junior was a more serious case as she was born weighing just 1.1kg and had
developed respiratory problems.

'We frequently have to put her into the incubator because her temperature falls below
the norm of 36.5 degrees.'

The infant orangutans are examined regularly at the world's most advanced ape hospital

Infant orang-utans like June-Junior are examined regularly. They will later be prepared
for release into the wild

Priding themselves on their commitment to conservation as well as informing the public
of the plight of the orang-utan, the Bukit Merah park is one of Malaysia's largest eco-tourism

'Without the specialist care that we offer in our ICU I would not be so confident of June-Junior's
and April's survival,' explained Dr Sabapathy.

'It costs almost £30,000 a year to keep the ICU staffed, up-to-date and open, but we cover
these costs through the park's admission.'

Source: Daily Mail, UK