Friday, June 13, 2008

Orangutan Alert and Other Strange House Pets

This one falls in the I kid you not category...

I was teaching apologies and excuses to my students. I gave an example of a lousy excuse:
"I really wanted to but I had to look after my pet monkey."

Being Canadian, I thought this was really ridiculous and far-fetched. One student looked perplexed though. I asked her what was up and she said that, in fact, her neighbor across the street actually had a monkey.

"Are you sure?", I asked.

"Yeah, it's orange."

Orangutan immediately came to mind. I probed a little further but she started to become quiet after I mentioned that orangutans where banned as pets (and in Taipei city no less!!!).

So that got me thinking about a newscast I had seen years earlier showing an orangutan pet being dragged away from an old lady. She was really upset and had obviously developed a strong bond with the animal, much as if it were another child.

Googling the topic of orangutans I came across this:

"It is estimated that about 1,000 baby orangutans were smuggled to Taiwan from Kalimantan on Borneo between 1985 and 1990 and sold as exotic pets. This accounts for at least a 10% decline in the wild population (this percentage includes all those that were killed or died in the smuggling and poaching process; a conservative estimate of over 3,000 animals). The reason for this surge in orangutans as pets was a result of a popular Taiwanese television program that featured a live orangutan as the perfect pet and companion. As a result the demand was met through smuggling and poaching. Eventually the cute and cuddly orangutans grow up and become unmanageable. Many have suffered from neglect, poor nutrition and serious health problems such as tuberculosis and hepatitis B. A few lucky ones were returned to Indonesian rescue centers for rehabilitation and reintroduction into the wild.

In 1990 the government of Taiwan passed a law making it illegal for orangutans to be kept as pets and most have been confiscated and sent to rescue and centers such as Pingtung Rescue Centre for Endangered Wild Animals in Taiwan ."


What's this? There are still orangutans in Taiwan as pets? How do you hide something that big?

I got my answer reading an account:

"A TV show in Taiwan made them one of the country's most popular pets, but Taiwan is acting to end the cruel trade in young orangutans. [....]

This is a business which thrives in many parts of Asia, but one country, Taiwan, has decided to end the illegal pet trade. It's banned the keeping of exotic animals as pets and hopes to confiscate, then rehome, every monkey living in a Taiwanese home.

[ASIDE JOKE: I personally know a lot of monkeys that are living in Taiwanese homes. Ha Ha!]

'I flew to the Pingtung Rescue Centre last week, to watch as the animals were prepared for travel. Eight gibbons, including two 'Concolours', one of the rarest species in the world, and four female orangutans - an adult Roro, and three girls, nicknamed the 'amigos', were selected to come to Britain first. Before travelling they all have to pass medical tests and be cleared of TB, hepatitis B and Herpes Simplex - all diseases that monkeys risk catching from man.

[ASIDE JOKE: "Honestly I didn't know it was bad to kiss the orangutan with a cold sore..."]

While preparations were underway at Pingtung, word came through that another orangutan has been found in central Taiwan, living with a family in a temple. The orangutan was fourteen year old Mai-Mai, who had spent most of her life eating and sleeping with her owners. She's now too big for them to handle and is confined to a cage. The family was reluctant to give her up, but the Pingtung staff convinced them, in due course, that what Mai-Mia needed was outdoor space and a mate. '

Back at Pingtung, four baby gibbons, barely a year old, have been handed in by customs. They were confiscated by a smuggler from Vietnam who was hoping to sell them to the pet trade and amusement arcades. The gibbons are orphans, their parents having been killed during capture, despite the fact that they are highly endangered. They cannot go back to the wild once separated from their families and will need to be found permanent homes. "


Just to think, all this orangutan mess was caused by a TV show (Think: What was the name of that movie with Clint Eastwood and the orangutan?).

On another note, the World Wildlife Federation had this to say:

"An estimated 1,000 orangutans may have been imported into Taiwan for the pet trade between 1985 and 1990. It is thought that for each orangutan reaching Taiwan, as many as three to five additional animals die in the process."

One blogger even suggest that their may have been more orangutans in Taiwan than in Malaysia, their native land, at one point!

Just how many more recluse orangutans are out there anyhow?

I think the whole story is indicative of Taiwanese attitudes towards pets. Tastes can go to the exotic. And there is also the later neglect aspect.

I have seen people with wild boars in cages outside their homes. In fact, I saw one not one block away from the Presidential Palace in Taipei chained up in front off the sidewalk of a sports store by its owner. When I asked, they said they had raised it from when it was a piglet.

blog entry about boar

There have been a few stories recently about overweight or aggressive pigs as well roaming the streets and causing trouble.

taipei times

china post

Apparently "Pet trends come and go in Taiwan" according to doses of Hollywood or otherwise. No one would doubt the Taiwanese fascination with Huskies although they are ill-suited for Taiwan's hot weather. However, there are other examples...

taipei times

Anyone have any other strange stories of Taiwanese house pets?
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