With fire hoses. According to Yomiuri Shimbun, two animal keepers at zoos in Tokyo and Chiba Prefecture hope to help extinguish the threat facing orangutans in Malaysia with a novel item — old fire hoses.

Fire hoses may help save Borneo orangutans
By The Yomiuri Shimbun

Two animal keepers at zoos in Tokyo and Chiba Prefecture hope to help extinguish the threat facing orangutans in Malaysia with a novel item–old fire hoses.

Hidetoshi Kurotori, of Tama Zoological Park in Hino, western Tokyo, and Shigekazu Mizushina, at Ichikawa Zoological and Botanical Garden in Ichikawa, Chiba Prefecture, will place lengths of used fire hoses among trees and across rivers to help orangutan bands that have become isolated in deforested areas to migrate to other forests.

Kurotori, 55, and Mizushina, 41, plan to leave Monday for Malaysia. Their project will start around the Kinabatangan River, which runs through northeast Borneo Island.

Forest development is expanding in the area to produce palm oil, resulting in a rapid decrease of orangutan food sources, including fruits, tree bark and leaves. The decrease in trees also limits the orangutans’ activities, leaving some bands isolated in the forests as the ape, which does not like water, cannot swim across rivers to move to other areas.

Researchers are concerned that the great ape might become weaker as a species if such bands remain isolated and unable to interact with each other.

The idea of using fire hoses to save orangutans came first to Isabelle Lackman-Ancrenaz, a French researcher who had been based on the island to study and protect the species.

In October, when she came to Japan to give lectures on orangutans, she observed orangutans at the Tokyo zoo moving around in their captive space by hanging from fire hoses that were provided for them. She thought the hoses also could be introduced on Borneo, as a bridge to cross rivers and assist mobility in the forests.

In February, Lackman-Ancrenaz and local researchers placed two fire hoses over the Kinabatangan River. However, the cautious orangutans did not use it, so she asked Kurotori and Mizushina for advice.

The two zookeepers are planning to place used fire hoses on trees in Borneo’s forests, allowing orangutans to gradually get used to the hoses by having the animals play freely with them.

The pair also plans to stretch hoses over the 10-meter-wide river to act as a bridge between trees on both banks.

For the project, they have sent 38 10-meter lengths of fire hose to the island. The hoses, which had been used at a fire station in Osaka, were donated by a Japan-based nonprofit organization.

If the project proves successful, a local support group in Malaysia will increase the locations where hoses are placed.

According to Kurotori, it is not unusual for zoo-captive animals to play with hoses and other artificial items, but he “had never imagined it could be used in the wild.” He added, “I’d be so happy if Japanese zoos’ know-how can help to save orangutans.”

The term orangutan means “a person living in the forest” in the Malay tongue. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources’ Red List, the wild orangutan population is thought to have decreased to less than half the numbers of 60 years ago.

The number of the orangutans living on Borneo Island is estimated to range from 45,000 to 69,000.

(Apr. 10, 2008)

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