Today the majority of wild great ape populations are found outside of the network of protected areas in both Africa and Asia, therefore determining if these populations are able to survive in forests that are exploited for timber or other extractive uses and how this is managed, is paramount for their conservation.
Behavioural observations suggest that orang-utans are semi-solitary animals with females being philopatric and males roaming more widely in search of receptive partners, leading to the prediction that females are more closely related than males at any given site. In contrast, our study presents evidence for male and female philopatry in the orang-utan. We examined patterns of relatedness and parentage in a wild orang-utan population in Borneo using noninvasively collected DNA samples from animals observed to defecate, and microsatellite markers to assess dispersal and mating strategies. Surprisingly, resident females were equally as related to other resident females (mean r(xy) = 0.303) as resident males were to other resident males (mean r(xy) = 0.305). Moreover, resident females were more related to each other and to the resident males than they were to nonresident females, and resident males were more related to each other (and resident females) than they were to nonresident males. We assigned genetic mothers to 12 individuals in the population, while sires could be identified for eight. Both flanged males and unflanged males achieved paternity, similar to findings reported for Sumatran orang-utans.
The orangutan is the world's largest arboreal mammal, and images of the red ape moving through the tropical forest canopy symbolise its typical arboreal behaviour. Records of terrestrial behaviour are scarce and often associated with habitat disturbance. We conducted a large-scale species-level analysis of ground-based camera-trapping data to evaluate the extent to which Bornean orangutans Pongo pygmaeus come down from the trees to travel terrestrially, and whether they are indeed forced to the ground primarily by anthropogenic forest disturbances. Although the degree of forest disturbance and canopy gap size influenced terrestriality, orangutans were recorded on the ground as frequently in heavily degraded habitats as in primary forests. Furthermore, all age-sex classes were recorded on the ground (flanged males more often). This suggests that terrestrial locomotion is part of the Bornean orangutan's natural behavioural repertoire to a much greater extent than previously thought, and is only modified by habitat disturbance. The capacity of orangutans to come down from the trees may increase their ability to cope with at least smaller-scale forest fragmentation, and to cross moderately open spaces in mosaic landscapes, although the extent of this versatility remains to be investigated.
Orangutans (Pongo spp.) are reported to have extremely slow life histories, including the longest average interbirth intervals of all mammals. Such slow life history can be viable only when unavoidable mortality is kept low. Thus, orangutans' survivorship under natural conditions is expected to be extremely high. Previous estimates of orangutan life history were based on captive individuals living under very different circumstances or on small samples from wild populations. Here, we combine birth data from seven field sites, each with demographic data collection for at least 10 years (range 12-43 years) on wild orangutans to better document their life history. Using strict criteria for data inclusion, we calculated infant survival, interbirth intervals and female age at first reproduction, across species, subspecies and islands. We found an average closed interbirth interval of 7.6 years, as well as consistently very high pre-weaning survival for males and females. Female survival of 94% until age at first birth (at around age 15 years) was higher than reported for any other mammal species under natural conditions. Similarly, annual survival among parous females is very high, but longevity remains to be estimated. Current data suggest no major life history differences between Sumatran and Bornean orangutans. The high offspring survival is remarkable, noting that modern human populations seem to have reached the same level of survival only in the 20th century. The orangutans' slow life history illustrates what can be achieved if a hominoid bauplan is exposed to low unavoidable mortality. Their high survival is likely due to their arboreal and non-gregarious lifestyle, and has allowed them to maintain viable populations, despite living in low-productivity habitats. However, their slow life history also implies that orangutans are highly vulnerable to a catastrophic population crash in the face of drastic habitat change.
We examined mitochondrial DNA control region sequences of 73 Kinabatangan orangutans to test the hypothesis that the phylogeographical structure of the Bornean orangutan is influenced by riverine barriers. The Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary contains one of the most northern populations of orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus) on Borneo and is bisected by the Kinabatangan River, the longest river in Sabah. Orang-utan samples on either side of the river were strongly differentiated with a high Phi(ST) value of 0.404 (P < 0.001). Results also suggest an east-west gradient of genetic diversity and evidence for population expansion along the river, possibly reflecting a postglacial colonization of the Kinabatangan floodplain. We compared our data with previously published sequences of Bornean orangutans in the context of river catchment structure on the island and evaluated the general relevance of rivers as barriers to gene flow in this long-lived, solitary arboreal ape.
The reproductive success of male primates is not always associated with dominance status. For example, even though male orangutans exhibit intra-sexual dimorphism and clear dominance relationships exist among males, previous studies have reported that both morphs are able to sire offspring. The present study aimed to compare the reproductive success of two male morphs, and to determine whether unflanged males sired offspring in a free-ranging population of Bornean orangutans, using 12 microsatellite loci to determine the paternity of eight infants. A single flanged male sired most of the offspring from parous females, and an unflanged male sired a firstborn. This is consistent with our observation that the dominant flanged male showed little interest in nulliparous females, whereas the unflanged males frequently mated with them. This suggests that the dominant flanged male monopolizes the fertilization of parous females and that unflanged males take advantage of any mating opportunities that arise in the absence of the flanged male, even though the conception probability of nulliparous females is relatively low.
The Bornean orangutan is critically endangered and monitoring its population is needed to inform effective conservation management. In this paper, we present results of 2014-17 aerial nest surveys of the major orangutan populations in Sabah and compare them with baseline data produced during surveys conducted in 2002-03 using similar methods. Our results show three important points: a) by increasing the survey effort (estimated at 15-25% cover), sparsely scattered orangutan sub-populations not recorded in the previous aerial surveys were located and the accuracy of the nest count estimates is expected to improve; b) large populations in the interior forests of Sabah, occupying sustainably managed logged and unlogged forests, have been stable over 15 years and are of vital importance for the species' conservation; c) fragmented populations located in eastern Sabah, that are surrounded by extensive oil palm plantations, have declined at varying rates.
We observed the diet and activity of Bornean orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus morio) in the primary lowland dipterocarp forests of Danum Valley, Sabah, Malaysia, during 2005-2007, including two mast fruitings. We collected 1,785 hr of focal data on 26 orangutans. We identified 1,466 samples of their food plants and conducted a fallen fruit census to monitor fruit availability in the study area. Their activity budget was 47.2% feeding, 34.4% resting, and 16.9% traveling. Fruits accounted for the largest part (60.9%) of feeding time, especially during mast fruiting periods (64.0-100%), although the percentages of leaves (22.2%) and bark (12.3%) were higher than those reported for P. abelii and P. pygmaeus wurmbii. Although 119 genera and 160 plant species were consumed by focal animals, only 9 genera accounted for more than 3% of feeding time (total: 67.8% for 9 genera). In particular, the focal orangutans fed intensively on Ficus and Spatholobus during most of the study period, especially in periods of fruit shortage. The percentage of fruit feeding changed markedly from 11.7 to 100% across different months of the year, and was positively correlated with the amount of fallen fruit. When fruit feeding and availability decreased, orangutans fed primarily on leaves of Spatholobus and Ficus, and the bark of Spatholobus and dipterocarp. The percentage of time devoted to feeding during mast fruitings, when the orangutans foraged almost exclusively on fruits, was lower than during seasons when the orangutan diet included leaves and bark as well as fruits. Resting increased as feeding decreased in the late stage of each fruiting season, suggesting that the orangutans adopted an energy-minimizing strategy to survive the periods of fruit shortage by using energy stored during the fruit season.
We analysed the reproductive parameters of free-ranging female orangutans at Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre (SORC) on Borneo Island, Sabah, Malaysia. Fourteen adult females produced 28 offspring in total between 1967 and 2004. The average censored interbirth interval (IBI) (i.e. offspring was still alive when mother produced a next offspring) was 6 years. This was shorter than censored IBIs reported in the wild but similar to IBIs reported for those in captivity. The nonparametric survival analysis (Kaplan-Meier method) revealed a significantly shorter IBI at SORC compared with wild orangutans in Tanjung Putting. The infant (0-3 years) mortality rate at SORC of 57% was much higher than rates reported both in the wild and captivity. The birth sex-ratio was significantly biassed toward females: 24 of the 27 sex-identified infants were females. The average age at first reproduction was 11.6 years, which is younger than the age in the wild and in captivity. The high infant mortality rate might be caused by human rearing and increased transmission of disease due to frequent proximal encounters with conspecifics around the feeding platforms (FPs). This young age of first reproduction could be because of the uncertainty regarding estimated ages of the female orangutans at SORC. It may also be affected by association with other conspecifics around FPs, which increased the number of encounters of the females with males compared with the number of encounters that would take place in the wild. Provision of FPs, which improves the nutritional condition of the females, caused the shorter IBI. The female-biassed birth sex-ratio can be explained by the Trivers and Willard hypothesis. The female-biassed sex ratio could be caused by the mothers being in poor health, parasite prevalence and/or high social stress (but not food scarcity) due to the frequent encounters with conspecifics around FPs.
The Sumatran orangutan is currently listed by the IUCN as critically endangered and the Bornean species as endangered. Unless effective conservation measures are enacted quickly, most orangutan populations without adequate protection face a dire future. Two main strategies are being pursued to conserve orangutans: (i) rehabilitation and reintroduction of ex-captive or displaced individuals; and (ii) protection of their forest habitat to abate threats like deforestation and hunting. These strategies are often mirrored in similar programs to save other valued and endangered mega-fauna. Through GIS analysis, collating data from across the literature, and combining this information within a modelling and decision analysis framework, we analysed which strategy or combination of strategies is the most cost-effective at maintaining wild orangutan populations, and under what conditions. We discovered that neither strategy was optimal under all circumstances but was dependent on the relative cost per orangutan, the timescale of management concern, and the rate of deforestation. Reintroduction, which costs twelve times as much per animal as compared to protection of forest, was only a cost-effective strategy at very short timescales. For time scales longer than 10-20 years, forest protection is the more cost-efficient strategy for maintaining wild orangutan populations. Our analyses showed that a third, rarely utilised strategy is intermediate: introducing sustainable logging practices and protection from hunting in timber production forest. Maximum long-term cost-efficiency is achieved by working in conservation forest. However, habitat protection involves addressing complex conservation issues and conflicting needs at the landscape level. We find a potential resolution in that well-managed production forests could achieve intermediate conservation outcomes. This has broad implications for sustaining biodiversity more generally within an economically productive landscape. Insights from this analysis should provide a better framework to prioritize financial investments, and facilitate improved integration between the organizations that implement these strategies.
For many threatened species the rate and drivers of population decline are difficult to assess accurately: species' surveys are typically restricted to small geographic areas, are conducted over short time periods, and employ a wide range of survey protocols. We addressed methodological challenges for assessing change in the abundance of an endangered species. We applied novel methods for integrating field and interview survey data for the critically endangered Bornean orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus), allowing a deeper understanding of the species' persistence through time. Our analysis revealed that Bornean orangutan populations have declined at a rate of 25% over the last 10 years. Survival rates of the species are lowest in areas with intermediate rainfall, where complex interrelations between soil fertility, agricultural productivity, and human settlement patterns influence persistence. These areas also have highest threats from human-wildlife conflict. Survival rates are further positively associated with forest extent, but are lower in areas where surrounding forest has been recently converted to industrial agriculture. Our study highlights the urgency of determining specific management interventions needed in different locations to counter the trend of decline and its associated drivers.
Great apes are threatened with extinction, but precise information about the distribution and size of most populations is currently lacking. We conducted orangutan nest counts in the Malaysian state of Sabah (North Borneo), using a combination of ground and helicopter surveys, and provided a way to estimate the current distribution and size of the populations living throughout the entire state. We show that the number of nests detected during aerial surveys is directly related to the estimated true animal density and that a helicopter is an efficient tool to provide robust estimates of orangutan numbers. Our results reveal that with a total estimated population size of about 11,000 individuals, Sabah is one of the main strongholds for orangutans in North Borneo. More than 60% of orangutans living in the state occur outside protected areas, in production forests that have been through several rounds of logging extraction and are still exploited for timber. The role of exploited forests clearly merits further investigation for orangutan conservation in Sabah.
Habitat loss and hunting are major threats to the long-term survival of the viable orangutan population in Batang Toru. East Batang Toru Forest Block (EBTFB) is the most threatened area due to low forest cover and high encroachment. Based on a preliminary survey in 2008, Hopong forest which is located in EBTFB, had the highest orangutan density (0.7 ind/km2). However illegal logging and hunting of protected species were occuring in this unprotected forest. Since this location has been gazetted as unprotected forest from the first survey until this study was conducted, it is important to assess orangutans population trends. This study aims to provide an updated density of orangutan in Hopong forest. The study included the location of the original survey but covered a wider overall area. The line transect method was used to record orangutan nests, ficus and trees bearing fruits. A quadrat method was used to record vegetation. The encounter rate of orangutan declined from 0.7 ind/km2 to 0.4 ind/km2 between 2008 and 2015. Forest cover has also changed in the seven years between surveys and this has influenced orangutan and orangutan nest encounter rates in Hopong. Since unprotected forest is at more risk in comparison with protected forest, allocation status of the Hopong forest is critical to reduce the threats it faces.
Orangutans display remarkable developmental changes and sexual differences in facial morphology, such as the flanges or cheek-pads that develop only on the face of dominant adult males. These changes suggest that facial morphology is an important factor in visual communication. However, developmental changes in facial morphology have not been examined in detail. We studied developmental changes in the facial morphology of the Borneo orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus) by observing 79 individuals of various ages living in the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre (SORC) in Malaysia and in Japanese zoos. We also analyzed photographs of one captive male that were taken over a period of more than 16 years. There were clear morphological changes that occurred with growth, and we identified previously unreported sexual and developmental differences in facial morphology. Light-colored skin around the eyes and mouth is most prominent in animals younger than 3 years, and rapidly decreases in area through the age of approximately 7 years. At the same time, the scattered, erect hairs on the head (infant hair) become thick, dense hairs lying on the head (adult hair) in both sexes. The results suggest that these features are infant signals, and that adult signals may include darkened face color, adult hair, whiskers, and a beard, which begin to develop after the age of approximately 7 years in both sexes. In females, the eyelids remain white even after 10 years, and turn black at around the age of 20; in males, the eyelids turn black before the age of 10. The whiskers and beards of adults are thicker in males than in females, and are fully developed before the age of 10 in males, while they begin to develop in females only after approximately 20 years. White eyelids and undeveloped whiskers and beards may be visual signals that are indicative of young adult females. Our results also show that the facial morphology of the unflanged male is similar to that of the adult female, although it has also been pointed out that unflanged males resemble younger individuals.
Orangutans have a long period of immaturity and the longest inter-birth interval (IBI) of all mammals, which can be explained by their solitary life style, preventing the mother from rearing two offspring simultaneously (solitary life hypothesis) [corrected]. We collected data on mother-offspring dyads living in a primary lowland forest in Danum Valley, East Borneo in an effort to examine the developmental and behavioral patterns of the subspecies Pongo pygmaeus morio. We analyzed developmental changes in mother-offspring distance, contact, and activity budgets in orangutans ranging from 1 to 7 years of age. The results indicated decreased resting and playing with increasing age, whereas feeding, traveling and social play all increased significantly. Mothers' feeding and traveling time were good predictors of their offspring's feeding and traveling activities. Mother-offspring contact lasted longer in resting contexts; contact during traveling was almost non-existent after 4 years of age. Comparisons with previously published data on the Sumatran species Pongo abelli revealed no fundamental differences in these behavioral measures. However, a shorter association time with the mother after behavioral independence is documented for this East Bornean population in comparison to Sumatran populations. These results are best explained by the solitary life hypothesis, in agreement with previous studies. We suggest that environmental constraints in Bornean forests, as well as a lower population density, should be considered when interpreting the differences between Sumatran and Bornean orangutans in both the period of association with mother and the IBI.
Nature-based tourism can generate important revenue to support conservation of biodiversity. However, constant exposure to tourists and subsequent chronic activation of stress responses can produce pathological effects, including impaired cognition, growth, reproduction, and immunity in the same animals we are interested in protecting. Utilizing fecal samples (N = 53) from 2 wild habituated orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus morio) (in addition to 26 fecal samples from 4 wild unhabituated orangutans) in the Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary of Sabah, Malaysian Borneo, we predicted that i) fecal glucocorticoid metabolite concentrations would be elevated on the day after tourist visitation (indicative of normal stress response to exposure to tourists on the previous day) compared to samples taken before or during tourist visitation in wild, habituated orangutans, and ii) that samples collected from habituated animals would have lower fecal glucocorticoid metabolites than unhabituated animals not used for tourism. Among the habituated animals used for tourism, fecal glucocorticoid metabolite levels were significantly elevated in samples collected the day after tourist visitation (indicative of elevated cortisol production on the previous day during tourist visitation). Fecal glucocorticoid metabolite levels were also lower in the habituated animals compared to their age-matched unhabituated counterparts. We conclude that the habituated animals used for this singular ecotourism project are not chronically stressed, unlike other species/populations with documented permanent alterations in stress responses. Animal temperament, species, the presence of coping/escape mechanisms, social confounders, and variation in amount of tourism may explain differences among previous experiments. Acute alterations in glucocorticoid measures in wildlife exposed to tourism must be interpreted conservatively. While permanently altered stress responses can be detrimental, preliminary results in these wild habituated orangutans suggest that low levels of predictable disturbance can likely result in low physiological impact on these animals.
Orangutan survival is threatened by habitat loss and illegal killing. Most wild populations will disappear over the next few decades unless threats are abated. Saving orangutans is ultimately in the hands of the governments and people of Indonesia and Malaysia, which need to ensure that habitats of viable orangutan populations are protected from deforestation and well managed to ensure no hunting takes place. Companies working in orangutan habitat also have to play a much bigger role in habitat management. Although the major problems and the direct actions required to solve them-reducing forest loss and hunting-have been known for decades, orangutan populations continue to decline. Orangutan populations in Sumatra and Borneo have declined by between 2,280 and 5,250 orangutans annually over the past 25 years. As the total current population for the two species is some 60,000 animals in an area of about 90,000 km(2) , there is not much time left to make conservation efforts truly effective. Our review discusses what has and has not worked in conservation to guide future conservation efforts.