Bornean Orangutan conservation; Pongo pygmaeus; East Kalimantan, Indonesia
NPR/NGS Radio Expeditions
13 Nov 2002
Two-Track Mono recording
Show: Orangutans - Scott Stanley
Log of DAT #: 1 of 1
Engineer: Studio 3A
SS = Scott Stanley
RJ = Ramon Janis
WB = Wasisto Budiharsoyo
CJ = Christopher Joyce
Yeah, I don't often wear ties. I have to look at the book about how to tie that knot again.
You can get the clip-ons now.
Yeah. It'd be a lot better, certainly quicker.
Um, before we talk about the paper, which I've read which is really fascinating. Let me, radio is no images by definition so we like to give people a feeling and as you and I have spent some time and you far more than I in the rainforest but our listeners haven't. Give me an idea about this place you're in Berau, in East Kalimantan¿what kind of place do you work in? What kind place are the orangutans in.
Well, it's a district of about five million acres. Most of that 90 percent is still forested. That's one of the reasons why we went to this particular district in East Kalimantan. Besides that the local government, which we have one representative here has been very cooperative with us and pretty much have welcomed us and are listening to what we have to say as an example. Uh, Bakwasisa heds up the local planning board and they just recently undertook a spatial plan for Berau, basically ten year guide on what needs to be developed where, what's important to conserve too. And we also looked at what are the areas that are most important, not to turn into national parks but that the forest areas maintain their ecological functions and we identified those areas and he and his organization incorporated every single site including the orangutan site and as I mentioned that's on the border of Berau in lowland rainforest and uh
Can you describe this rainforest for me in a way that somebody can visualize it.
Ah¿good question. Roughly rainforests there are about a hundred and twenty feet tall, on average the tallest trees, and really you're looking at almost this cathedral effect with the trees just shooting up to the sky. You're walking in these forests, light really doesn't penetrate fully. They're a little damp also. It gets about a hundred inches a rain a year.
A little damp.
Yeah a little damp. So when its not raining, its threatening to rain there too but there is a three month dry season. Um the interesting thing about this forest is that in all of Borneo there are 12 species of primates and this one particular area has all twelve. And this is unique to so you walk through the woods and what's interesting for radio listeners especially is you're going to hear gibbons. You're going to hear other calls. You're going to hear hornbills. Helmeted hornbills or rhinoceros hornbills. Their wingspans are five feet from tip to toe and the sounds that they make their calls are just spectacular and then if you're really fortunate you could hear an orangutan long call, which is amazing too in itself.
What-tell me can you describe it?
Uh¿its basically a low, very low, not a growl, but more of grunt. Long drawn out grunt.
I read somewhere that someone had described it as the sound of water running through a steel pipe.
Laughs. Uh perhaps. That wouldn't be how I'd describe it but yeah, that's
How would you describe it?
Yeah. Um¿Pretty much this uh¿I would have to say somebody probably stepping on a tack. And their reaction to stepping on that tack in more of a low guttural sound.
I'm thinking of an obscenity myself.
When they are amazingly intelligent animals from Robert Schumacher's work. So you've obviously spent, doing this research, weeks and weeks and weeks at a time out in this rainforest. The Diptarokarp forest and I'm not actually sure what a Diptarokarp is but its also a peat forest isn't it?
Well there are different for¿orangutan habitat the best habitat is a mosaic of forest types. So there is some peat swamp there but mostly its lowland. And then there's some hill forest that goes all the way up to Montaine forest, and because Orangutans have to migrate based on when the trees are fruiting, ideally these trees fruit at different times based on where they are and their elevational gradients and their best habitat is a variety of different forest types.
And so because its not like here in the temperate climate where you know all your apple trees and all your pear trees ripen at the same time and there its continuous but different parts of the forest so that means not only do they have to keep moving but you have to keep moving to find them.
Oh very much. Very much, yeah. Our survey teams typically spend about 6 weeks at a time in the forest and these are areas that are extremely remote. First we have to drive in a four wheel drive jeep about two hours to get to the closest village. And its an indigenous Dayak village and then we take a small motorized canoe up a river for about two days, and that's where we start walking and our survey teams will end up walking between 70 to 100 kilometers at a time each session that they're out looking for the orangutans.
And this isn't walking down a country lane.
No, uh, it's up and down very steep, at times so steep that you have to pull yourself up using vines. Extremely, extremely rugged terrain that these forests are on.
Yeah I was looking at some photographs. Some people have an image of some rainforests being nice and flat, but most of the time they're these ravines and streambeds and that sort of thing.
Well very much because this is the area that's still left unlogged and it also means that logging, this is the area that's most difficult to log. And this is really a last refuge in East Kalimantan for a sizeable viable population of orangutans. We're roughly looking at about 300,000 acres or so for this one continuous areas that we've identified in our surveys.
So tell me a bit about the survey you were out there for weeks at a time. How do you calculate, you don't see many of these orangutans. They're pretty reclusive, they're hard to see. They live in the trees. The only¿the largest arboreal primate. As well as the only great ape outside of Africa, so how do you spot them?
Yeah that's a good question Chris. What we do is we look for their nest. Orangutans are unique and as you say they are the only great ape that build..that live in the trees and each night typically they will build one nest per night to sleep in. So what we've found is much more accurate and 20 years of research has shown that looking for their nest is a much better way because their nest obviously don't move. The other thing is that this area still is undergoing some hunting pressure so these indigenous Dayak tribes that are there need protein and unfortunately, orangutan is an excellent source of protein and one of the things that we're trying to work on is provide alternative sources of protein for them too and because of the hunting pressure these orangutans are even more elusive. We find it much more¿because of that we find it much more reliable and accurate to count the number of nests.
Now when you see a nest do you equate that with a single individual? Cause if they build a different nest every night you see five nests. Is that one individual or five?
Well what we do is we look at decomposition rates of the nest too and they are grated by how old the nest are in different categories and we use formula for really estimating how many individuals are there. That's based on the decomposition rate in the nest. It's also based on.. there's a factor, each orangutan there may be orangutan who build two nest in a day. And based on 20-25 years of research we can build these factors or constants into our equation to give us a fairly reliable estimate of the population.
Decomposition meaning it just looks old and worn out?
Yeah, yeah that's right because a nest will, our estimate is about 320 days or so, the nest of totally decomposes and we can use that estimate to give us a good guide to estimating the population.
And so you get one. I mean these aren't group individuals. Its not like a silver backed gorilla with its harem.
No, orangutans especially orangutans in Borneo, they're not social animals customarily. So they're solitary most of the time. In high fruiting times you may see several close together but usually they're isolated individuals.
Have you come face to face with one in the wild?
Oh very much. Yeah my first experience was in west Kalimantan in a peat swamp area where typically abundance of orangutans are higher. It was incredible because it was at dusk. It was a little but of a water hole there. I was going to shower. That's where we shower in these waterholes and I heard this noise in the bushes and it sounded like this has got to be an animals that's big and I got closer and all of a sudden I was about ten feet away staring right in his face of a male fully grown orangutan that weighed probably as much as I did and I think we were both shocked. He took off the nearest tree and I just stood there dumbfounded. It was incredible experience. Hard not to believe in evolution when you come that close and you see how similar they really are to us.
And at the same time very different from other apes.
Yes. Very different. AS we have already said they are arboreal first of all so they spend almost their entire lifetime in the trees. Males do come down. They come down for water. They come down to forage too. Females almost never come down out of the trees.
So you've gone out and spent all this time, real quality vacations style time. Club Med in the forest. This has got to be rugged. I presume you're sleeping on the ground or in hammocks every night. Were you a hammock guy or were you a tent guy?
Well, no I'm neither. What we use is called pole beds. And they're really like canvas leaves. They're about 5 to 6 feet long and we slide them between poles and we make this little frame in the woods and we use these pole beds to sleep on and they're actually quite comfortable. It's something like a cot basically and then we have a tarp over. Typically at night it does rain, but once again it just makes it a lot easier to sleep.
How about koolabras?
Ah snakes. Yeah well snakes.
Sorry I always have to ask this question.
Snakes are an aspect. However, I think in my time in the woods, I've probably seen maybe five or six venomous snakes. There are king cobras there and there are other snakes too but normally its not a problem.
I know Costa Rica has an unfortunately high rate of _____. Well anyway¿That's my own personal thing. Your paper you've gone out and found something that has never been found before so tell me what you've found.
Basically we've been ahh¿concerned about the loss of habitat in East Kalimantan for orangutans and many people thought that there really was no more considerable habitat left in east Kalimantan because of the large scale fires that happened there in recent years and also because of the hunting and poaching that has gone on. We had an idea that in this district of Berau in East Kalimantan there were still orangutans. We didn't know how many were still there but villagers were telling us that they did see orangutans so we sent survey teams out with funding from the United States government US Aid, and over the course of about 6 months we identified a population, estimated a population somewhere between 1,500-2,000 orangutans and this is considerable in an area where people thought they just did not exist or existed in very small numbers and if you look at the worlds total population, what remains in the wild¿probably no more than 20,000 individuals. So this could be us to 10% of the world's population.
Are you saying that you've identified 10% of the existing population or are you going to raise the number of orangutans believed to be in the wild now?
Well yeah, no, that's a good question Chris because uh¿this will probably raise the number of orangutans. If you look at the estimates today, all the estimates are in national parks. The area that we surveyed is not a national park. There are actually timber concessions that overlap this area. And because of this, because it is a relatively unknown before we surveyed this will raise the estimate some.
That's good news. Well we think so. We think it is good news. It also means that East Kalimantan has a chance to preserve a large track of lowland rainforest for this habitat. I should mentions to that it's not only for orangutans that we're working in this area. We aren't focused on one species. The nature conservancy looks at conserving habitat for various species and the local communities are our allies because they're heavily forest dependent. Their hunting, their collecting from non-timber forest products all come from healthy forests too. So they very much see us as an ally.
Are there many plantations here? Or is this primarily a place that's just indigenous groups or are there farming. Or are there pepper and palm oil plantations?
No, there is one large-scale plantation by this orangutan area that was made probably four or five years ago by a company that is now bankrupt actually, unfortunately. There are not any large-scale pressures at this moment to deforest vast swafts of area. The real threat comes from uncontrolled logging. The real threat comes from fires on a large scale too and normally is followed after uncontrolled logging. \
The peat dries out. If it is peat forest. There was a paper in Nature or Science recently I think which I did a story about. The peat dries out and what starts the fire?
Well normally its started by large scale agribusiness. At least that's what's happened in the 97-98 fires. We have evidence that suggests that most of these fires start in industrial type plantations for oil palm for plantations for pulp. And very little has actually started by indigenous communities. They do use fire but they're pretty careful with fire because they also have forest gardens and they don't want to see those forest gardens burn. As I said, these people are heavily dependent on healthy forests too.
Before we invite the other gentlemen in do we have any questions that I've overlooked? I'm sure there are¿or anything you want to that we didn't talk about.
Uh¿yeah¿Good question. It's pretty much I think what is important is how we're going to go about conserving this area. The find is important and for media people perhaps it's the story, but for us the real story looks at how we can serve this area, and its not about creating a national park at the moment because Indonesia's in a prolonged economic crisis and they just cannot afford to do that to lose the opportunity costs from economic development. However, we think the key though is to work with these timber concessions. There are five of them in this area and the real key is to identify critical habitat where no logging should take place and usually that number is going to be correlated with the number of fruit trees. And if we get a very abundant area of fruit trees for orangutan then we would probably classify that area as critical and we look at ways of compensating these companies for not logging that particular area. However, in other areas what we will promote is really best management practices through certification. Certification is now coming on line. Home Depot, for instance, has made a commitment to only buy certified wood, and this is really one way that the average American consumer can help participate in conservation is to look for certified wood. Because what that really means is a company is exercising reduced impact logging. Its exercising also really the best possible management in reducing environmental impact. And plus certification under most schemes means that they looks at social aspects so they look at making sure that these communities that surround these timber concessions participate and gain benefit and that's one of our goals to is to make sure that the communities have a right and a say in what goes on in managing the natural resources that surround these areas. So really that's the key in my opinion is how we go about conserving these areas and if you look at the tropical rainforest today it's only about 6% that's in protected areas. Most of the biodiversity in the world is actually in production forest areas, and our real goal is to create models whereby countries can still gain economic benefit, communities can have more say in participation, but also conservation aspects are looked at and addressed. So this is the model that we are promoting with local government and it gains almost immediate buy in from them. Otherwise that would be the real challenge. We have to create substantial and sufficient incentives for three stakeholder groups to participate and that's local government, forest dependent communities and forest industry. And if we don't then probably long term conservation just don't succeed.
That's the hard part. The easy part is counting the nests.
Yeah. That's right.
Jess, you said you had questions? (pause) No it's not a new species.
Well there are now two different species of orangutans. The Sumatran orangutan and the Bornean orangutan.
Is it a species or a subspecies?
It's a species now. They're actually different. They're behavior is slightly different too. So it's interesting. The have some slight physiological differences but behavioral differences also.
Do you think that if you looked a little harder you might find some more populations that are hiding out.
Well, it's possible. One of the things we've done at the Nature Conservancy in East Kalimantan is do an extensive landscape analysis of the entire province and the province is huge. It's the size of Germany, the combined Germanys. Or in a scale on the US it's really looking at Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Connecticut¿all combined together. So we're looking at a huge area. Ummm¿We, over the course of one year, have done a vast landscape analysis to see what areas in East Kalimantan deserve special conservation. As I mentioned it's not about creating more national parks necessarily but its about providing enough incentives so that the ecological functions of these areas are maintained. Uh and in our opinion we believe that orangutans are out there still but they are in isolated areas and we have to look at concentrating our resources on viable populations and that really means large areas at least over 50,000 hectares or in acres that's roughly about 120,000 acres and there just are not that many areas out there. In East Kalimantan we feel there really aren't with orangutans, still lots of forest left but if we look at where they naturally occur, Berau, this district of Berau is really our last chance to save the orangutans at a viable population level, in an area that's extremely important.
It's about 6 per square mile, your calculations are.
If we have some time I think that we should invite the other folks in.
They haven't found a new species Jess.
Well then hold, hold them out there for¿How did you first know there was a new population?
Well, it was through the results of our surveys, and actually from just uh¿the reports of our field crews too indicated that here we stumbled on an area that was extremely dense. If you look at where they occur in national parks like Tanjung Puting National Park or Gunung Palung National Park the density per square mile or per square kilometer is actually very similar to the most densely populated national parks. So we first really realized this after all our data came back and we started adding up these numbers and going through the formulas that allow us to estimate these populations. We were frankly surprised. We had no idea that they would be at this level, at this density.
It occurred to you when you were back home doing the calculations. How about when you were out there? Were you scratching your head and saying wait a minute, we're seeing a lot of nests here that we weren't expecting?
Yeah, that too. That too, but you get involved in the job, like any job and sometimes you can see the trees from the forest. Uhhh¿so even now we knew that we were counting a lot of nests and that meant there's a lot of orangutans building these nests we really had no idea the significance of our find until we ran the numbers through and that's when we realized that we've actually got an area here that has a substantial population and actually if we look at all the entire island of Borneo this may be the largest population on the island of Borneo. We still have many more surveys. We have a survey in the field at this moment. So, we can't be absolutely sure, but the data suggests that this could be one of the largest populations if not the largest on the island of Borneo.
What do field biologists do to celebrate a thing like that?
Uh¿Yeah¿talk to me tonight and I'll let you know. My schedule really has been super hectic so not only are we looking at orangutan surveys but we're really looking at the district of Berau as a model and that means looking at the marine environment. It actually is an area that has the largest rookery for green sea turtles too in Indonesia and its Manta ray aggregating point too on one island. So, uh, tremendously varied area and we can't focus on just one area but it makes my job pretty hectic.
Is there room for Scott to stay?
No. Scott sorry. Although we may ask you back in.
Nice to meet you. Thanks for coming and talking to us.
If I remember correctly Ramon? Or I should call you Ramon or Mr. Janis? Is it Ramon or Janis or?
And your name again is?
Upi, I can remember Upi.
I will answer Indonesian and she translate.
That's fine. That's fine thank you. I was going to say I know Apakabar and Trimakasi. I lived in Jakarta in 1960-1961.
Oh yes. I just born.
Sakarna was president. Very different time. Very different time, very interesting place. Are you from Jakarta?
No, from Surabaya. Right by Java as I recall.
And you're from what part?
I'm from Bagore.
Bagore, I've been to Bagore, yes it's beautiful. It's a very nice place. I lived in¿.. you've been to Jakarta? I lived in Jalanjibitong in Kabayaran. Kabayaran and my school was Jalanpatimura. It's an international school. Is it still there. It's so long, 40 years. That's a great place. I really enjoyed it and I still remember Rambootan. And manis, I wish I could find manis somewhere. I don't remember, but I remember durian and I don't want to ever see durian again. And this is durian I think that Orangutan eat.
says something, can't understand
Although my father used to eat durian, but I'll let the orangutan have the durian.
Engineer dealing with translation issues.
Are you from Jakarta?
Yeah I lived most of my life in Jakarta but I was raised in all parts of Indonesia. Ethnically speaking I'm from West Sumatra but I spent a lot of time in Lambok, childhood years.
Lambok, yeah. No, I never got to Sumatra. But Punjok and Bogore and Bali.
Were you a kid when you were in Jakarta?
Yeah. 1961. You need me to do what? OK. OK. I'll remind her. Can you each say your name so we can identify the name with the location. Which microphone you're at.
OK, I am Ramon Janis. Head of East Kalimantan nature conservancy forestry office from minister of forestry. I have responsibility to maintain biodiversity in East Kalimantan. And also some conservation there.
I'm Wasisto, ___________. I'm head of Berau plan agency of the government. I responsible for budgeting and planning and also decision making in our region especially in the agency of Berau.
I should ask either one of you who wants to answer. If you can tell me a bit about the orangutan in East Kalimantan. What does it mean. Oh we need to get a level. Could you tell me speaking into the mike what you do.
My name is Upi Jalens. I'm a deputy grant manager for global alliance at TNC.
Is that enough? OK. Um¿tell me a bit about the orangutan in Indonesian society in Kalimantan especially. How is the orangutan viewed by people.
Maybe better talking in Indonesian language?
You can translate for us?
He'd like to answer that in Indonesian.
35.23 RJ in Indonesian
All the ___ in Kalimantan are a distinct group from two orangutans there's another group of orangutan in Sumatra. They usually live in lowland forest from 100 meters to 500 meters maximum.
And tell me a little bit more about the people who live there and if there is conflict between the people and the orangutan, what the pressures are that people bring to the orangutan population.
36.33 RJ in Indonesian
There are quite a pressure for the orangutans. First is because it's so cute. They are so cute that people like to keep them as pets. And because of that there's an economic value to it. There's poaching of orangutans to be sold at the market or exported to some countries as pets. On the other hand orangutan is also a source of energy of protein for the native Kalimantan, native Borneos as they have a tendency, they have a leaning to hunt to um uh¿ they hunt the orangutan as sources of protein.
You can sit back. You don't have to sit so close. That's fine. That's a good distance thank you. That's a very nice translation thank you. It makes me feel good to hear Indonesian again. It's been 40 years since I've heard Indonesian. It's coming back. Wasisto, let me ask you about your trip here. You're coming here to learn about sustainable forestry. What do you hope to learn that will help preserve the forest where the orangutan live.
39.12 WB in Indonesian
Thank you for the opportunity. I'm here to learn how an area, a region, especially a forest can be managed sustainably. It is important. I personally understand. I personally believe that or I'm personally aware that 2/3 of the Berau region is covered by forest and is currently being exploited. There's a lot of interest invested there so it enhances the importance of me to understand the experiences in the states and with regard to sustainable forest management that is friendly to the environment and has a viable future.
Do you think. I mean, Indonesia is a very old country with strong traditions, the Dayak people have lived that way from a long long time. How easy will it be to change traditions to do forestry in a different way. Is it possible?
41.18 RJ in Indonesian
Actually I see that current exploitation of the forest is in contrary to the traditional practices of the local community. I believe that the question is now how the forest could be used as a habitat, maintained as a habitat for the local community but still have an economic value both to the community and to the local government. There are¿the question now is how we can balance the benefit of the forest to the local community as their habitat and the interest of investors and how the forest can be managed in a sustainable way and friendly to the environment and for achieve the government development objective.
I understand that Home Depot is going to possibly donate a million dollars for forestry in this region. Is that a lot of money in East Kalimantan and what would you do with a million dollars?
43.29 RJ in Indonesian
It is the million dollars is going to the Nature Conservancy.
I think that the forest in Kalimantan is so huge and the issues, the problems being faced is quite complex. With such figure we cannot really say if its enough or not enough. It depends on what we're going to do. For example the budget for each national park in Indonesia is about 1 million- 1 trillion rupee a years, which equals to about 1,000 US dollars (*note: double check conversion). So with that amount of money, with 1 million dollars it depends on the problems faced in the field and what we intend to achieve but I seriously, I definitely think that the benefits that we will gain from the money from the fund will be much more than the face value of the money.
We have just enough time I think for one more question. Let me just ask either or both of you if there is just one thing that you need the most to preserve this land for not just the orangutan but for the indigenous people for the farmers for everyone there so that they all can survive. What's the one most important thing?
46.10 WB in Indonesian
I see that the most important thing that we could use that we could do is to create well planned, special plan so we can allocate, we can manage which area, which zone will be used as a production forest conversion forest or conservation forest. It's important for us to learn from now on managing the special plan.
The spatial plan, what is a spatial plan?
47.19 WB in Indonesian
Spatial plan is we analyze the area. We study them and we see which area is more suitable for forestry for industry for residential areas and based on that we can have a good plan in our development.
Anything else? Are we going to be thrown out of the studio?
Can I add something?
You said you wanted to say one more thing?
49.03 WB in Indonesian
What I mean by spatial plan, the concept of spatial plan I mentioned earlier is a multi-stakeholder, using a multi-stakeholder approach involving community participation, also involving the investors and private sectors then accommodated by the government by involving all these different stakeholders we believed that the spatial plan is not left as a dead document but as implementable living among the community.
Thank you very much. I appreciate you coming all this way. It was very, very kind of you to talk with us.
Yeah. That's a good idea. Can you tell me how you want to be identified as to your job or your affiliation? What your title is?
Kapalopopoda in Indonesian. Popoda means the port or the agency of development plan.
He's the chairman of the development planning agency.
In East Kalimantan?
In Berau, in Berau agency.
Yes. I'm head of agency of forest conservation, forest protection and also conservation.
For East Kalimantan province. Part of Central Government organization.
Of Jakarta or of¿
For the country not just for Kalimantan. And you're both from Balikpapan or Sumarinda.
I'm from Berau
I'm from Samarinda.
OK, well someday I hope to be there. Oh no it could be a long wait but it would be nice. And save some rabootan and some manis for me.
52.05 END OF DAT