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The return of APE Malaysia to Lao Wildlife Sanctuary

This year, APE Malaysia went back to Lao Wildlife Sanctuary with a bigger team of volunteers to help improve the quality of life of animals in the sanctuary.  The programme started on 20th September and ended on 1st October 2014.  During the 10 days we were at the zoo, we worked on special projects including the refurbishing of the eastern sarus crane and elephant’s enclosure.  In addition to that, we also brought 135kg of fire hoses all the way from Malaysia. Our gratitude goes to the Malaysian Fire Department for the donation of fire hoses and Air Asia Foundation for the extra baggage allowance to transport them from Malaysia to Laos. Within 2 weeks, we showed the enrichment team of Lao Wildlife Sanctuary how to work with fire hoses by showing them a few types of enrichment; from the raw material right up to the installation process. We also had time for mini projects which involved making simple enrichments for the sun bears, panther, Asiatic black bear, otter, baboon, crow, golden cat, camel and porcupines.

Below are the big projects that we managed to complete:

  • Eastern sarus crane’s enclosure – We created a marsh land in the enclosure by building a new pond, creating a large muddy and grassy area to replicate their natural habitat.  A water feature in the pond was included to hide the filter and pump to keep the water filtered. We also painted a mural on the wall inside and an educational mural filled with informative facts on the outside of the enclosure.
  • Elephant’s enclosure – To replace a clogged drain, we dug a new drainage system. The existing trough was fixed so that it can be filled up with drinking water. The shower system was also fixed so that the keeper could use this as an alternative to using a hose to give the elephant a shower from time to time.

Other small projects include:

  • Small fire hose basket – hung inside the night den of the Asiatic Black Bears to add variety to the climbing structures for the new cubs;
  • Ball made of fire hose – a small one was hung inside the exhibit of the panther as a play toy. Slightly bigger versions were given to the Asiatic black bears and sun bears.  Bboth hose balls were shackled to one of the poles in the exhibit to avoid the bear rolling them toward the electric fences;
  • A small hammock for a baboon living alone in a bare exhibit;
  • A hanging shiny mobile made with old CDs for the lone crow;
  • Meat ice block wrapped in a basket made with finely cut fire hose and elephant grass. This was given to the leopard and golden cat;
  • The porcupines were given a few bamboo feeders where they had to figure out how to get the flesh of the coconut out of the bamboo;
  • Coconut feeders with fish inside were given to the otter.  She spent a long time playing with the coconut shell even after getting the fish inside;
  • The baboon received a whole coconut and used his strong teeth to rip it apart;
  • Volunteers collected piles of logs with termites which were given to all the Asiatic black bears;
  • The camel had 3 m3 of new sand placed into his sand pit.



APE Malaysia - A sustainable business model

APE Malaysia is being recognized not only as having expertise in improving animal welfare through enrichment, but also on the sustainable model we have based our business model upon.

This was yet again proven when we were invited to present on our programme and business model at a forum: Current Sustainability Initiatives in Malaysia and Beyond: Integrating the Global and the Local.

The talk was organised by the University Malaya Living Lab / Centre for Dialogue and Transformation on 6th February 2014 under the auspices of Prof Dr Carolina Lopez.  The talk was attended by academics from the field and industry players and was honoured by the presence of the UM Vice-Chancellor Professor Dato' Dr. Mohd Amin Jalaludin and Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research & Innovation) Professor Dr. Awg Bulgiba Awg Mahmud. The Forum was also attended by representatives of the United Nations Regional Centres of Expertise Programme, and the Malaysian Ministry of Education.



APE Malaysia at Zoo Melaka

On 12th and 13th June, we embarked into a new and exciting project based out of Zoo Melaka.  Located less than 2 hours south of Kuala Lumpur, Zoo Melaka recently changed from a semi-government zoo to a privately-owned zoo.  A group of 9 including volunteers from Ireland, Canada, Australia and England, ventured into the new project site to assist in improving animal welfare.

We got busy as soon as we arrived, making “Happy Sacks”, a simple enrichment puzzle containing nuts, raisins and an assortment of seeds wrapped in paper egg holders and secured with hessian rope.  Another 30 Happy Sacks were prepared the day before.  These sacks were given to the brown lemurs, black and white ruffed lemur, orangutans, chimpanzee, brown capuchin monkeys, stumped-tailed macaques and mandrills.  The packages were received with curiosity and excitement.  It sparked many reactions such as dropping them from a particular height to break it open, knocking and biting. We were chuff to see all sorts of reactions from the animals.

On the second day, we were divided into 2 groups. The 1st group was tasked to make suspended hanging ladders for the black and white ruffed lemur and brown capuchin monkeys. Small planks of wood were drilled on both ends and then tied together with hessian ropes.  The ladders were then suspended in their cages as climbing structure enrichment.  The capuchin monkeys were very excited with their new contraption and so were the watching Homo sapiens.

The second group went around the zoo for banana plants to make banana stem treats.  Holes were made in the stems to stuff treats into to encourage some foraging.  The banana stems were given to stump-tailed macaques and they spent a good half an hour tearing and pulling it apart to get to the treats.  Blankets were given to the orangutans and chimpanzee.  We observed one mother orangutan laying the blanket flat on the ground and gently putting her baby on it!

During lunch, the Zoo Director, Mr. Azman, thanked us for helping improve the lives of the animals in Zoo Melaka.  We felt appreciated and enthused to do more for the zoo.  The two days of hard work made it a really worthwhile visit, full of satisfaction and a great sense of JOY!

Great jobs guys! Kudos to all!

Since then we have also made and contributed:

  • Feeding platforms for the spider monkeys and the siamangs;
  • Hanging ladder for lemurs;
  • Hanging bamboo ladder for capuchin monkeys;
  • Termite logs were given to sun bears
  • Hammocks for the orangutans
  • Re-landscaping orangutan enclosure
  • Frozen “meatballs” for the tigers
  • Timber platform and shelter for the lions
  • Nesting / roosting box for the Sulphur-crested Cockatoo
  • “Happy Sacks” for a variety of animals
  • Scratching post for the Malayan tigers
  • Banana tree enrichments for apes and lesser apes


APE Malaysia at Lao Zoo & Wildlife Sanctuary

A specialty programme was created at the request of APE Malaysia’s animal welfare partner, ACRES, who work with the Lao Zoo to change it from its existing state to one that is run by well-trained zookeepers with facilities that can accommodate confiscated and surrendered wildlife.  These animals need all the care and attention to bring them from deplorable conditions to healthy animals so that they have a brighter future in terms of quality of life or rehab and release programmes.
In April 2013, APE Malaysia set up a special programme with a trip focused on increased animal welfare through enrichment and husbandry. One of the key objectives was to ensure that the local team was trained and given the tools to create enrichment as well as carry out the implementation after we left.

In the 2 weeks we were there, not only did we run several training sessions, we also managed to provide enrichment on a daily basis to the animals such as Asiatic bears, sun bears, otters, range of macaques, binturongs, rabbits, peacocks and owls.  
A short list of some of the items we created:

  1. A fire hose hammock for the baby sun bear who has been sleeping in it every night ever since;
  2. A shelter for the barn owls who now have a dark place to go and avoid the sun;
  3. 2 structures for the enclosure of the stump-tailed macaque where they can take shelter from the weather and prying eyes of humans;
  4. A hanging platform for the Asiatic black bear so that he can be off his constantly wet floor;
  5. A good scrub down of the otter’s enclosure where she now has a clean pool in which to swim and a hiding place under the logs;
  6. Shelter for the spot-bellied eagle owl who has a broken wing and can’t really fly;
  7. For the rabbits who were living under horrible conditions (wire mesh cage off the ground), we cleaned them up, groomed them and moved them to a landed enclosure that has shelters and structures to climb on;
  8. Other enrichment such as coconuts, coconut feeders, food log, termite log, happy sacks, pinata, dried leaves, stuffed banana stem, scattered mealworms and sack with hay;
  9. Enrichment training workshop with the zookeepers, daily hands-on sessions, documentation and creative workshop.




Banana Plant Parade

In conjunction with World Environment Day (5 June), the first ever Banana Plant Parade was held in Zoo Negara on 8 June 2013. Organised by APE Malaysia and supported by Accenture & APE Malaysia volunteers, a team of orang asli children of the Temiar tribe prepared 60 goodie-filled banana plants as simple enrichment and distributed them to many animals around the zoo. Some of the animals who enjoyed that particular enrichment for the day were the elephants, hippopotamus, bonnet macaques, pademelon, deers such as Javan, swamp and barking, porcupines and binturong. The children were able to see how meaningful enrichment is and went home with a better understanding of these animals and their behaviours.

The first fruit and vegetable garden for Matang Wildlife Centre

In April 2013, APE Malaysia and a group of students from Temasek Polytechnic, Singapore transformed a piece of land from one that was unkempt and overgrown with a tall grass, brush and tree stumps, to one with various types of fruit trees and vegetables.

Situated just at the edge of Kampung Rayu next to the MWC (in Kubah National Park), this land once belonged to the local community but was left unused.  It was purchased to reduce the cost of feeding at Matang Wildlife Centre but to work it needed some investment and manpower.  The produce from this garden will provide a variety of food types for consumption as well as to make enrichment for the many animals at the centre.

The team of 25 worked very hard to clear the undergrowth and prepare planting plots.  Seedlings were placed for germination and young trees were planted in prepared spots.  The result: mango trees, coconut trees, rambutan trees, longan trees, cempedak trees, jambu air trees as well as preparing seedlings for pumpkin and papaya. Other than a food source for the animals at MWC, this plot of land will act as an extended buffer zone for the forest surrounding MWC and Kubah National Park.

Volunteers will be tasked to weed and water the planted seedling and young trees on a regular basis.


Wildlife in Restored Areas

On a wildlife monitoring trip with participants on our Sabah programme, just as we were pointing out the trees planted several years back by previous participants, a troop of approximately 40 long-tailed macaques jumped and swung through the very trees we were pointing at.  What an exhilarating feeling to see wildlife actually a part of our reforested land.  Now, we are waiting for the trees to grow large enough to house orang-utans and have pygmy elephants roam through!


Within confined spaces and with limited trees to work with, orang-utans do not have the luxury of their natural sleeping habitat of a hammock-like nest of leaves.  APE programmes have seen volunteers designing and making hammocks for orang-utans as a substitute to their nest.  Seeing orang-utans in captivity almost all the time in the hammocks is proof for the need of enrichment that volunteers are able to bring in.

When a male orang-utan was transferred from Zoo Negara for breeding exchange to another zoo, he was depressed for several weeks before the new keepers realised that he was missing his hammock.  The new keepers made a trip to Zoo Negara and our programme coordinator taught them how to make a hammock for the happy orang-utan!

Volunteers have been making hommocks for more than just orangutans. We have made them for civets, chimpanzees, coatimundi and even raccoons! Click here to see a video of Katie and Punkey (the Bornean orangutans at Zoo Negara) exploring their new hammock made by the volunteers.


Local School Children as Stakeholders

For the first time, in 2011, APE managed to coordinate a trip for 20 local students to plant trees within the very wildlife sanctuary that they live in.  This activity was made possible through a contribution from REACT, a charity from the United Kingdom.  The students were treated to lunch and a new t-shirt as they planted trees in high priority areas earmarked for conservation.  They were joined by villagers who are also in support of the tree-planting activities.  For many students, it was the first time they have ever planted a tree or gone on a long cruise along the river to sight wildlife.  It was also a first for some to see a wild orang-utan!

In 2012, thanks to the contributions by ISS International School and Anglo-Chinese School, Singapore. APE was able to coordinate 2 more tree planting sessions with the local children. For the latest one in December 2012, an education session was also included. The day came to a close with each and every student understanding that they play an important role as a member of the community living in the Lower Kinabatangan of Sabah.

Community School Education

In Sukau, a village along the Kinabatangan River, APE has established a successful conservation education programme that began in September 2008.  The children in this programme have been instrumental in bringing the community a step closer towards developing their very own responsibility over the survival of their river, the environment and the wildlife that they have been born into.  The children’s English have improved markedly and a school library is about to be started.

Meaningful Enrichment

Behavioural enrichment is the way in which we create opportunities for animals to have meaningful interactions with their surroundings, and encourage and monitor survival specific behaviours that will become vital if they are ever to go back to the wild.

APE has been the crux of creating an enriched environment for the orang-utans at the ape centres we work with as well as many other animals at the zoos, including the large cats, elephants, sun bears and other primates. This has resulted in livelier animals looking and behaving in healthier ways.


Enrichment Database

Through the years, we have created a library of enrichment activities, documented each time an enrichment item was created.  Accompanied by photos and renderings, each enrichment entry also details the objectives, instructions, health and safety and costs.

Over 70 commonly used items have been compiled and distributed at the zoo and at our associate project sites for use as reference.  These are also used as reference during our education programmes.


Reforestation & Habitat Restoration

Habitat restoration is the largest part of the Kinabatangan programme as the protected area is home to pygmy elephants, orang-utans and a host of other primates, birds, insects and wildlife.  APE has already successfully assisted in the reforestation of 3 plots of land and has now taken full ownership of a 4th plot measuring approximately 1 hectare.  Monitoring of these planted land continue till today.  APE continues to work with WWF and other organisations in planting and monitoring of tree growth at critical areas.  It was recently verified that the sapling survival rate over a period of 1 year is 75% on the plots that APE Malaysia is working on.

At the Lower Kinabatangan Corridor of Life, APE, in partnership with several organisations, has access to over 25 acres of land that require urgent reforestation. Pygmy Elephants, 10 primates including the endangered orang-utan, proboscis monkey, gibbon and western tarsier, hundreds of birds and reptiles, tens of thousands of insects and plants depend on the Kinabatangan River and the forests fringing it for livelihood, propagation and survival. Reforestation of the areas will bridge the segmented forest, providing a larger, continuous protected zone for the wildlife to roam and proliferate.

APE participants have begun the challenging task of not only planting new trees, but to maintain and provide assistance to ensure faster growth and propagation. Participants also clear invasive weeds and work with the villagers and local communities in their forest nurseries, collect seed and seedlings, prepare mulch and compost as well as monitor the growth of the trees at selected sites.

Acre, by acre, hectare by hectare, fast growing, fruiting, floodplain trees such as the bongkol, sepat, simpoh air, bayur, kayu malam etc. are planted to create canopy cover. Once the pioneering trees have grown to approximately 8 to 10 feet, they would provide a nice shady area that would protect the growth of other trees, plants and dipterocarps naturally brought in by wildlife feeding off the fruits and leaves produced by the plants.

Participate or contribute to the Reforestation Programme

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Enrichment Centre at National Zoo

After 7 years of partnership, APE Malaysia proposed to build an Enrichment Centre at Zoo Negara that would benefit all animals throughout the zoo at a cost of RM150,000 contributed by APE Malaysia, Zoo Negara and members of the public.   The centre was launched on 15th July 2011 and the management of Zoo Negara has assigned a team of Enrichment Officers to focus on enrichment activities at the various sections.  Training is being provided by APE Malaysia to the officer to ensure enrichment is provided on a daily basis to an ever expanding number of animals. 


Marine Environmental Education Module (MEEM)

In 2011, APE Malaysia was appointed to develop the Marine Environmental Education Module (MEEM) for WWF. The final product, My Marine World, is aimed at increasing awareness and understanding on marine conservation in Malaysia, specifically targeting the children of Sabah and in particular those who live on islands off the coast of Sabah within the Coral Triangle.  My Marine Wold is an all encompassing environmental education book on marine conservation for multilevel learning classrooms.  It includes scientific facts, localised data surroundings, science, worksheets, indoor and outdoor activities.  My Marine World gives teachers guidelines on how to conduct the sessions and how to make marine conservation lively and interactive, including bringing the students to visit the mangroves, beaches etc. The concept and content was fully developed by the APE Malaysia team.  My Marine World is widely used for marine education programmes via WWF marine awareness projects.  Training has also been conducted by WWF to empower the folks in Semporna, young and old alike. Please click here for a preview of the module.


How the Chimpanzees got along at the Ape Centre

Wanting to make a difference to the chimpanzee residents of the Ape Centre, we worked with our ex-volunteer, Kim White and Hamilton Zoo to integrate 7 individuals into 2 social groups.  The process was costly, took a lot of time and planning, as well as a lot of effort and patience.  The end product was one large happy family group and a funny bachelor group.

The integration came in several phases.  First, Kim and Catherine, the Head Chimpanzee Keeper of Hamilton Zoo, together with our team did observations of every individual.  It was determined that the Max, Rambo and Joe would make a nice bachelor group while Black, Raja, Cumbi and Tina would make a family group.  The next phase was to introduce individuals to each other, have them work out their relationship with each other and then then introduce other individuals into the relationship.  After all the individuals were introduced in the right stages with the right mix, Catherine decided it was time to bring them all together within the 2 pre-determined groups.

Family Group:
The new female, Tina, was first introduced to the senior female, Cumbi.  The girls took to each other rather quickly and showed this with mutual grooming and sharing of food.  Raja who was the alpha male, was then introduced to Cumbi and Tina.  It took the entire day, with several alpha male chimpanzee display, before Raja showed acceptance of Tina and Tina acknowledged him as the leader.  It was very heart warming to see Cumbi playing the protective senior female each time Raja showed aggression towards Tina.  Then it was time to bring in that hot young male, Black.  It was a heart pumping moment for all of us wondering how Black would react to Tina and how the group dynamics would work out.  However, when Black was introduced to the trio he did not show any aggression.  Instead, he simply ran in, jumped around a bit and then sat down with a very besotted Tina staring at him - love at first sight!

Bachelor Group:
Joe and Rambo were introduced to each other first.  Being even tempered chimps, it was a relatively calm interaction that we observed.  Whereas the Max and Rambo introduction was full of banging and shouting by both individuals.  Everybody's hearts practically skipped several beats as we observed their very noisy and aggressive albeit normal chimp interaction.  Rambo tried to show dominance when all three were brought together for the first time but when that happened, Max and Joe would join forces and put Rambo in his place!   Again, due to the careful planning by Kim and Catherine, the chimps did end up accepting each other and we now have a very wonderful bachelor group!

We thank Kim White, Catherine of Hamilton Zoo and Zoo Negara for their contributions during this integration to create two happy social groups!