Sumatran Orangutans Walldesk netWorking together gives orangutans a chance

CEED Chief Investigator Associate Professor Kerrie Wilson and PhD student Courtney Morgans were invited to attend the recent UNEP Great Ape Survival Partnership (GRASP) South East Asia regional meeting in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia.

The four Great Apes (chimpanzees, orangutans, gorillas and bonobos), predominately occur in Africa, however two of the 23 range states are located in Asia. Indonesia and Malaysia are home to the only two species of organutan, named after the islands which they live, Sumatra and Borneo.

GRASP’s August event, the first of its kind for South East Asia, gave CEED the opportunity to meet with a diverse range of stakeholders involved in orangutan conservation including representatives from UN agencies, the Malaysian and Indonesian governments, industry bodies, non-government organisations and research institutions.

Participants discussed current threats to the remaining populations of orangutan such as agricultural expansion, hunting and the illegal wildlife trade. Recent efforts to conserve the orangutan including improved protected area management, restoration, and technological advances such as the use of drones, were also canvassed. 

Courtney presented preliminary findings of her PhD research on the nature of collaborative relationships between conservation organisations and across sectors.  

CMorgan KWilson Sabah“My research provides insight into how organisations can work together more effectively for implementing large scale conservation,” said Courtney.

“Conservation of the orangutan and their habitat requires effective collaboration between all stakeholders. “

Currently, over 70 local and international non-government organisations are involved in conservation efforts for the Bornean orangutan, involving rescue and rehabilitation, habitat protection, restoration and community education.

The effectiveness of these programs is dependent upon how well these groups can work together to achieve the goal of the Indonesian National Action Plan for Orangutan - that is,  maintaining populations and habitats of Orangutan in a stable condition by 2017.

 “The main message from the GRASP meeting was that we are stronger together than we are alone,” said Courtney.

“Each organisation plays a vital role in the conservation of the orangutan, but currently the synergies between organisations at a local level are not being efficiently harnessed to maximise the impacts on a national or regional level. This will be vital for securing populations of orangutan in Borneo.”

Following the meeting, the researchers along with long-term CEED collaborators Dr Erik Meijaard and Dr Marc Ancrenaz of the Borneo Futures initiative, visited the Kinabatangan River in Eastern Sabah. This area contains some of the last remaining areas of tropical lowland forest in the region and significant populations of orangutan. It is also a region where a grassroots, community-led conservation organisation, HUTAN has been operating for over two decades.

The field expedition provided an opportunity to see the positive impacts of improved land use planning and applied conservation research on habitat, species protection and local livelihoods.

“It was inspiring to see how inclusive decision-making and collaborative partnerships between conservation organisations, community groups and the government can benefit an area - not only in terms of maintaining and creating livelihoods for local people, but also the protection of one of the world’s most remarkable ecosystems.”

CEED’s research will provide insights into how conservation activities can be better coordinated across scales, and with other stakeholder groups, to achieve greater success and higher returns on investment.