Orangutan behavioral research

Understanding to be able to protect

The first goal of the behavioral research at Suaq is understand the derived biology of the Sumatran orangutans. This data is crucial for developing effective conservation strategies which are the key to secure their survival. We can only protect orangutans in the long run through knowing exactly how they live and what they need to survive. Since orangutans, aside from humans, have the slowest life history of any mammal species, it takes decades of research to get insight into even basic orangutan biology. The long-term data base compiled at Suaq offers the unique opportunity to provide this exact data.

More than 25 years of data

At Suaq we are building a unique long-term data base. Following individuals from birth into adulthood we found that some females must be in their sixties and still successfully raise infants. With an age of 15-16 years at first reproduction, the Suaq orangutans develop even slower than previously assumed. Infant orangutans at Suaq stay up to 10 years with their mothers which only have a new baby every 7-9 years. We are now collecting the first data on mortality, reproductive senescence and ecological parameters such as the amount of space they need or how they cope with feeding competition.

Shedding light on human evolution

By studying the behavior of the Suaq orangutans we aim to gain insight into human evolution as well as broader evolutionary process, such as cognitive evolution. Orangutans are one of human’s closest relatives and show significant behavioral and ecological variation across populations and species, which makes them an ideal model taxa for these questions. The Suaq orangutans in particular show a remarkable level of behavioral flexibility which is most likely associated with high cognitive abilities. They are thus a very interesting model species for human evolution.

Conservation

Although the Suaq forest is located within a National Park, it is unfortunately heavily affected by increasing illegal logging activities. One of the core interests of the Suaq project is habitat protection. By maintaining our activities at the research station and working closely together with the local communities we help to effectively protect the Suaq forest and its surroundings.

Monitoring patrols

We conduct regular monitoring patrols of the research area and its surroundings. These patrols are lead by our local staff at the research station. All illegal activities are hereby documented and subsequently reported to responsible authorities. We also involve the surrounding communities by helping them to to develop systematic community patrols. These patrols prove to be highly efficient.

Working with the local communities

The Suaq Project is in constant dialogue and has excellent relations to the local villages, which is a crucial part for effective conservation work. The research station offers more than 10 permanent position to locals as field technicians, boat drivers, cooks or guards. Furthermore, we have a system of rotating temporary positions. These jobs are well liked alternatives to illegal logging as a sources of income.

Empowering the local communities

We are currently in the middle of the launching of empowerment projects with the local communities around Suaq. The goal hereby is to help local people to establish alternative sources of income to illegal logging. Sustainable conservation can only work long term if the local community is placed in a position to support themselves or derives some form of benefit from conserving the forest.

Suaq as a platform for Indonesian and foreign researchers

The Suaq research station is a platform for field work of students and researchers from all over the world. It also offers Indonesian students the opportunity to conduct their projects in collaboration and with the support of the AIM. Since 2007, a total of 17 Bachelors-, Masters- and PhD projects have been conducted at Suaq by Indonesian students from UNAS, students of the University of Zürich, as well as other European Universities. Many of these projects have resulted in publications in high ranking scientific journals.