Since 1994 behavioral research on the Suaq orangutans is being carried out with the aim to understand what is needed for their protection as well as to gain insight into human evolution. As the director of the Department of Anthropology of the University of Zürich (AIM), Prof. Dr. Carel van Schaik is supervising the research of the AIM at Suaq, with Dr. Caroline Schuppli managing the research activities of the AIM at the station. Dr. Matthew Nowak is coordinating the activities at Suaq for the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Program (SOCP).

One of the largest databases on orangutan behavior

In the last 20 years we have identified more than 200 orangutans at Suaq. Currently, there is around 60 habituated orangutans of which we follow 40 on a regular basis. Several of these individuals have been followed since the onset of the project, in some cases from birth into adulthood. Our long-term data base covers a time span of more than two decades and more than 10’000 observation hours. This allows us to answer so far unresolved questions on the biology and behavior of this extremely long-lived species. Compiling this data is crucial for developing effective conservation strategies.

Research methods

Our research is strictly noninvasive and largely based on behavioral observations. All researchers follow the same standardized protocol for orangutan data collection (http://www.aim.uzh.ch/de/research/orangutannetwork/sfm.html). Depending on the specific project of the researcher as well as ongoing other projects, additional data is collected. During the course of a normal follow, the travel route of the focal animal is recorded with the help of GPS devices. We also regularly collect fecal and urine samples for genetic and hormone analyses. Genetic analyses help us to determine the relatedness of our study animals.