It’s been a big month of highs and lows for the macaques and gibbons housed in the quarantine area of Matang Wildlife Centre.

In late 2015, Orangutan Project received permission to begin castrations on both long-tailed and pig-tailed macaques. We have been wanting to do this after long acknowledging that many of the macaques we receive are not viable candidates for release back to the wild (one of our past blogs, The Plight of Macaques, provides more information on this); therefore castration means we do not have to subject each and every male we receive to solitary confinement. We have been able to start re-housing males with females, which mirrors more natural groupings, without the risk of breeding.

Another benefit of male castration is decreased aggression; we have seen a significant change in temperament after castration in both species, which has meant that some male/male introductions are now also a possibility. Being able to house macaques to allow socialising is some of the best enrichment we can provide.

3 males enjoying each other's company

3 males enjoying each other’s company

The centre currently provides housing for 17 pig-tailed macaques and 33 long-tailed macaques, a staggering number of animals in an area maybe equalling the size of Aman’s enclosure. (At present, quarantine also houses 5 gibbons, 2 sun bears, 1 binturong, 1 civet, 5 crocodiles and an iguana). To put some perspective on this number, this is just over 20% of the centre’s total animal population being held in this one small area.

Here are some updates on a few of the charismatic individuals that live in quarantine…


In April, ‘Poster Boy’ for pig-tails Bob underwent castration surgery. During this surgery we discovered that his upper canines had not been removed as previously thought but had in fact been cut and had since decayed to the point that they were no longer visible. This must have been a constant source of pain for Bob.

Asking a 12kg monkey to open his mouth so you can look at his teeth is not really an option so a second surgery was scheduled where Bob underwent major dental surgery to remove what was left of his upper canines. image1 (1)

Only male macaques grow these large canines and they are their most important weapon when defending their territory and their females against other invading macaques. It is not uncommon for male macaques to arrive at rehab centres with clipped teeth, although the preferred option seems to be extraction (without anaesthetic of course). This obviously does not deter a ‘pet’ macaque from biting but it does however mean less damage when it does.

The happy ending to this story is that Bob has now been reunited with the wife and kids, respectively, Nora, Dylan and Jones and is once again enjoying the benefits of being surrounded by females, including an on call staff of groomers (among other things).image2 (3)


April saw the first meeting of gibbons, Keiko and Chyna. Keiko is a male who has been in the quarantine area since 2012 and Chyna is a young female who arrived last year.

There is always a risk of injury when introducing animals so for the first few meetings of 1, 2 then 3 hours we constantly monitored their interactions. It’s a bit like a blind date really, as simply having a male and a female does not equal a happy couple.

Keiko has always been quite the ladies man when it comes to human females but upon meeting Chyna, a very confident young gibbon lady, Keiko literally ran (or swung) in the opposite direction. He seemed quite confused by the fluffy creature that had invaded his home. Check out our Facebook page for a video of their early interactions.

We have no intention of breeding gibbons into a life of captivity but with Chyna being too young to reproduce, this is a temporary solution to a severe lack of suitable housing. Also, as with macaques, socialisation can be an excellent form of enrichment for captive gibbons. Keiko & Chyna are now permanently sharing cage space.

The Bornean Gibbon is a totally protected species so permission to castrate is unlikely so we are currently exploring options for birth control implants. However, Keiko still seems to focus his attention on human females, which is an excellent form of contraception at this time.


Anyone who has volunteered at Matang over the last 2 years may remember Wendy, the princess of pig-tails. In 2014, Wendy was confiscated from a building site not far from Matang Wildlife Center and we estimated her to be around 10 months old at the time. Wendy integrated very easily into a group of female pig-tails, as at such a young age she was not viewed as a threat and actually managed to receive some protection from the dominant female, Nora.

From the day she arrived, Wendy quickly developed an international ‘fan club’ of volunteers. With her unusually round face teamed with those large pointed ears, many often made the comparison to an elf. Add to that her distinctive ‘aahs’ rather than the ‘ooh’ that we normally hear from female pig-tails and it was impossible not to fall head over heels!IMG_0285

In early April, Wendy was discovered unconscious in her cage and was rushed to the clinic. Her body temperature was dangerously low and after a physical examination by our vet Wendy was diagnosed with a massive blockage of the intestinal tract, in other words an extreme case of constipation. With Wendy slipping in and out of consciousness surgery was not an option, so we kept her warm and did our best to manually dislodge the blockage.

Sadly, we were unable to save her and Wendy passed away late that evening. We’ll miss you little elf.

Rope vs. Risk

After examination, it was discovered that rope was a contributing factor in Wendy’s death. Wendy had been chewing on and swallowing the frayed ends of the rope in her cage, which was a risk we had never considered as animals are generally pretty good at figuring out what they can and can’t eat. Wendy had always maintained a healthy weight so the reason for this behavior is unclear but it was the exception.

Rope is used in most cages and outdoor enclosures as an alternative to solid climbing structures. It is easy to install and an effective way of adding interest to an empty enclosure.Shirley chilling Ting san pond

Boredom in captive animals is a common problem, and the effects of stress caused by boredom can be very serious, ranging from stereotypic pacing to severe self-harming and self-biting behaviour. By creating an enriching environment or living space we can help to alleviate boredom. However, simply providing an interesting space that always remains the same is not enough. Rope is not only an easy way to add interest to a cage but it takes little time and effort to change on a regular basis.

If we stopped using all enriching items (including climbing structures) that posed a possible physical risk, we would have every animal housed separately in empty cages. Indeed, this used to be how zoos housed animals many decades ago, as it was then thought that a sterile, metal box was the best and easiest way to keep animals alive in captivity. This was before people were able to acknowledge that animals may also feel stress, boredom, joy, playfulness and experience, or have a right to, quality of life.11062359_773171096135978_1848473744776567372_n IMG-20160309-WA0002

Our team engage in constant discussions regarding enrichment, risks, safety and welfare of the animals under our care. In the specific case of rope being part of our enrichment program, we still feel that the benefits outweigh the risks.

By Kerrie Chalker