Opal the orangutan: Boswell speaks out

2016-01-27 12:20
Opal the orangutan in her enclosure at the KZN Zoological Gardens.

Opal the orangutan in her enclosure at the KZN Zoological Gardens. (Ian Carbutt, The Witness)

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Pietermaritzburg - KZN Zoological Gardens owner Brian Boswell has hit back at an SPCA statement that went viral this week alleging cruelty towards Opal the orangutan.

A press statement by the SPCA alleged that Boswell had been treating Opal cruelly by keeping her in isolated captivity for over 30 years.

The statement went viral and on Wednesday had over 10 000 shares from people in South Africa and reportedly around the world.

“For Opal, nothing of natural life exists,” said Cheri Cooke, the Kloof SPCA’s inspector manager, in the statement.

“Each day she is released from her sleeping cage into her daytime cell. There on a meagre patch of grass with a makeshift ‘Jungle Gym’ of poles, she spends every day of her life. Alone.

“Her response to this heartlessly barren confinement, when she can take no more and has no hope of privacy or escape, [is that] she flings her own dung at the people watching her degradation.”

Boswell quashed the allegations yesterday by saying people were “allowed to have their opinions”, but they did not know how to look after an orangutan. “The people who are making a fuss are all well-meaning but they don’t know about orangutans,” said Boswell.

“They are solitary animals who will only live with their female babies until the baby has fallen pregnant.

“Male babies are chased away from the mother as soon as they are able to feed themselves and the females remain by themselves until they are in season and ready to have babies.”

Boswell said Opal was born at the Gardens and her mother died when she was four years old due to old age.

“Opal had a brother but we did not want him breeding with her or the mother,” said Boswell.

“We did try to bring in a male so Opal could have a baby for herself, but Ezemvelo Wildlife said I could only have another female orangutan.”

Monkey Helpline co-founder Steve Smit said he had been in communication with Boswell for two years and said Monkey World, which has established rescue centres in the UK and Indonesia, had said it was willing to take Opal to be in the company of another orangutan and possibly to foster a baby orangutan.

Boswell said that if people thought Opal was “desperate for a friend they should send a male” to the Gardens.

“Monkey World in the UK already has 18 orangutans. They are solitary animals and the climate in the UK would be too cold for Opal.”

Boswell added that the enclosure included an unlimited supply of fresh water, an enclosed shelter and bed for when she had enough of visitors as well as a wooden structure for Opal to play on.

The Witness visited Opal at the Zoological Gardens on Wednesday afternoon while garden officials fed her bananas, peanut butter-filled bamboo and watermelons.

Opal, whose enclosure is right next to the cage of three noisy chimpanzees, was distracted while listening to the antics of her playful neighbours.

Sitting quietly on her step next to the pond separating her from the visitors, Opal stared listlessly at the diving wall while shoving a cube of watermelon into her mouth.

Between the musings of the chimps, Opal held out her hand to catch more bananas and watermelon, licking her fingers as she munched the fruits.

After a while, Opal swung herself to the dividing wall and perched on a step, pointing to a spot on the wall.

Opal sat this way, with her finger on the little green spot for over 10 minutes until The Witness reporter and photographer walked away from her enclosure.

Cooke said yesterday that the SPCA would be consulting a prosecutor later this week in the hopes that Boswell would be obligated by the court to send Opal to Monkey World.

“This is not just about Opal, it is about all the animals in captivity.

“Next time I cry for Opal it will be tears of joy, when she is on her way to friends in the UK,” said Cooke.

Read more on:    brian boswell  |  pietermaritzburg  |  animals  |  animal abuse

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