Fluffy, orange and endearing, orang-utans have won the hearts of people all over the world. However, all sub-species are endangered in the wild with the Bornean orang-utan population having declined by more than 50% over the past 60 years. Fewer than 2,000 wild orang-utans remain in Sarawak with nearly all truly wild ones confined to a remote site on the Indonesian border. Yet each year thousands of tourists and local Sarawak people see orang-utans semi-wild in a reserve or captive in a rehabilitation centre. We investigated the attitudes of such tourists towards the conservation of the remaining wild populations by means of questionnaires, including a choice experiment. Sixty percent of the respondents were, in principle, willing to pay to ensure survival of a wild orang-utan population. International tourists tended to regard wild survival as being more important than having a high probability of seeing orang-utans personally-indeed they preferred wild orang-utans to be hard to find. Malaysian tourists were more inclined to favour investment in the small number of captive or semi-wild animals. Using conservative judgements of the difference between stated and real willingness-to-pay, we estimated that about USD 6.6 million per year could be made available to wild orang-utan conservation from voluntary contributions by visitors to the semi-wild animals. We also estimated that the 40% of visitors to these facilities who come to Sarawak primarily because of the apes, bring between USD 13 and USD 23 million into the local economy each year through their expenditure on local businesses, about 0.6% of the income earned by Sarawak from timber products. Our results suggest that far fewer would come if there were no wild orang-utans in Sarawak. Thus the value of wild orang-utans in Sarawak can be delivered through the captive facilities but the economic benefits from orang-utans require both captive and wild orang-utans.
Zander, K., Pang, S. T., Jinam, C., Tuen, A. A., & Garnett, S. (2014). Wild and Valuable? Tourist Values for Orang-utan Conservation in Sarawak. Conservation and Society, 12(1), 27-42. https://doi.org/10.4103/0972-4923.132126