Orangutan Tropical Peatland Project 2014

OuTrop works in the Sabangau Forest in southern Borneo, which is home to the world’s largest orangutan population. We’ve been working to help protect this population since 1999 through on-the-ground conservation efforts and scientific research to help understand how effective orangutan conservation can be best achieved.

Our Orangutan Behaviour Project is an essential component of this effort and we have just achieved a major milestone: collecting over 20,000 hours of orangutan behaviour data! This has taken nearly 11 years and the combined efforts of nearly a hundred local and international researchers to compile.

These data provide important information on orangutan activity patterns, feeding ecology and energetics, health and parasites, ranging and dispersal, social and cultural behaviours, and life history. This helps us understand both how orangutans survive in the forest and how human activities impact their populations.

Twentino Fritsman, a local OuTrop researcher who collected the 20,000th hour of data, says: “It has been a privilege to spend so much time following these special animals. Over 10 years I’ve been lucky enough to watch some orangutans go from infanthood through to full adulthood. But most exciting is making sure we have the knowledge to help save them”.

Based on this understanding, it is clear that the major current threat to Sabangau’s orangutans is peat swamp drainage by old illegal-logging canals and subsequent forest fire. We’re working together with the local Community Patrol Team to help prevent fires by restoring flooded swamp conditions.

Although water levels at the time of writing remain high in the forest, this situation could change rapidly and so complacency is not an option. In particular, the chances of an El Niño event occurring this year are 65% which is very worrying.

We have therefore been concentrating our efforts on fire prevention through attempting to block the old illegal logging canals through dam construction. Two large dams have already been built at the mouth of a canal and construction of another 26 dams is underway. This work is vital, as drained swamps are vulnerable to fire.

We are also ensuring that the fire-fighting team are properly equipped and prepared to fight any fires. We are extremely grateful to Orangutan Appeal UK for their much needed support and funding of our Fire Teams and our combined efforts make sure that Sabangau is a safer place for the orangutan population that calls it home.