The Orangutan Kutai Project was launched in 2009 as a long term, multi-year conservation project with a focus on orangutans located in the Kutai National Park in East Kalimantan, Borneo. The orangutans in this region are a subspecies called P.p. morio, or morio orangutans.
The project was created with two goals in mind:
- Improve knowledge of morio orangutans
- Enhance the effectiveness of morio conservation efforts in and around the park
The Orangutan Kutai Project focuses specifically on the range and environment of the morio orangutans, as this study practice offers a more detailed overview of their habitual needs, social lives, and energy management.
The Orangutan Kutai Project is directed by Dr. Anne Russon. Russon is both an Orangutan Conservancy board member and a researcher with 23 years of experience in the field of orangutan behavior in Borneo. She currently 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.
The project itself operates from a field site that spans approximately four kilometers along the south side of the Sangata River, which is Kutai National Park’s northern boundary and spans inland from there. This particular site was chosen due to the strong orangutan presence and the area’s need for protection. Public roads run along the opposite side of the Sangata River, and local people have been clearing and settling on the land between the road and the river. This easy access to the park leaves the area highly vulnerable to illegal entry without proper protection.
Kutai National Park
As stated above, The Kutai National Park is located in East Kalimantan, Borneo. Just a decade ago, thepark was considered to be a conservation wasteland, with most of the forests having been destroyed. Along with the forest destruction, most of the orangutans in this area had been virtually eradicated due to massive forest fires and human development in their habitat. Experts believe that a priority population in this area went from approximately 600 orangutans to a mere 30.
Surveys of the park in 2010 revealed that some areas within the park had excellent forest quality and a strong orangutan presence, showing that the orangutans (and the park) are beginning to recover from severe damage. Today, the Kutai National Park’s orangutan population is estimated to be as large as 1,000 to 2,000.
The Pongo pygmaeus morio orangutans are considered to be the most durable of all orangutan subspecies, as their home of East Borneo is the worst orangutan habitat. However, morio orangutans are very poorly understood, especially in East Kalimantan.
To date, the Orangutan Kutai Project has found 26 orangutans in the study area. This includes five adult females with dependent young, and a large number of males. All of these orangutans have been healthy, well fed, and reproducing normally. Regular work at the field site involves following these orangutans nest to nest, and monitoring the environmental conditions (plant food availability, weather) that influence their health, habitat use, and travel.
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