Orangutan Conservancy http://www.orangutan.com Orangutans are born with an ability to reason and think. Mon, 30 Nov 2015 22:09:29 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.3.1 OC Helps to Facilitate SSP Firefighting Donation to OuTrop http://www.orangutan.com/oc-helps-to-facilitate-ssp-firefighting-donation-to-outrop/ http://www.orangutan.com/oc-helps-to-facilitate-ssp-firefighting-donation-to-outrop/#comments Mon, 30 Nov 2015 22:09:29 +0000 http://www.orangutan.com/?p=5678 CIMTROP's Community Patrol Team and members of OuTrop's research staff fighting the flames this month. Photo by Joana Aragay/OuTrop

CIMTROP’s Community Patrol Team and members of OuTrop’s research staff fighting the flames. Photo by Joana Aragay/OuTrop

The Orangutan Conservancy has long been a supporter of the Orangutan Tropical Peatland Project in Borneo and of the important work that they are doing there to protect orangutans and the entire Sabangau Forest ecosystem.  Forest regeneration, dam building to protect damaged peatland and ongoing orangutan studies are part of the year-round efforts being accomplished by the amazing team at OuTrop.

As such, we were pleased to help facilitate a major donation made by the members of the Orangutan Species Survival Plan SSP Husbandry Workshop that was recently held at the Sedgwich County Zoo in Witchita Kansas. At the workshop, the SSP members rallied together to support OuTrop in their heroic firefighting efforts that have become a major focus these past several weeks.

Thousands of fires have devastated Borneo this year, and on-the-ground fire fighting teams like those at OuTrop are the only defense against total destruction of the land.  The substantial donation made by the SSP members will no doubt go a long way to helping OuTrop’s CIMTROP firefighters as they continue to battle the flames.

OC Board members Juanita Kempe and Barb Shaw attended the SSP event and were asked by SSP’s Board member Lori Perkins if we would help to make sure that OuTrop received the generous donation collected from the workshop’s attendees.  Of course we were glad to help!

Noted OC’s Barb Shaw, “The most effective plea for firefighting monies came from Lone Droscher-Nielsen, who was a most impressive keynote speaker.  The audience was clearly moved by her accounts of the amazing orangutans with whom she has shared her life, and you could feel their excitement about being able to help.”


http://www.orangutan.com/oc-helps-to-facilitate-ssp-firefighting-donation-to-outrop/feed/ 0
Orangutan News: Wildlife Trafficker Selling Orangutans on Facebook Sentenced http://www.orangutan.com/orangutan-news-wildlife-trafficker-selling-orangutans-on-facebook-sentenced/ http://www.orangutan.com/orangutan-news-wildlife-trafficker-selling-orangutans-on-facebook-sentenced/#comments Tue, 24 Nov 2015 15:34:34 +0000 http://www.orangutan.com/?p=5674 One of the baby orangutans that was confiscated from a trafficker in Aceh in August. Photo by Junaidi Hanafiah

One of the baby orangutans that was confiscated from a trafficker in Aceh in August. Photo by Junaidi Hanafiah

A wildlife trafficker who was caught trying to sell three baby orangutans on Facebook was sentenced to two years imprisonment and fined 50 million rupiah ($3,653) in Indonesia’s Aceh province last week.

The man, a 29-year-old university student named Rahmadani, was arrested in a sting on August 1. Besides the Sumatran orangutans (Pongo abelii), authorities found him with two red-backed sea eagles (Haliastur indus); a great argus (Argusianus argus), which is a type of pheasant; and a taxidermied Sunda clouded leopard (Neofelis diardi).

“Hopefully the conviction serves as a deterrent for would-be perpetrators of environmental crimes, including traffickers of protected plants and animals,” said Genman Hasibuan, head of the Aceh branch of the Natural Resources Conservation Agency (BKSDA), which assisted in the sting.

“This verdict is the first such conviction in Aceh,” said Panut Hadisiswoyo, director of the Orangutan Information Center, which also helped track the man. “It is an important milestone for law enforcement efforts in regard to environmental crimes in Aceh.”

This excerpt from a news article appeared on and is courtesy of Coconuts Jakarta and can be read in its entirety here.

http://www.orangutan.com/orangutan-news-wildlife-trafficker-selling-orangutans-on-facebook-sentenced/feed/ 0
Orangutan News: Confiscated Baby Orangutans Arrive Safely at SOCP Quarantine Centre in North Sumatra http://www.orangutan.com/orangutan-news-confiscated-baby-orangutans-arrive-safely-at-socp-quarantine-centre-in-north-sumatra/ http://www.orangutan.com/orangutan-news-confiscated-baby-orangutans-arrive-safely-at-socp-quarantine-centre-in-north-sumatra/#comments Mon, 16 Nov 2015 23:51:06 +0000 http://www.orangutan.com/?p=5670 IMG_1982 Dara Raja and Sultan

Three recently confiscated infant Sumatran orangutans arrived safely today at the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme’s specialist orangutan quarantine centre near Medan, North Sumatra, where they will soon be given full health checks and begin the long process of being gradually returned to a life in the wild.

Investigators at the criminal detective unit of the Riau Police arrested three people on Saturday November 7th, 2015, foiling the illegal trade of these critically endangered orangutans in Pekanbaru, Riau Province, Sumatra, Indonesia.

“The first thing they need is to rest and recuperate after their long ordeal.” Stated Asril Abdullah, Operations Manager for the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme (SOCP). “They are highly traumatised by all the travelling they’ve done and all the unfamiliar surroundings and people they’ve encountered these last two weeks, not to mention the initial trauma of being captured, when their mother was almost certainly killed. Being still such very young infants, that can’t have been very long ago either.” He stressed.

Riau police spokesman Adj. Sr. Cmr. Guntur Aryo Tejo said on Monday November 9th that police arrested three people from Aceh who were trying to sell three baby orangutans aged between 6 and 9 months old. “We have named the three people as suspects. One of the suspects is a civil servant from Aceh,” he said as quoted by news agency Antara.

Guntur said after investigating that police identified the sellers and arrested them on Saturday November 9th, while they were waiting for the buyers to meet them in their vehicle. Two of the suspects tried to flee but were later arrested after their car was involved in a road accident.

Police found three baby orangutans in the car, in white plastic boxes.

“[The orangutans] were in weak condition after a long trip from Aceh,” he said.

Dr Ian Singleton, Director of the SOCP added, “We are extremely grateful to the Riau police and the Riau Conservation Agency and applaud all involved for taking such swift and decisive action in this case. Sadly, however, we’ve seen a marked increase in the numbers of very young infants arriving at the quarantine centre in 2015. This trend is worrying as it shows orangutan mothers are still being killed, and their infants taken for trade or as pets, on a regular and frequent basis. We cannot be sure yet exactly which forests these particular infants originate from, but often the killing and capture of orangutans is greatest in areas where the forests are being cleared, for example for palm oil plantations. It will be very interesting to see if the legal proceedings can identify the precise area they came from, although from what I hear it was definitely in Aceh, probably somewhere within the Leuser Ecosystem protected area.” He concluded.

The suspects told police they had bought two male baby orangutans and one female baby for Rp 5 million each, in Lokoh village in District of Tamiang, in Aceh Province.

“They planned to sell the baby orangutans for Rp 25 million each. We are currently chasing the original seller in Aceh and the person who ordered them in Pekanbaru,” he added.

Police handed over the babies to the provincial Center for Natural Resource Conservation (BBKSDA) in Riau, who immediately requested the help of the SOCP to take over their long-term care and eventual return to the wild.

Ir Rinaldo, Section Head of BBKSDA Riau commented “ We would like to thank the Riau Police, WWF Riau Program, the SOCP and the North Sumatra Conservation Agency for all their assistance with this case and for delivering the orangutans safely to the SOCP Quarantine Centre in North Sumatra. At the same time, we hope this case is not repeated, and that other illegal wildlife traders, so far undetected, are also identified and prosecuted”

Head of the North Sumatra Conservation Agency (BBKSDA North Sumatra) Mr John Kennedie, expressed his appreciation to the Riau Police for preventing the illegal sale of the orangutans. “This should be a lesson to everyone that illegal trade in protected wildlife species is against the law and can be prosecuted. Furthermore, the apprehension of these traders has resulted in the rescue of these three young Sumatran orangutans, a species at serious risk of extinction. They now have a chance to recover and grow and eventually to be reintroduced to a life in the wild. For this purpose we have placed them in the care of the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme, at their Orangutan Quarantine Centre, where they will receive veterinary care and begin the gradual rehabilitation process, to learn how to survive in the forest once again.

Drh Talitha Khairunisa, Veterinarian with the SOCP noted, “Whilst they seem reasonably okay at first glance they need time to rest and rehydrate after all their travels. We will give them a few days to calm down now, and get used to their new surroundings, and then give each of them a more thorough health check. Once we know they’re fit and well we will start to introduce them to some of the other young infants at the centre for companionship.”


http://www.orangutan.com/orangutan-news-confiscated-baby-orangutans-arrive-safely-at-socp-quarantine-centre-in-north-sumatra/feed/ 0
Orangutan News: Riau Police Foil Illegal Baby Orangutan Trade http://www.orangutan.com/orangutan-news-riau-police-foil-illegal-baby-orangutan-trade/ http://www.orangutan.com/orangutan-news-riau-police-foil-illegal-baby-orangutan-trade/#comments Tue, 10 Nov 2015 17:43:41 +0000 http://www.orangutan.com/?p=5665 photo courtesy of Antara/Regina Safri

photo courtesy of Antara/Regina Safri

Investigators at the criminal detective unit of the (Indonesian) Riau Police arrested three people on Saturday, foiling an illegal trade of endangered orangutans in Pekanbaru.

Riau police spokesman Adj. Sr. Cmr. Guntur Aryo Tejo said on Monday that police arrested three people from Aceh who were trying to sell three baby orangutans aged between 6 and 9 months.

Police received information from locals who reported that there was illegal trading of orangutans in the Palas area of Pekanbaru.

Guntur said after investigating, that police identified the sellers and arrested them on Saturday while they waited for buyers in their minibus.

Two of the suspects tried to flee but were later arrested after their car got into an accident.

Police found three baby orangutans in the car, in white plastic cages.

This excerpt from a news article appeared in and is courtesy of the Jakarta Post and can be read in its entirety here.

http://www.orangutan.com/orangutan-news-riau-police-foil-illegal-baby-orangutan-trade/feed/ 0
Orangutan Caring Week 2015 http://www.orangutan.com/orangutan-caring-week-2015/ http://www.orangutan.com/orangutan-caring-week-2015/#comments Fri, 06 Nov 2015 19:52:58 +0000 http://www.orangutan.com/?p=5659


Orangutan Caring Week starts on Sunday.

What will you do to show you care?

Now, more than ever, orangutans need your help!  With fires raging throughout Indonesia, orangutans and their rainforest homes are in even greater jeopardy than ever before.

You can help bring awareness to the plight of orangutans and help to motivate people to care enough to be moved to action.

Join the Orangutan Conservancy, dozens of other organizations and countless people across the globe to make this a week to stand strong for our orangutan friends.

Learn about some ways to help orangutans now at our how to help page.

http://www.orangutan.com/orangutan-caring-week-2015/feed/ 0
Orangutan News: Thousands of Orangutans Threatened by Indonesia Wildfires http://www.orangutan.com/orangutan-news-thousands-of-orangutans-threatened-by-indonesia-wildfires/ http://www.orangutan.com/orangutan-news-thousands-of-orangutans-threatened-by-indonesia-wildfires/#comments Thu, 29 Oct 2015 21:20:19 +0000 http://www.orangutan.com/?p=5655 International Animal Rescue and the Agency of Conservation of Natural Resources of Ketapang rescue of a female orangutan and her infant from forest fires in Ketapang, West Borneo.

International Animal Rescue and the Agency of Conservation of Natural Resources of Ketapang rescue of a female orangutan and her infant from forest fires in Ketapang, West Borneo. (photo courtesy of IAR)

By Esther Castillejo for ABC News

Thousands of orangutans, who share 97 percent of their DNA with humans, have been caught in what scientists warn could be one of the biggest environmental disasters in the country since the devastating fires of 1997.

More than 63 fires reported in the region in the past month have contributed to the destruction of the orangutans’ habitat, which has been devastated in the past 20 years.

An area of rain forest the size of 300 soccer fields is destroyed every hour, said Lis Key of International Animal Rescue, a United Kingdom-based non-governmental organization working to rescue animals in the region.

“It’s happening at an absolutely breathtaking rate,” Key said. “If this goes on, this could have a serious impact in extinction and bring it closer.”

The main cause of the wildfires through the years: the illegal use of fire to clear land for development in so-called slash-and-burn agriculture and to benefit the palm oil industry.  The warmer temperatures and drought brought by El Nino only make the situation worse.

Many rescued orangutans are babies because their mothers have either died in the fires, or been captured and killed by locals, Key said.

Tom Mills of Los Angeles-based Orangutan Conservancy, a non-governmental organization supporting programs in Indonesia, said the effects of the fires are devastating.

“The peatland where they live is so carbon-rich that it burns forever; once it starts going up, it just doesn’t stop,” Mills told ABC News.

“Orangutans are a keystone species; if they disappear, thousands of other species disappear.”

This excerpt from a news article appeared in and is courtesy of ABC News online and can be read in its entirety here.

http://www.orangutan.com/orangutan-news-thousands-of-orangutans-threatened-by-indonesia-wildfires/feed/ 0
Orangutan Views: How to Save Orangutans: High-Calorie Forests http://www.orangutan.com/how-to-save-orangutans-high-calorie-forests/ http://www.orangutan.com/how-to-save-orangutans-high-calorie-forests/#comments Mon, 26 Oct 2015 16:12:14 +0000 http://www.orangutan.com/?p=5651 photo by: Gemma Llorensí Torrent/Flickr

photo by: Gemma Llorensí Torrent/Flickr

by Robin Lally – Rutgers

Habitat loss is the greatest threat to endangered orangutans, but conservationists say the key to saving them is to reintroduce them into forests that have enough high-energy food.

“If animals can’t obtain enough energy, reproductive output and population sizes will suffer,” says Erin Vogel, assistant professor of anthropology at Rutgers University.

A new study published in the journal PLOS ONE shows the density of Bornean orangutans is almost two times greater in an Indonesian peat-swamp forest—just 39 miles from similar surroundings where orangutans must survive on thousands of calories less each day for most of the year.

“This study gives us a better understanding of how living in an unpredictable environment can influence the population density of large animals that spend the majority of their time in trees,” adds Vogel.

Orangutans living in the Tuanan Forest, located in Central Kalimantan, Indonesia, consumed almost 2,500 more calories each day when the availability of fruit was high and more than 800 calories in times of scarcity—compared to orangutans living in the nearby Sabangau Forest, which has a thicker layer of acidic peat that prevents fewer nutrients from reaching the vegetation from the soil.

“Walking through the forest you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference,” says Vogel. “The sites look the same, but one of the habitats appears to support a healthier population.”

This excerpt from an article appeared on Futurity.com and can be read in its entirety here.


http://www.orangutan.com/how-to-save-orangutans-high-calorie-forests/feed/ 0
Orangutan News: Illegally Smuggled Infant Sumatran Orangutans Return to Indonesia http://www.orangutan.com/orangutan-news-illegally-smuggled-infant-sumatran-orangutans-return-to-indonesia/ http://www.orangutan.com/orangutan-news-illegally-smuggled-infant-sumatran-orangutans-return-to-indonesia/#comments Tue, 20 Oct 2015 16:23:54 +0000 http://www.orangutan.com/?p=5646 SOCP veterinarian drh Talitha Chairunisa helps settle young orangutans Citrawan (left) and Bobina into their new home at the SOCP orangutan quarantine center near Medan, North Sumatra, Indonesia (courtesy of SOCP)

SOCP veterinarian drh Talitha Chairunisa helps settle young orangutans Citrawan (left) and Bobina into their new home at the SOCP orangutan quarantine center near Medan, North Sumatra, Indonesia (courtesy of SOCP)

Two young infant Sumatran orangutans illegally smuggled into Malaysia, today returned to Sumatra to begin the process that will eventually see them return to a life in the wild, contributing to the long term survival of this Critically Endangered species.

The two infants, a male and female, aged just around one year old and named Citrawan and Bobina respectively by the Malaysian Wildlife and National Parks Department (Perhilitan), were confiscated on July 24th in Bukit Tinggi, Klang, Malaysia. Four men, comprising two locals and two Indonesians, believed to be members of a wildlife trafficking syndicate, were arrested by Perhilitan enforcement officers in the 8.30 pm operation. They had been smuggled illegally into the country via Medan in Sumatra. The protected animals were meant to be sold in Malaysia by the suspects for RM 20,000 each. The case is being investigated under the Wildlife Conservation Act.

The orangutans are now safe at the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme’s (SOCP) quarantine center near Medan, North Sumatra and will be gradually introduced to other confiscated orangutans of the same age once their quarantine period is completed. They will eventually then be transferred to one of the SOCP’s two reintroduction centers in Aceh and Jambi, where they will join other orangutans that have already been released thus helping to build up a new wild population of this critically endangered species.

Dr. Ian Singleton of SOCP explained, “We are delighted to get these two little orangutans back to Sumatra, and that the smugglers were apprehended in this case and are being prosecuted. There have been far too few legal prosecutions of orangutan keepers and traders in the past, though we are seeing signs of this improving within Indonesia with two recent prosecutions in Sumatra in 2012 and 2015, and the actions of the Malaysian Wildlife Department suggest they too are also taking a stand. The main problem for the species, however, remains the loss of their habitat and the decline of the wild populations from which these two originally came.”

Infant orangutans still regularly end up as illegal pets, a phenomenon that is normally a direct result of the loss of their habitat and the killing of their mothers.

Within Indonesia it is illegal to capture, kill, trade or keep an orangutan under National Law No. 5 / 1990, with potential sentences of up to 5 years and fines of IDR 100 million. The species is also listed on Appendix 1 of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), under which animals smuggled out of their natural range country and confiscated should whenever possible be repatriated and returned to the wild.

The Orangutan Conservancy is a longtime supporter of the work being done by SOCP.

http://www.orangutan.com/orangutan-news-illegally-smuggled-infant-sumatran-orangutans-return-to-indonesia/feed/ 0
Orangutan News: Orangutans at Threat as Forest Fires Escalate http://www.orangutan.com/orangutan-news-orangutans-at-threat-as-forest-fires-escalate/ http://www.orangutan.com/orangutan-news-orangutans-at-threat-as-forest-fires-escalate/#comments Thu, 15 Oct 2015 23:18:35 +0000 http://www.orangutan.com/?p=5641 photo from the Orangutan Tropical Peatland Project

photo from the Orangutan Tropical Peatland Project

As the Orangutan Conservancy reported just two weeks ago, monumental fires are raging across Indonesia right now and the always vulnerable orangutans are clearly in harms way as the flames engulf more and more land during this El Nino event.  This update arrives from the Orangutan Tropical Peatland Project (OuTrop), one of the projects that OC helps to support in Borneo.

A global ecological and social disaster is currently unfolding in Indonesia. In the last month alone approximately 9,735 forest fires have occurred across Sumatra and Indonesian Borneo. Forest and peatland are burning, destroying wildlife habitat and creating a cloud of thick, dangerous haze across the region. The consequences are severe: vast amounts of carbon are emitted, tens of thousands of people are suffering from respiratory problems and endangered species are at risk. Yet this has largely gone unreported in the mainstream press outside of South-east Asia.

Some fires are accidental, but most are started deliberately. Fire is used as a cheap method for land clearing and as a weapon in land tenure conflicts. During droughts, fires can quickly grow out of control, burning neighbouring land and forests. While large oil-palm and plantation companies shoulder much of the blame, some recent studies suggest that most fires occur outside of concessions, indicating both large and small-holders contribute to the crisis.

This annual problem has been exacerbated by a strong current El Niño weather event, which is expected to last into spring 2016 and could prolong the drought in Indonesia. The worst fires in Indonesia to date occurred during the strong El Niño winter of 1997-98, and some forecasts have predicted that this year might be a match. This does not bode well for Indonesia’s forests and peatlands.

Cimtrop fire fighting teams at work as thick haze blankets the forest

CIMTROP fire fighting teams at work as thick haze blankets the burning forest

Dr Mark Harrison, Managing Director of the Orangutan Tropical Peatland Project (OuTrop), a UK-based conservation organisation working in Indonesian Borneo, expresses his deep concern “Tropical peat-swamp forests are one of the world’s most important ecosystems. They are home to globally threatened wildlife, including the orangutan, southern Bornean gibbon and clouded leopard. Indonesia’s peat forests contain vast amounts of carbon – 57 billion tonnes equivalent to 25% of the carbon stored in the world’s tropical forests and so play a key role in preventing dangerous global temperature rises. Intact peatlands also help prevent both floods and fires, plus provide fish to eat and other important ecosystem services for local people.”

“OuTrop’s main research site in the Sabangau Forest, Indonesian Borneo, is a peat-swamp that is home to the world’s largest orangutan population” continues Dr Harrison. “Fire here not only burns the surface vegetation, but also the peat soil that has taken thousands of years to form. This makes fire the biggest threat to Sabangau’s orangutans and many other species that call this forest home.”

Professor Susan Page, a geographer at the University of Leicester and leading expert on Indonesia’s peatlands, explains the cause of the problem “Ironically, intact peatlands are actually very fire resistant, as they are protected by a high water table. The problem arises when peatlands are drained, normally for conversion to agriculture, but also for logging timber. Dry peat ignites very easily and can burn for days or weeks, even smouldering underground and re-emerging away from the initial source. This makes them incredibly difficult to extinguish. Smouldering fires produce high levels of harmful gases and particulates.”

The haze from these fires is extremely damaging. Visibility is severely restricted causing flight cancellations, and school and business closures lead to a loss of billions of dollars for the Indonesian economy. Of greater concern is the small particulate matter in the haze, which poses a serious public health risk. It has been reported that over 75,000 people in Sumatra and Indonesian Borneo are suffering from upper respiratory infections as a result of the haze. The long-term effects of living in such high levels of air pollution are unknown. The haze and its associated problems even extend across the ocean to the Indo-Malay Peninsula, creating international political tensions.

Locally-led teams are spearheading fire-fighting efforts on the ground, like the CIMTROP Community Patrol Team, which works to protect the Natural Laboratory of Peat-Swamp Forest in the north of the Sabangau Forest and is supported by OuTrop. Government fire-fighting teams have also been sent to affected areas, with aircraft deployed for fire-fighting and cloud seeding. Police are starting to crack down on companies starting fires illegally, and local media and public campaigns are urging people not to start fires.

“Efforts to stop the fires are being stepped up, but are currently insufficient to cope with the scale of the problem” explains Dr Harrison. “Stopping the fires requires both urgent on-the-ground fire-fighting during drought periods and, in the longer term, damming of canals in drained peatlands to prevent future fires. Any further canal construction and peatland drainage should be avoided.”

Professor Page added “Until adequate financial and policy support exists to realise this aim, the fire problem will continue to re-emerge in Indonesia each time dry conditions prevail, and wildlife, the climate and people will continue to suffer”.Or

http://www.orangutan.com/orangutan-news-orangutans-at-threat-as-forest-fires-escalate/feed/ 0
Conservation Study: EL Nino and Kutai National Park for 2015-16 http://www.orangutan.com/conservation-study-el-nino-and-kutai-national-park-for-2015-16/ http://www.orangutan.com/conservation-study-el-nino-and-kutai-national-park-for-2015-16/#comments Thu, 08 Oct 2015 19:15:36 +0000 http://www.orangutan.com/?p=5628 Photo courtesy of Purwo Kuncoro

Photo of wild orangutans courtesy of Purwo Kuncoro

The Orangutan Conservancy is a longtime supporter of the work being done by Dr. Anne Russon of the Orangutan Kutai Project in Borneo.  Here, Dr. Russon along with colleagues Purwo Kuncoro and Agnes Ferisa offer an eye-opening assessment on what the 2015 El Nino weather system could mean for this already dangerously dry environment.  Indeed, reports coming in these past two weeks confirm that 2015 appears to be one of the worst years ever for fires across Indonesia – the home of orangutans.

by Anne E Russon, Purwo Kuncoro, & Agnes Ferisa

At our orangutan research site in Kutai National Park’s Mentoko area, signs of an extreme drought have been evident since July, 2015. We recorded very low rainfall in July, only 30.5 mm, and in August less than 3 mm, our lowest August rainfall since we began research at this site in 2010. Small streams have almost dried up and water levels in our part of the Sangatta River are already so low that we can hardly travel by boat. In the forest, leaves are wilting and falling in large numbers so the forest floor is covered by a thick layer of dead leaves. Other parts of Indonesia have been experiencing similar conditions, making water shortages major features of the nightly national news. El Niño is almost certainly causing this unusual drought. Most people living in East Kalimantan probably know something about El Niño and those who don’t probably will soon because they will experience one in 2015-16, the first since 2009-10. For Kutai NP and surrounding areas in East Kalimantan, questions are what to expect from this El Niño and how it will probably affect the area, including its forest and its wildlife.

El Niño

El Niño, along with La Niña, are related but opposite climatic events that can cause extreme weather, especially droughts and floods and especially in the tropical Pacific region. Conditions swing back and forth between these two extremes in an irregular, multi-year natural cycle called ENSO, the El Niño Southern Oscillation. The cycle is currently ca 2.5-7 years.

El Niño generally causes prolonged droughts In Indonesia and these are strongest in East Borneo. The worst of these El Niño long droughts on record, in 1982-83 and 1997-88, were famous worldwide because they set the stage for the Great Fires of Borneo. These fires were human-caused but were started and spread easily because of the severe drought. Results in East Kalimantan were widespread and extremely heavy damage. About 50% of Kutai NP’s forest was burned in 1982-83 and about 90% in 1997-98. That damage is a major reason for the common belief that Kutai NP was so badly damaged that it is unrecoverable as a natural area.

El Niño is worth talking about now because the 2015 El Niño is expected to be moderate or possibly greater in strength, to peak in the last quarter of 2015, and possibly to extend into early 2016. Impacts on the Kutai NP region of East Kalimantan would be a prolonged, probably serious drought in 2015 and perhaps in the first quarter of 2016.


El Niño is one event within the ENSO cycle, which refers to fluctuations in the sea surface temperature of the tropical eastern Pacific Ocean (SST) coupled with fluctuations in air surface pressure in the tropical western Pacific (ASP). If the most recent three-month SST average is abnormally warm or cool (more than 0.5 °C above or below normal for that season), an El Niño or La Niña event is considered in progress. They co-occur, respectively, with high and low ASP and can be predicted about 6 months in advance by monitoring SST. During both ENSO events, these ocean and atmospheric changes interact to affect wind, temperature, and rainfall worldwide: they are responsible for some of the extreme droughts, hurricanes, and floods reported globally. Many factors affect global climate, but ENSO is by far the most dominating on multi-year time scales.

ENSO events mostly affect countries bordering the Pacific Ocean because they are products of Pacific ocean-atmosphere interactions, but they also affect countries around the Atlantic and Indian oceans. The 2010-11 La Niña, for example, was responsible for very active hurricanes in the Atlantic and heavy floods in Columbia and Southern Africa. Effects of ENSO events vary considerably with location. El Niño typically causes abnormally low rainfall in Hawaii and the western Pacific (e.g., Phillipines, Indonesia) but excessive rain in the eastern and central Pacific (e.g., California, American Samoa). La Niña causes the reverse: exceptionally heavy rains in the western Pacific but abnormally dry conditions in the central and eastern Pacific.

ENSO effects on Borneo

Although El Niño generally causes abnormally low rainfall across Indonesia, its effects vary by region. Borneo is very strongly affected by El Niño and La Niña, especially in rainfall. Because Borneo is a huge island (the third largest in the world) and because of its mountain ranges and wind patterns, El Niño and La Niña effects on Borneo’s rainfall differ by season and location. In El Niño years all of Borneo becomes unusually dry in SON (Sep–Oct–Nov), but in DJF (Dec–Jan–Feb) the southwest becomes unusually wet while the northeast stays unusually dry. In La Niña years, this pattern reverses. Effects also differ for northern and southern Borneo: the north experiences stronger weather anomalies in SON, the south in DJF.

ENSO-related droughts in Borneo have a long history, so native Bornean flora and fauna may be adapted to them. (Fires that have occurred during El Niño droughts, however, do not appear to be natural events but rather recent products of human activities like deforestation and deliberate fire setting.) El Niño droughts typically cause prolonged food shortages for plant eating wildlife but also trigger mast fruiting, the mass synchronized fruiting of many individuals of many species. New plant growth is also rapid once the drought breaks. So rapid relief from food shortages and ultimately a fruit feast follow El Niño droughts. East Bornean wildlife may be adapted to this bust-boom seesaw in food availability. Although all orangutans are primarily fruit eaters, for example, East Bornean orangutans can survive for unusually long periods on poor quality, non-fruit foods; probably for that purpose, they have especially robust jaws.

ENSO effects in and around Kutai NP.

Kutai NP is located in a region that is one of the driest in Borneo in normal (non-ENSO) years and that experiences the most prolonged droughts in El Niño years (Figure 1). The Kutai NP authority reports the average annual rainfall in the park is 1543.6 mm. With this little rain its habitat barely qualifies as rainforest and its orangutan research sites are the driest of all wild orangutan research sites. The severe damage to Kutai NP following the 1982-83 and 1997-98 El Niño droughts illustrates how much ENSO events can affect this region’s flora and fauna, and could be interpreted as showing their great vulnerability. On the other hand, other evidence suggests just the opposite: flora and fauna native to the Kutai NP region may be exceptionally resilient because they are adapted to ENSO extremes.

First, the Kutai NP region supports exceptional biodiversity. This was recognized in the 1930s, when 2,000,000 ha were formally protected as a Nature Reserve, and more recently when a core portion of this reserve was designated a national park. Kutai NP’s current ca 192,000 ha represents a rich lowland tropical rainforest ecosystem that includes mangrove, mixed dipterocarp, heath, floodplain and freshwater swamp. Recent biodiversity estimates are 1,148 plant, 80 mammal and 368 bird species, a considerable number of them protected and/or endemic to Borneo. Rich biodiversity could be interpreted as one expression of this resilience.

Second, although fire damage to Kutai NP was widespread and extreme, burned forest areas have now been regenerating from 1997-98 fires for over 17 years. We assessed how well our Mentoko orangutan study area forest supported orangutans after 12-15 years’ natural regeneration. We found orangutans in strong numbers and all appeared to be healthy, behaving normally, and reproducing normally, so the forest is supporting them well. Many of the original tree species have survived, but the forest has changed considerably in composition and is now dominated by fast-growing pioneer species. These changes appear to benefit orangutans, probably because pioneer species produce large crops of foods attractive to them. Wildlife species believed to have gone extinct in Kutai NP have also recently been found to have survived, notably banteng and berangat (Presbytis hosei). Studies of similar damaged East Bornean forests have likewise shown relatively rapid and strong recovery (ca 15-20 years) of forest structure and biodiversity plus especially strong orangutan recovery, although recovery is much slower for tree species composition and distribution.

Last, Kutai NP’s orangutans belong to the East Bornean subspecies, Pongo pygmaeus morio, which is known for exceptional resilience in the face of habitat damage and loss. A considerable amount of the evidence for morio’s great resilience is from studies conducted in the Kutai region. As one example, most orangutans known in the Mentoko area of Kutai NP before the 1982-83 fires destroyed it survived: they were resighted in the same area, alive and reproducing, within 2-3 three years after the fires. This suggests morio has special adaptations or abilities for surviving the unusually difficult conditions that characterize their habitat.


For the Kutai NP region, the 2015-16 El Niño could be a disaster in the making. The drought had already started in our Kutai NP study area in July and is predicted to continue until the end of the year or even longer. For the park’s orangutans, other fauna and flora, prolonged drought undoubtedly causes hardships, possibly extreme ones this year, and probably higher than normal mortality. On the other hand, El Niño events are normal for this region, the orangutans we have seen during this drought to date are individuals we recognize and all have appeared healthy and have behaved normally, and these forests are known to recover well and relatively rapidly from drought-related damage. Kutai NP’s flora and fauna should then be able to cope with and recover from these hardships. Finally, for conservation, this El Niño is an opportunity to improve understanding of how Kutai NP’s orangutans and its other native fauna and flora cope with extreme climate conditions. Where do ‘our’ orangutans go when they are not in our study area, for instance, and what do they eat when conditions become very poor? Improving knowledge and understanding of such responses is important to protecting Kutai NP’s natural resources because it is critical to developing effective management practices.

 Screenshot 2015-10-08 12.02.12

Figure 1: Kutai National Park location. Kutai National Park is located about midway up the east coast of Borneo (see green label and arrow) within an unusually dry region of the island (rust circle). Grey scale variation on the map shows elevation (meters above sea level).

The Orangutan Conservancy is pleased to be a supporter of Dr. Russon’s ongoing work at the Orangutan Kutai Project.  If you’d like to help us continue our support of the research being done there, please visit our donate now page.


http://www.orangutan.com/conservation-study-el-nino-and-kutai-national-park-for-2015-16/feed/ 0