Orangutan Kutai Project

Dr. Anne Russon and her team at the Orangutan Kutai Project

Dr. Anne Russon and her team at the Orangutan Kutai Project

The Kutai National Park in East Kalimantan, Borneo, was largely considered a conservation wasteland just a decade ago. Most of its forest had been destroyed and its orangutans virtually eradicated by massive forest fires and human development, and it was thought by experts that a priority population of an estimated 600 orangutans had dwindled to perhaps no more than 30.

But surveys of the Kutai National Park in 2010 discovered areas with excellent quality forest and a strong orangutan presence.  The findings indicate the park’s orangutan population could be as large as 1,000-2,000.  Concurrently, other areas of the park are also showing strong orangutan presence in the form of large numbers of healthy, reproducing orangutans.  The important message is that these orangutans and the park are recovering well from serious damage and, as such, are important conservation priorities.

Beyond their numbers, Kutai orangutans have special importance as members of the easternmost subspecies of the endangered Bornean orangutan, Pongo pygmaeus morio.  This subspecies is considered the most durable of all orangutans—East Borneo is the worst orangutan habitat—but they are poorly understood, especially in East Kalimantan.

Putri, Pur and a new baby are orangutans in the KNP

Putri, Pur and a new baby are orangutans in the KNP

The Orangutan Kutai Project was launched in 2009 as a long-term science-for-conservation project on these Kutai orangutans.  It was designed as a five-year knowledge-building core with two linked goals:

  • Improving knowledge of morio orangutans
  • Enhancing the effectiveness of morio conservation efforts in and around the park

The Orangutan Kutai Project focuses on the range of orangutans because ranging offers a good overview of their habitat needs, social lives, energy management, flexibilities, and limits.   Effective protection depends on designing programs to suit their needs, preferences, flexibilities, and limitations.  The project is directed by Dr. Anne Russon, an Orangutan Conservancy board member and researcher with 23 years of experience studying orangutan behavior in Bornean forests, and operates in the field with a team of six local field assistants, a manager (Purwo Kuncoro) and a counterpart from the Kutai National Park authority.

Base camp at the Orangutan Kutai Project

Base camp at the Orangutan Kutai Project

The Orangutan Kutai Project operates from a field site that runs approximately four kilometers along the south side of the Sangata River, Kutai National Park’s northern boundary, and inland from there.  This site was chosen because censuses showed a strong orangutan presence and the need for additional protection there.  A public road, recently built, runs along the opposite side of the Sangata River, as close as 30-50 m from the river’s banks.  Local people have been actively clearing and settling on the land between the road and the river.  Such easy access to this part of KNP leaves the area very vulnerable to illegal entry, so continuous project presence can help maintain its safety.To date, the project has found 26 orangutans in the study area, including five adult females with dependent youngsters and a large number of males.  All are healthy, well fed, and reproducing normally.   Regular work in the field involves following these orangutans nest to nest and monitoring environmental conditions (plant food availability, weather) that influence their health, habitat use, and travel.

Help the Orangutan Conservancy to support work like the Orangutan Kutai Project by making a donation today!

Today it is estimated that in the world’s rainforests alone, 27,000 species are extinguished every year-74 species a day. Orangutans are found only in the rainforests of Borneo & Sumatra. The population of wild orangutans has declined by more than half in the last 20 years, and approximately 80% of its natural habitat has been lost in the last half century.

The Orangutan Conservancy is dedicated to the conservation of orangutans and their habitat through preserving the remaining orangutan populations and by promoting the changes that are needed to preserve their natural habitat. By protecting orangutans in their natural environment, most other native species, including plants and insects will also survive.

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