Malaysia: ‘Language skills only for apes that cannot live in the wild’

Muguntan Vanar The Star 10 Aug 11;

KOTA KINABALU: Teaching language skills to orang utan should only be considered for those that cannot be rehabilitated and released back into the wild.

A Sabah-based conservationist Dr Marc Ancreanz said it was more important to help displaced orang utan go back into the wild to increase their population.

“Teaching communication skills, yes, but only for those that cannot be rehabilitated,” said Dr Ancreanz, who heads the Kinabatangan Orang Utan Conservation Project helmed by the French non-governmental organisation Hutan.

Dr Ancreanz was commenting on The Star report quoting scientist Dr Francine Neago's plan to set up an orang utan language study centre in Sarawak to teach language skills to the primate via a computer programme.

Dr Ancreanz said teaching communication skills like sign language to the orang utan was possible as other great apes gorillas and chimpanzees had already been taught to communicate with humans.

“Previous studies have shown that the intelligent great apes are able to learn language skills like sign languages but they cannot speak because they do not have larynx.”

Teaching orang utan that could not be rehabilitated or those living in captivity was apt as they get bored easily, he said.

“Teaching them communication skills may create some activity for them to experiment with.”

According to local Sabah conservationists, Dr Neago had approached them about setting up a similar project in Sepilok about five years ago but they had turned her down.

Dr Neago is hoping to acquire a piece of land on which to set up the centre.