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Sending Temara home

By Duncan Graham - posted Wednesday, 13 September 2006

“Temara has always been something of a bad seed. Moody and temperamental she is prone to fits of jealousy ...” That’s according to Leif Cocks, an Australian who’s known the testy teenager all her life.

Others, like her close friend Kylie Bullo offer a more generous assessment: “Temara is feisty and intelligent. She’s going through puberty and pushing the boundaries. A bit stubborn and wary of people.”

Sounds like someone you know? If so they’re not qualities that endear or augur well for a loving relationship. But in this case they’re the characteristics which may well keep Temara alive when she moves from Australia to Indonesia, probably in the next two months.


Temara is set to become the first zoo-born Sumatran orang-utan to be released into the wild in a bid to refresh the gene pool. The species - one of our closest biological relatives - is teetering on the edge of extinction.

The transfer will be to the Bukit Tigapuluh National Park in South Sumatra. There are only around 50 orang-utans in the park which has the capacity to take 1,000.

The transmigration of 14-year-old Temara is an exercise fraught with hazards. Will her hard-wired ancient instincts return to help her adjust to an alien environment where she’ll be battling on her own? Or will she mope, fret and die far from her Western comforts?

She’s spent her lifetime in a metal enclosure, never having to worry about her next lettuce or getting toothache. No forest fires threatened. Her trees were steel frames. Her parents were also born behind bars, so they haven’t been able to whisper the secrets of survival in a rain forest to their daughter.

Could we thrive if suddenly sent back to the Majapahit Kingdom?

Cocks thinks it’s going to work - otherwise he wouldn’t be giving his approval. He’s the curator of exotic mammals at the Perth Zoo in Western Australia and president and founder of the Australian Orangutan Project (AOP).


With the help of the Perth Zoo the organisation funds security at Bukit Tigapuluh. It has also been rescuing orang-utans who have been taken by poachers and sold as pets, and orphans whose parents have been shot by forest loggers.

Some of these animals have been returned to the wild and many have had problems. In some cases their foster-parents treated them like family, wearing nappies and eating at tables - not the ideal training for a future in the treetops.

Hand-raised orang-utans are known to be mentally inferior to their wild mates. They are also prone to diseases, including hepatitis and malaria.

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About the Author

Duncan Graham is a Perth journalist who now lives in Indonesia in winter and New Zealand in summer. He is the author of The People Next Door (University of Western Australia Press) and Doing Business Next Door (Wordstars). He blogs atIndonesia Now.

Other articles by this Author

All articles by Duncan Graham
Related Links
The Australian Orangutan Project

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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