Tourism with rehabilitant orangutans




Great apes have been a focus for tourism since colonial times, originally via safaris aimed at killing “trophy” animals.  With increasing interest in seeing animals alive in their natural habitat instead of dead on a wall and with growing concerns for their conservation, great ape tourism was refashioned after ecotourism as a conservation strategy.  Orangutan tourism was launched in this spirit in the 1970s.  Different from tourism ventures with other primates, orangutan tourism focused primarily on ex-captives under rehabilitation to forest life; but like them, it aimed initially to contribute to conservation education and funding for relevant conservation activities--namely, providing legal sanctuary to orangutans confiscated from illegal captivity and helping them readapt to free forest life. 

Visiting rehabilitants proved popular and several projects were experiencing heavy tourist flow by the late 1970s (up to 17,000 annually).  But serious problems also surfaced, notably excessive tourist-rehabilitant contact, which increased risks of spreading communicable human diseases like TB and hepatitis-B to rehabilitants, and undermining rehabilitation by encouraging ex-captives to stay around for visitors instead of resuming forest life. Some claimed rehabilitant tourism could be managed effectively for economic and educational benefit but others argued that the promised controls and benefits were rarely achieved and whatever benefits were gained did not offset costs to orangutans’ health and rehabilitation. Many recommended change, especially restricting tourist-orangutan contact and closing rehabilitation projects with severe tourist problems. 

Today, many of these problems have persisted or worsened, largely because recommendations were rarely implemented and efforts to stop problem tourism failed because of resistance to giving up visitor revenues.   Some change has been achieved:  three rehabilitation projects newly launched in the 1990s are formally closed to tourism by design, and orangutan specialists recommended unanimously that no tourism be allowed with rehabilitants eligible for or already returned to forest life. 

The publications listed below offer insights on the history and debates over rehabilitant orangutan tourism, and nature tourism in general.  Some are downloadable directly.


Abdul Rahman, H. M. (2001). Visitor profile and satisfaction survey at Semenggoh Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre, Sarawak, Malaysia, Hornbill 5. 

Anonymous (2004a).  Thai orang-utans feared dead.  BBC World News, (retrieved May 8, 2005).

Anonymous (2004b).  Thai orang-utan fights suspended.  BBC World News, (retrieved May 8, 2005)

Anonymous (2005a).  Dept to investigate species of orangutans kept at resort., May 10.

Atan, H. (2005).  Orang-utans head home.  New Straits Times, Dec. 18, 2005. 20051218083034/Article/ (retrieved Dec. 19, 2005).

Aveling, R. J. (1982).  Orang utan conservation in Sumatra, by habitat protection and conservation education.  In L. E. M. de Boer (ed.), The Orang Utan:  Its Biology and Conservation, pp. 299-315.  The Hague:  Dr. W. Junk.

Aveling, R. J. & Mitchell, A. (1982).  Is rehabilitating orangutans worthwhile?  Oryx, 16, 263-271.

Bandy, J. (1996). Managing the other of nature: Sustainability, spectacle, and global regimes of capital in ecotourism. Public Culture, 8, 539-566.

Beck, BB., Walkup, K., Rodrigues, M., Unwin, S., Travis, D. & Stoinski, T. (2007). Best Practices Guidelines for the Re-Introduction of Great ApesGland Switzerland:  SSC Primate Specialist Group of the World Conservation Union, 48 pp.

Boo, E. (1990). Ecotourism: The Potentials and Pitfalls.  Washington DC: World Wildlife Fund.

Borner, M. (1976).  Sumatra’s orang-utans. Oryx, 13(3), 290-293.

Brend. S. (2001).  It shouldn’t happen to an ape. BBC Wildlife, June. (retrieved July 27, 2005).

Buckley, R. (2004). Impacts of ecotourism on terrestrial wildlife. In R. Buckley (ed.), Environmental Impacts of Ecotourism, pp.211-228. CAB International.

Buckley, R. & Pannell, J. (1990). Environmental impacts of tourism and recreation in national parks and conservation reserves. Journal of Tourism Studies, 1(1), 24-32.

Butler, R. & Boyd, S. (2000) Tourism and National Parks: Issues and Implications. Chichester, UK: Wiley.

Butynski, T. M. & Kalina, J. (1998). Gorilla tourism: A critical look. In Milner‑Gulland, E. J., and Mace, R. (ed.), Conservation of Biological Resources, pp. 280‑300, London:  Blackwell.

Cipolletta, C. (2003).  Ranging patterns of a western gorilla group during habituation to humans in the Dzanga-Ndoki National Park, Central African Republic. International Journal of Primatology, 24(6), 1207-1226.

Cochrane, J. (1997).  Factors Influencing Ecotourism Benefits to Small, Forest‑Reliant Communities:  A Case Study of Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park, East Java.  University of Hull, UK. 

Cochrane, J. (1998). Organisation of Ecotourism in the Leuser Ecosystem. Unpublished report to the Leuser Management Unit.

Cochrane, J. (2003).  Ecotourism, Conservation and Sustainability:  A Case Study of Bromo Tenggea Semeru National Park, Indonesia.  Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Hull, UK.

Davies, C. (2008).  Great apes face threat from germs carried by eco-tourists.  The Observer, Feb. 3. 

           Jungle holidays raise funds to protect wildlife, but humans harbour viruses that have killed chimps and could be fatal for gorillas and orangutans


Dellatore, D. (2007).  Behavioural health of reintroduced orangutans (Pongo abelii) in Bukit Lawang, Sumatra, Indonesia.  Unpublished M.Sc. thesis,

           Primate Conservation, Oxford Brookes University, UK.

De la Torre, S., Snowdon, C. T., & Bejarano, M. (2000). Effects of human activities on wild pygmy marmosets in Ecuadorian Amazonia.  Biological Conservation, 94(2), 153-163.

Donaghy, K. (2002). Orang Utans at Sepilok

Drewry, R. (1996). Sustainable Development, Ecotourism and Flagship Species:  The Case of Orangutan Ecotourism in Indonesia. Unpublished BA (Honours) thesis, School of Humanities, Murdoch University, Murdoch, Western Australia.

Drewry, R.  (1997).  Ecotourism:  Can It Save the Orangutans?  Inside Indonesia, Volume 51.  

Duffus, D. A. & Dearden, P. (1990).  Non-consumptive wildlife-oriented recreation:  A conceptual framework.  Biological Conservation, 53, 213-231.

Dwyer, W.O., Leeming, F.C., Cobern, M.K., Porter, B.E., & Jackson, J.M. (1993).  Critical review of behavioral interventions to preserve the environment:  Research since 1980.  Environment and Behavior, 25, 275-321.

Fennell, D. & Weaver, D. (2005). The ecotourism concept and tourism-conservation symbiosis. Journal of Sustainable Tourism, 13(4), 373-390.

Freese, C.H. (1998). Wild Species as Commodities: Managing Markets and Ecosystems for Sustainability. Covelo, CA: Island Press.

Frey, R. (1978).  Management of orangutans.  In Wildlife Management in Southeast Asia, Biotrop. Special Publication 8, pp. 199-215.

Frey, A.R. (1996). Report on Present Situation and Proposal for Establishment of Sustainable Management of Bohorok Orangutan Centre. Unpublished report.

Galdikas, B. M. F. (1991).  Protection of wild orangutans and habitat in Kalimantan vis a vis rehabilitation.  In Proceedings on the Conservation of the Great Apes in the New World Order of the Environment, pp. 87-94.  Republic of Indonesia Ministries of Forestry and Tourism, Post, and Telecommunication.

Goldsmith, M. L. (2004).  Gorillas living on the edge:  Figuratively and literally.  Symposium contribution, Primate-focused tourism (org. A. Russon & C. Russell), International Primatological Society Congress, Torino, Italy, Aug 17-22.

Goodwin, H. (1996). In pursuit of ecotourism. Biodiversity and Conservation, 5, 277-291.

Green, R.J. & Higginbottom, K. (2000). The effects of non-consumptive wildlife tourism on free-ranging wildlife: A review. Pacific Conservation Biology, 6, 183-197.

GRASP (2005).  Kinshasa Declaration on Great Apes.  Kinshasa, Sept. 9, 2005.  (GRASP:  Great Ape Survival Project).

Haysmith, L. & Hunt, J.D. (1995). Nature tourism: Impacts and management. In R.L. Knight & K.J. Gutzwiller (Eds.), Wildlife and recreationists: Coexistence through management and research. Covelo CA: Island Press.

Homsy, D. (1999). Ape tourism and human diseases: How close should we get?  International Gorilla Conservation Programme, Kampala, Uganda.

Irwin, A. (2001).  Wild at heart.   New Scientist, 169 (2280), 26.

IUCN (2000). Guidelines for Nonhuman Primate Re-introductions. Prepared by the IUCN/SSC Re-introductions Specialist Group. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK.

Lindberg, K.(1998). Economic aspects of ecotourism. In K. Lindberg, M. Epler Wood, & D. Engeldrum (eds.), Ecotourism: A Guide for Planners and Managers, Volume 2, pp.87-117. North Bennington, VT: Ecotourism Society.

Kaplan, G. & Rogers, L. (1994).  Orang-Utans in Borneo.  Armidale, NSW, Australia:  University of New England Press.

Kaplan, G. & Rogers, L. (2000).  The Orangutans:  Their Evolution, Behavior, and Future.  Cambridge, MA:  Perseus Publishing.

Kilbourn, A. M., Karesh, W. B., Bosi, E. J., Cook, R.A., Andau, M. &Wolfe, N. D. (1998). Disease evaluation of free-ranging orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus pygmaeus) in Sabah, Malaysia.  In C. K. Baer (ed.), Proceedings of the American Association of Zoo Veterinarians and American Association of Wildlife Veterinarians Joint Conference, pp. 417–21. American Association of Zoo Veterinarians, Media, Philadelphia, USA.

Kimmel, J.R. (1999). Ecotourism as environmental learning. Journal of Environmental Education, 30(3), 40-44.

King, D.A. & Stewart, W.P. (1996). Ecotourism and commodification: Protecting people and places. Biodiversity and Conservation, 5, 193-305.

Lardoux-Gilloux, I. (1994).  Rehabilitation Centers:  Their Struggle, their Future.  In J.J. Ogden, L.A. Perkins, & L. Sheehan (eds.), Proceedings of the International Conference on “Orangutans: The Neglected Ape”.  San Diego:  Zoological Society of San Diego. 

Leiman, A. & Ghaffer, N. (1996).  Use, misuse, and abuse of the orang-utan—exploitation as a threat or the only real salvation?   In V. J. Taylor & N. Dunstone (eds.), The Exploitation of Mammal Populations, pp. 345-357.  London :  Chapman & Hall.

Litchfield, C. (2001). Responsible tourism with great apes in Uganda. In S. McCool & R.N. Moisey (Eds.), Tourism, Recreation and Sustainability: Linking Culture and the Environment, pp. 105-132.  Oxon, UK: CABI Publishing.

Low, T. W. (2004).  Can Ecotourism Help Protect Orang-utans?  Unpublished BSc (Hons) thesis, Sustainable Tourism Development, APU University, Cambridge/Chelmsford, UK

MacKinnon, J. R. (1977).  Rehabilitation and orangutan conservation.  New Scientist, 74, 697-699.

McCarthy, J. (1999).  Nature based tourism.  Case study:  Gunung Leuser, Indonesia.

Orams, M.B. (1995). Towards a more desirable form of ecotourism. Tourism Management, 16(1), 3-8.

Orams, M.B. (1997).  The effectiveness of environmental education:  Can we turn tourists into “greenies”?  Progress in Tourism and Hospitality Research, 3, 295-306.

Reuters (2005).  Thai police crack case of the missing orang-utan.  Aug. 13.  Reuters News Service.

Rijksen, H. D. (1978).  A Field Study of Sumatran Orang Utans (Pongo pygmaeus abelii, Lesson 1872), Ecology, Behavior and Conservation Wageningen, the Netherlands, Mededlingen Landbouwhogeschool:  H. Veenman and Zonen B. V.

Rijksen, H. D. (1982).  How to save the mysterious ‘man of the forest’?  In L. E. M. de Boer (ed.), The Orang Utan:  Its Biology and Conservation, pp. 317-341.  The Hague:  Dr. W. Junk Publishers.

Rijksen, H.D. (1997). Orang utan viewing centre in Sumatra: Recommendations for improving of the Bohorok facility. Unpublished report commisioned by the Director General, PHPA, Indonesia.

Rijksen, H.D. & Meijaard, E. (1999). Our Vanishing Relative: The Status of Wild Orang-Utans at the Close of the Twentieth Century.  Kluwer Academic Publishers.

Rijksen, H. D. & Rijksen-Graatsma, A. G. (1975).  Orangutan rescue work in North Sumatra.  Oryx, 13, 63-73.

Rosen, N. & Byers, O. (ed.). (2002). Orangutan Conservation and Reintroduction Workshop: Final Report.  IUCN/SSC Conservation Breeding Specialist Group, Apple Valley, MN.

Ross, S. & Wall, G.  (1999).  Evaluating ecotourism:  The case of North Sulawesi, Indonesia.  Tourism Management, 20, 673-682.

Russell, C.L. (1994). Ecotourism as experiential environmental education?  Journal of Experiental Education, 17(1), 16-22.

Russell, C. L. (1995).  The social construction of orangutans:  An ecotourist experience Society and Animals, 3(2), 151-170.

Russell, C.L. (1999). Problematizing nature experience in environmental education: The interrelationship of experience and story. Journal of Experiential Education, 22(3), 123-128.

Russell, C.L. (2001). Tales of whales: Whalewatching as environmental education? Unpublished PhD dissertation, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada.

Russell, C.L. (2004).  Establishing guidelines for primate-focused ecotourism: Lessons from whalewatching.  Symposium contribution, Primate-focused tourism (org. A. Russon & C. Russell), International Primatological Society Congress, Torino, Italy, Aug.

Russell, C.L. & Ankenman, M.J. (1996). Orangutans as photographic collectibles: Ecotourism and the commodification of nature. Tourism Recreation Research, 21(1), 71-78.

Russon, A. E. & Susilo, A. (1999).  The effects of the 1997-98 droughts and fires on orangutans in Sungai Wain Protection Forest, E. Kalimantan, Indonesia. In H. Suhartoyo & T. Toma (eds.), Impacts of Fire and Human Activities on Forest Ecosystems in the Tropics:  Proceedings of the Third International Symposium on Asian Tropical Forest Management, pp. 348-372.  Samarinda, Indonesia:  Tropical Forest Research Center, Mulawarman University and Japan International Cooperation Agency.

Sajuthi, D., Karesh, W., McManamon, R., Martin, H., Amsel, S., & J. Kusba (1991).  Medical aspects in orangutan reintroduction.  Proceedings of the International Conference on “Conservation of the Great Apes in the New World Order of the Environment”, Indonesia, 1991.

Sandilands, C. (1993). On "green" consumerism: Environmental privatization and "family values". Canadian Woman Studies, 13(3), 45-47.

ScienceDaily (2008). For Primates, Tourism Can Be Less Fun Than A Barrel Of Monkeys.  Materials from State University of New York at Buffalo, July 16, 2007.


Sepilok Orangutan Appeal (2003).  Update on murdered orangutans. newsgroups/talk.politics.animals/msg04322.html (retrieved May 8, 2005)

Sherman, P.B. & Dixon, J.A. (1991). The economics of nature tourism: Determining if it pays. In T. Whelan (Ed.), Nature tourism: Managing for the environment. Covelo, CA: Island Press.

Singleton, I. & Aprianto, S. (2001).  The semi-wild orangutan population at Bukit Lawang:  A valuable ‘ekowisata’ resource and their requirements.  Unpublished paper presented at the Workshop on Eco-tourism Development at Bukit Lawang, Medan, Indonesia, April.

Sirakaya, E. (1997). Attitudinal compliance with ecotourism guidelines.  Annals of Tourism Research, 24(1), 919-950.

Sirakaya, E. & Uysal, M. (1997). Can sanctions and rewards explain conformance behaviour of tour operators with ecotourism guidelines?  Journal of Sustainable Tourism, 5(4), 322-332.

Smits, W.T.M., Heriyanto & Ramono, W.S. (1995). A new method for rehabilitation of orangutans in Indonesia: A first overview.  In Nadler, R.D., Galdikas, B.F.M., Sheeran, L.K. & Rosen, N. (ed), The Neglected Ape, pp 69-77.  New York:  Plenum.

Steele, P. (1995). Ecotourism: An economic analysis. Journal of Sustainable Tourism, 3(1), 29-44. 

Sumatran Orangutan Society (2000).  SOS Newsletter 4, February update.

Sumatran Orangutan Society (2005a).  The Bohorok Centre. (retrieved May 7, 2005).

Tilson, R.L.; Seal, U.S.; Soemarna, K.; Ramoo, W.; Sumardha, E.; Poniran, S.; van Schaik, C.; Leighton, M.; Rijksen, H.; Eudey, A. (eds.) 1993. Orangutan population and habitat viability analysis report of the Captive Breeding Specialist Group/ Species Survival Commission of the IUCN. Unpublished report for PHPA based on workshop held in Medan, Sumatra, Indonesia in January 1993.

Wallis, J. & Lee, D. R. (1999).  Primate conservation:  The prevention of disease transmission.  International Journal of Primatology, 20(6), 803-826.

Walpole, M. J. & Goodwin, H. J. (2000).  Local economic impacts of dragon tourism in Indonesia.  Annals of Tourism Research, 27(3), 559-576.

Walsh, P., Abernethy, K., Bermejo, M., Beyers, R., de Wachter, P., Akou, M. E., Huijbregts, B., Mambounga, D., Toham, A., Kilbourn, A., Lahm, S., Latour, S., Maisels, F., Mbina, C., Mihindou, Y., Obiang, S., Effa, E., Starkey, M., Telfer, P., Thibault, M., Tutin, C., White, L., Wilkie, D. (2003).  Catastrophic ape decline in western equatorial Africa.  Nature, 422, 611-614 (10 April).

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Weaver, D. (2002). The evolving concept of ecotourism and its potential impacts. International Journal of Sustainable Development, 5(3), 251-264.

Wong, J. (2005).  Orangutan provoked by visitors? /2005/6/5/nation/11138820&sec=nation (retrieved June 7, 2005)

Woodford, M. H., Butynski, T. M., & Karesh, W. B. (2002).  Habituating the great apes:  The disease risks. Oryx, 36(2), 153-60.

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Yeager, C. P. (ed.) (1999).  Orangutan Action Plan.  WWF-Indonesia, PHPA (Indonesia).

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