HOT NEWS
image
image
image

The Orangutan Health Project story

THE PAST – PROJECT HISTORY

The Orangutan Health Project has been conducting research on the Sumatran orangutan since 1999 and Ivona Foitova is the founder and head researcher of the project. She holds a degree in veterinary medicine and a PhD in wildlife disease. The project, a first for orangutans, integrates many different fields of study, involving scientists from different parts of the world with a wide scope of research and collateral information.

Originally, the project consisted of just Ivona and one Field Assistant. It has taken many small steps for the project to get to where it is today.

GETTING STARTED IN INDONESIA

Ivona originally came to Indonesia in 1995 under the auspices of UMI – The Saving of Pongidae Foundation to begin looking for a site to conduct research with topic of self medical behavioural in orangutan – “Parasites and Natural Antiparasitics in Orangutans”. After searching for sites on both Borneo and Sumatra, she ultimately decided on Sumatra on two sites: Bukit Lawang and Ketambe with building base in Bukit Lawang. Besides orangutans being more endangered on Sumatra, a rehabilitation centre for formerly captive orangutans had been established in 1973 in Bukit Lawang, which re-introduced over 225 orangutans back into the wild up through its closing in 2001. Thus, Bukit Lawang was an ideal place for Ivona to base her research, as it would be possible to study semi-wild as well as wild orangutan populations to obtain comparative data.

It took Ivona four years to obtain all of the necessary permits, from various Indonesian governmental agencies, before her field work could begin. During this time, Ivona was able to develop contacts with many local Indonesian organisations, including with Gadjah Mada University (GMU) in Yogyakarta, Java, the oldest and largest university in Indonesia. GMU recommended Ivona for her research goals and field work finally began in 1999.

The work that Ivona conducted while obtaining her PhD showed that wild orangutans are healthier than semi-wild orangutans and the Orangutan Health Project is now an extension of that, examining why. UMI, the foundation that provided the initial support that allowed Ivona to begin her research and whose main interest lies in research that benefits both wild and captive great apes and primates, decided to make a commitment to OHP. UMI decided to allocate most of its resources to the project, a commitment that continues to this day. Ivona, herself, continues to work for UMI as a scientific advisor.

THE NEED FOR VOLUNTEERS

In 2000, it was decided that volunteers were needed to aid further data collection and to increase financial support of the research. The essence of the project is data – the more data, the better the conclusions that can be drawn. Ivona began to recruit volunteers and one of the first volunteers for the project returned to be the first Project Assistant in 2001. From that point on, the project has continued to recruit both volunteers and Project Assistants from various sources.

RELOCATION OF THE PROJECT BASE

In November 2003, a devastating flash flood occurred in Bukit Lawang. At least 400 people died, decimating the village and destroying the OHP office and accommodation, which were some of the first structures swept away by the river. After losing all project equipment and large amounts of data and samples, Ivona almost ended the project; however, she was able to raise enough funds to replace equipment lost in the flood and to build a new project base. In January 2004, the new project base was established in the rice fields of Timbang Lawan, a village located approximately seven kilometres from the old project location, and in February 2004, collection of data and samples from the same orangutan population re-commenced.

THE PRESENT & FUTURE

CURRENT PROJECT WORK

2009 marks the 10-Year Anniversary for OHP. The project continues with its basic focus: Investigating the special behaviours and ecological conditions necessary for the maintenance of health in wild orangutans, using parasitic infections as a measure of this health. The most essential factor in getting good accurate results from data is sufficient observation periods. Only LONG-term research can provide sufficient data. Through our continuing research at various different sites (in Bukit Lawang, Ketambe and Suaq on Sumatra, and in Sebangau and Tuanan on Kalimantan), OHP aims to understand how orangutans combat parasite infection that affects their health, reproduction and, ultimately, their survival. As a result of this research, new avenues will hopefully be opened up for use in human medicine. It may also help to shed light on the human-primate relationship – most importantly, the health risks associated with co-existence.

By comparing the health of wild and semi-wild orangutans, at different sites and under varying degrees of human pressure, OHP has begun to build a picture of the factors affecting health in these two equally important populations. OHP’s unique approach enables us to investigate whether complex aspects of ethology and ecology influence parasite infections and how parasites may have an impact on whole ecosystems, out of all proportion to their relative size.

FUTURE PROJECT GOALS

BATU RONGRING

In the not too distant future, the project seeks to establish a new research station Batu Rongring in North Sumatra, with research, conservation and education interests in mind. The primary objectives for the new site are the conservation and protection of orangutans and their habitat, employment and education of local Indonesians, further educational opportunities for university students, and collection of census data on a previously unstudied orangutan population. Though still in the planning and approval stages, preliminary preparations have already begun and Ivona is actively seeking the vital funding needed for this very important and exciting proposed new site.

The site for the new research station is located in remote, pristine, high quality forest. The establishment of new research sites has been shown to be an effective method of deterring illegal forest destruction and depletion (P.H.V.A. Conference, Jakarta 2004). Additionally, the hope is that local Field Assistants and students will become successful ambassadors for conservation in their own villages and nationally – much more effective than researchers from other countries. The exchange of information between the local community and scientists at the research site will also provide a mutually-beneficial form of education, as well as integrating Indonesians and Westerners. Furthermore, the new location will allow us to conduct a census count of orangutans in a previously unstudied area.

An international summer school will also be held at the station, though student numbers will be limited so as to avoid negative impacts on the environment. The school will offer intensive courses on a wide range of topics, including wildlife research and conservation, parasite finding in orangutans, and field parasite diagnostic methodology. Other planned course topics include:

  • Health in wild orangutans
  • Possible self-medicative behavioural in wild orangutans and other great apes
  • Medicinal plants on the food spectrum
  • Medicinal resources of the tropical rainforest: Natural products and medicine, the role of medicinal plants in health care in Indonesia, ethnofarmacology, tropical medicinal plant research
  • The tropical rainforest: Types, structures, dynamics, diversity, the Indo-Malayan rainforest
  • Changes to the tropical rainforest: Forest conservation, illegal logging and the timber trade, animals in logged forest, disturbed ecosystems
  • Tropical rainforest management for sustainability: Human impacts, priorities for action, local community participation
  • Protected areas in Indonesia
  • Global biodiversity: Biodiversity of states, biodiversity of tropical ecosystems, endangered species

 

At the new office
At the new office
At the old office
At the old office
The field assistant Tumino
The field assistant Tumino
The head guide Wanda
The head guide Wanda
The new office at coconut, february 2006
The new office at coconut, february 2006
On the trek
On the trek
PA Jenn
PA Jenn
Tasks at the old office
Tasks at the old office
View from our new office
View from our new office
Crossing the river on a trek
Crossing the river on a trek