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.
Balancing economic development with international commitments to protect biodiversity is a global challenge. Achieving this balance requires an understanding of the possible consequences of alternative future scenarios for a range of stakeholders. We employ an integrated economic and environmental planning approach to evaluate four alternative futures for the mega-diverse island of Borneo. We show what could be achieved if the three national jurisdictions of Borneo coordinate efforts to achieve their public policy targets and allow a partial reallocation of planned land uses. We reveal the potential for Borneo to simultaneously retain ∼50% of its land as forests, protect adequate habitat for the Bornean orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus) and Bornean elephant (Elephas maximus borneensis), and achieve an opportunity cost saving of over US$43 billion. Such coordination would depend on enhanced information sharing and reforms to land-use planning, which could be supported by the increasingly international nature of economies and conservation efforts.
Despite the implications for the development of life-history traits, endocrine-immune trade-offs in apes are not well studied. This is due, in part, to difficulty in sampling wild primates, and lack of methods available for immune measures using samples collected noninvasively. Evidence for androgen-mediated immune trade-offs in orangutans is virtually absent, and very little is known regarding their pattern of adrenal development and production of adrenal androgens. To remedy both of these deficiencies, sera were collected from orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus morio) (N = 38) at the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, Sabah, Malaysia, during routine health screenings. Testosterone, dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), and dehydroepiandrosterone-sulfate (DHEA-S) were assayed, along with two measures of functional innate immunity. DHEA-S concentrations, but not DHEA, increased with age in this sample of 1-18 year old animals. DHEA concentrations were higher in animals with higher levels of serum bacteria killing ability, while DHEA-S and testosterone concentrations were higher in animals with reduced complement protein activity. Patterns of DHEA-S concentration in this sample are consistent with patterns of adrenarche observed in other apes. Results from this study suggest that in addition to testosterone, DHEA and DHEA-S may have potent effects on immunological activity in this species.
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.
The Bukit Merah Orang Utan Island (OUI) Foundation has been conducting behavioral and veterinary research on orangutans as an attempt at ex situ conservation. Since 2010, the Primate Research Institute, Kyoto University has been collaborating with OUI to promote environmental enrichment and infant rearing by biological mothers in addition to the continuous efforts of refining the veterinary management of the endangered species. In 2011, three Bornean orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus pygmaeus) were released on an island, called BJ Island, adjacent to OUI. This island is approximately 5.6 ha in size, and 635 trees belonging to 102 plant species were identified prior to their release. Behavioral monitoring of the released individuals has been conducted to evaluate their behavioral adaptation to the new environment. Two of the three released orangutans were born in the wild, whereas the youngest individual was born on OUI and expected to learn forest survival strategies from the two older individuals. One of the orangutans was pregnant at the time of release and subsequently gave birth to two male infants on BJ Island. The behavioral monitoring indicated that these orangutans traveled more and spent more time on trees following their release onto BJ Island. However, resting was longer for two females both on OUI and BJ Island when compared to other populations. The orangutans consumed some natural food resources on BJ Island. The release into a more naturalistic environment may help the orangutans to develop more naturalistic behavioral patterns that resemble their wild counterparts.
The conservation of charismatic and functionally important large species is becoming increasingly difficult. Anthropogenic pressures continue to squeeze available habitat and force animals into degraded and disturbed areas. Ensuring the long-term survival of these species requires a well-developed understanding of how animals use these new landscapes to inform conservation and habitat restoration efforts. We combined 3 y of highly detailed visual observations of Bornean orangutans with high-resolution airborne remote sensing (Light Detection and Ranging) to understand orangutan movement in disturbed and fragmented forests of Malaysian Borneo. Structural attributes of the upper forest canopy were the dominant determinant of orangutan movement among all age and sex classes, with orangutans more likely to move in directions of increased canopy closure, tall trees, and uniform height, as well as avoiding canopy gaps and moving toward emergent crowns. In contrast, canopy vertical complexity (canopy layering and shape) did not affect movement. Our results suggest that although orangutans do make use of disturbed forest, they select certain canopy attributes within these forests, indicating that not all disturbed or degraded forest is of equal value for the long-term sustainability of orangutan populations. Although the value of disturbed habitats needs to be recognized in conservation plans for wide-ranging, large-bodied species, minimal ecological requirements within these habitats also need to be understood and considered if long-term population viability is to be realized.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The conversion of forest to agriculture continues to contribute to the loss and fragmentation of remaining orang-utan habitat. There are still few published estimates of orang-utan densities in these heavily modified agricultural areas to inform range-wide population assessments and conservation strategies. In addition, little is known about what landscape features promote orang-utan habitat use. Using indirect nest count methods, we implemented surveys and estimated population densities of the Northeast Bornean orang-utan (Pongo pygmaeus morio) across the continuous logged forest and forest remnants in a recently salvage-logged area and oil palm plantations in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo. We then assessed the influence of landscape features and forest structural metrics obtained from LiDAR data on estimates of orang-utan density. Recent salvage logging appeared to have a little short-term effect on orang-utan density (2.35 ind/km 2 ), which remained similar to recovering logged forest nearby (2.32 ind/km 2 ). Orang-utans were also present in remnant forest patches in oil palm plantations, but at significantly lower numbers (0.82 ind/km 2 ) than nearby logged forest and salvage-logged areas. Densities were strongly influenced by variation in canopy height but were not associated with other potential covariates. Our findings suggest that orang-utans currently exist, at least in the short-term, within human-modified landscapes, providing that remnant forest patches remain. We urge greater recognition of the role that these degraded habitats can have in supporting orang-utan populations, and that future range-wide analyses and conservation strategies better incorporate data from human-modified landscapes.
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.
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.
Reports of wild great ape fatalities have been very limited, and only two have described wild orangutan deaths. We found a wounded juvenile female Bornean orangutan on 7 October 2006 in the Danum Valley, Sabah, Malaysia, and observed the individual's behavior for 7 days until her death on 13 October 2006. The 5-6-year-old orangutan, which we had observed since 2004, was wounded in the left brachium, back, and right hand. The individual's behavior changed after injury; the mean nest-nest active time became significantly shorter than before injury (from 12 h 3 min to 9 h 33 min), the mean waking time became significantly later (0552-0629 hours) and the mean bedtime became significantly earlier (from 1747 to 1603 hours). In the activity budget, resting increased significantly from 28.0 to 53.3%. Traveling and feeding decreased significantly from 23.5 to 12.7% and from 45.6 to 32.8%, respectively. The rate of brachiation during traveling and nest making decreased, whereas ground activity increased from 0 to 9%. We observed one vomiting incident and four occurrences of watery diarrhea during the 7 days before the individual died. The results of an autopsy performed by a local veterinarian suggested that the cause of death was septicemia because of Pseudomonas aeruginosa infection of the severely contaminated wounds. The morphology and distribution of the wounds suggested they had been incurred during an attack by a large animal with fangs and/or claws. This juvenile female became independent of its mother at ~4-5 years of age, slightly earlier than average. This individual might have been vulnerable to predatory attack because of her small body size (~5 kg at death) and lack of the mother's protection.
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.
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.
Unsustainable exploitation of natural resources is increasingly affecting the highly biodiverse tropics [1, 2]. Although rapid developments in remote sensing technology have permitted more precise estimates of land-cover change over large spatial scales [3-5], our knowledge about the effects of these changes on wildlife is much more sparse [6, 7]. Here we use field survey data, predictive density distribution modeling, and remote sensing to investigate the impact of resource use and land-use changes on the density distribution of Bornean orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus). Our models indicate that between 1999 and 2015, half of the orangutan population was affected by logging, deforestation, or industrialized plantations. Although land clearance caused the most dramatic rates of decline, it accounted for only a small proportion of the total loss. A much larger number of orangutans were lost in selectively logged and primary forests, where rates of decline were less precipitous, but where far more orangutans are found. This suggests that further drivers, independent of land-use change, contribute to orangutan loss. This finding is consistent with studies reporting hunting as a major cause in orangutan decline [8-10]. Our predictions of orangutan abundance loss across Borneo suggest that the population decreased by more than 100,000 individuals, corroborating recent estimates of decline . Practical solutions to prevent future orangutan decline can only be realized by addressing its complex causes in a holistic manner across political and societal sectors, such as in land-use planning, resource exploitation, infrastructure development, and education, and by increasing long-term sustainability . VIDEO ABSTRACT.
Designed as a new method to facilitate the reintroduction and post-release monitoring of orangutans and other apes, implanted radio-telemetry (IRT) was developed and first deployed in 2009. Since that time, it has been necessary to collate and review information on its uptake and general efficacy to inform its ongoing development and that of other emerging tracking technologies. We present here technical specifications and the surgical procedure used to implant miniaturized radio transmitters, as well as a formal testing procedure for measuring detectable transmission distances of implanted devices. Feedback from IRT practitioners (veterinarians and field managers) was gathered through questionnaires and is also presented. To date, IRT has been used in at least 250 individual animals (mainly orangutans) from four species of ape in both Asia and Africa. Median surgical and wound healing times were 30 min and 15 days, respectively, with implants needing to be removed on at least 36 separate occasions. Confirmed failures within the first year of operation were 18.1%, while longer distances were reported from positions of higher elevation relative to the focal animal. IRT has been a transformational technology in facilitating the relocation of apes after their release, resulting in much larger amounts of post-release data collection than ever before. It is crucial however, that implant casings are strengthened to prevent the requirement for recapture and removal surgeries, especially for gradually adapting apes. As with all emerging technological solutions, IRT carries with it inherent risk, especially so due to the requirement for subcutaneous implantation. These risks must, however, be balanced with the realities of releasing an animal with no means of relocation, as has historically been, and is still, the case with orangutans and gorillas.