media release

Loss of habitat forcing orangutans to forest floor

August 01, 2013

Brent Loken, SFU Resource and Environmental Management, 604.898.2235,
Dixon Tam, SFU media relations, 778.782.8742,

(Note: Brent has just returned from Borneo and is also available to do interviews during the B.C. Day long weekend.)

Photos for download:

A study from Simon Fraser University researcher Brent Loken shows orangutans spend a surprising amount of time walking on the ground, a discovery that may have implications for conservation efforts.

The PhD candidate co-authored a paper in the American Journal of Primatology with Stephanie Spehar from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh after an expedition in the East Kalimantan region of Borneo.

Their research in Wehea Forest, a known biodiversity hotspot for primates, revealed that it’s common for orangutans to come down from trees to forage and travel.

A series of remote cameras placed in a 38-kilometre region of the forest successfully caught evidence of the primates coming down from trees. The amount of time the orangutans spent on the forest floor was comparable to ground-dwelling pig-tailed macaque, which is equally abundant in the area.

Why the orangutans do it remains a mystery. However, while the absence of large predators may make it safer to walk on the forest floor, a more pressing influence is the rapid and unprecedented loss of Borneo‘s orangutan habitat.

“Borneo is a network of timber plantations, agro-forestry areas and mines, with patches of natural forest,” says Loken, who is a Squamish, B.C., resident. “The transformation of the landscape could be forcing orangutans to change their habitat and their behaviour.”

This research helps to reveal how orangutans can adapt to their changing landscape. However, this does not suggest they can just walk to new territory if their habitat is destroyed.

Simon Fraser University is Canada's top-ranked comprehensive university and one of the top 50 universities in the world under 50 years old. With campuses in Vancouver, Burnaby and Surrey, B.C., SFU engages actively with the community in its research and teaching, delivers almost 150 programs to more than 30,000 students, and has more than 120,000 alumni in 130 countries.


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