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In this update from the field, we are thrilled to introduce you to the work being conducted at the Tuanan Orangutan Research Station of the Mawas Conservation Area, located in Central Kalimantan, Indonesia. The Tuanan Orangutan Research Program has been researching the behaviour and ecology of Bornean orangutans and their peat swamp environment since 2003. It has maintained collaborations among Universitas Nasional (UNAS), the University of Zurich, Rutgers University, and the Bornean Orangutan Survival (BOS) Foundation.

This past November, Tuanan co-director, Dr. Erin Vogel, and PhD candidate Will Aguado from Rutgers University (New Jersey, U.S.A.) made a much-awaited trip to Tuanan to host a workshop focusing on data collection methods for conducting orangutan nutrition and health research. 

After a long pause in normal research activities caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, everyone at camp was excited to get back to work. This included several students from UNAS as well as a member of the BOS Foundation’s Nyaru Menteng team, who were all there to learn the ropes of conducting research on orangutan behaviour, nutrition, and health.

Right to Left: Mamet, Silvi (UNAS), Abuk, and Cinta processing pantung samples.

The workshop started with a lesson in collecting plant samples of orangutan foods for long-term research on orangutan nutrition. Most of the foods that orangutans eat (fruits, flowers, and leaves) are found up to 30 meters high in the canopy, so they can be difficult to collect.

While climbing trees is the normal way to collect food samples, the team thought they would try out some new methods that are quicker and safer, especially during the rainy season when branches can be slippery. With a newly purchased Big Shot® throw-line launcher in hand (which is essentially a giant slingshot) the Tuanan team headed into the forest to practice collecting fruit samples. 

 Tiga! Dua! Satu!” [“Three, two one!”] the team cried in unison as field assistant, Idun, cocked and fired the weight 15 meters into the air. The line soared over a branch of the mangis hutan tree, and the team triumphantly pulled some fruits and leaves down to the forest floor. After a few more successful launches, the team headed back to camp with the fruits of their labour.

For the next part of the workshop, the students from UNAS, with the help of field assistant Abuk, and project manager Mamet, practised measuring and weighing plant samples before being dried, stored, and eventually sent to the nutritional lab at BRIN (Badan Riset dan Inovasi Nasional). When these samples make it to the labs at UNAS and BRIN, they will be analyzed to provide the “nutritional facts” of orangutan foods. With this information, the team hopes to better understand how orangutans meet their nutritional needs and identify the most important plants that sustain the productive orangutan population at Tuanan. 

The UNAS students not only use these data to help answer these important questions but also to complete their own independent research projects. Some of their projects centre around understanding the foraging changes of orangutans through development, the spatial distribution of nutrients in the forest, and the role of orangutans as seed dispersers.

With such a long wait before the workshop and so much to learn about orangutans, the team was just getting started! However, the story isn’t over yet. 

Stay tuned to learn about the next stage of the exciting and educational workshop!

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