media release

Orangutans take the logging road

An SFU Faculty of Environment doctoral student has discovered that ‘foot’ travel by Borneo’s shaggy apes may be evolving more than initially thought.

January 27, 2015
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Contact:
Brent Loken, available by email, brent_loken@sfu.ca; skype, brent.loken to set up interviews from Stockholm (nine hours ahead of Vancouver time) 
Carol Thorbes, University Communications, 778.782.3035, cthorbes@sfu.ca

Photos: http://at.sfu.ca/ZGtprL

A new discovery by a Simon Fraser University doctoral student in the School of Resource and Environmental Management, published in Oryx, demonstrates that orangutans may be even more adaptable than he first thought.

In the latest stage of his field research, Brent Loken has observed that the Bornean orangutan not only regularly walks Wehea Forest floors to travel but also hits newly constructed logging roads.

The 38,000 hectare mostly undisturbed rainforest in East Kalimantan, where an international team led by Loken has been studying orangutans and clouded leopards for two and a half years, is surrounded by logging concessions.

To date Loken, a former recipient of the Trudeau Doctoral and Vanier Canada Graduate scholarships, thought that Borneo’s swinging male apes only occasionally dropped down from their rainforest home’s canopies to travel its floor.

Loken’s latest discovery helps to reveal that orangutans may be trying to adapt to the rapid and unprecedented loss of their Borneo habitat, which is increasingly being eroded by timber plantations, agro-forestry and mines.

“These findings indicate these apes’ terrestriality may be a regular strategy employed almost equally by males and females,” says Loken, who co-founded the NGO Integrated Conservation (ICON), after witnessing Borneo’s rapid loss of forest. “We knew that large males tended to walk the ground. However, we found that males and females, even females with babies, were recorded almost equally walking on logging roads, trails and ridges.”

Researchers installed motion-triggered cameras in three regions of the Wehea Forest—one ancient and untouched, one previously logged and recovering, and one region adjacent to Wehea Forest that is now being logged. Daytime photographs of orangutan movements revealed that the apes frequently hike through pristine and regenerating forests, cleared areas, and even along deserted logging roads.

Their expanding avenues of travel may be an adaptive strategy that could improve their chances of surviving sustainable logging. But Loken cautions: “We must be careful not to reinforce the notion that orangutans can survive in any human-altered landscape. They still need trees and lots of them, and the protection of Borneo’s remaining forests should continue to be of the highest priority for Indonesia and the rest of the world.”

Financial support for this research was provided by the following institutions and funding agencies: Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship, Pierre Elliot Trudeau Foundation, LUSH Cosmetics, Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund, Integrated Conservation and the Rufford Small Grants Foundation.

As Canada's engaged university, SFU is defined by its dynamic integration of innovative education, cutting-edge research and far-reaching community engagement. SFU was founded almost 50 years ago with a mission to be a different kind of university—to bring an interdisciplinary approach to learning, embrace bold initiatives, and engage with communities near and far. Today, SFU is a leader amongst Canada's comprehensive research universities and is ranked one of the top universities in the world under 50 years of age. With campuses in British Columbia's three largest cities—Vancouver, Surrey and Burnaby—SFU has eight faculties, delivers almost 150 programs to over 30,000 students, and boasts more than 130,000 alumni in 130 countries around the world.

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