An endangered orangutan checks out a camera that has taken its photo. This new research shows the rare apes spend more time travelling on the ground than was ever previously known.
Photo Credit: Loken-sfu

Canadian research: new orangutan discovery


A Canadian researcher was working on a project in Borneo involving the rare snow leopard, when  he stumbled across a previously unknown behaviour in orangutans.

Brent Loken is a doctoral candidate at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia in the School of Resource and Environmental Management



Brent Loken (L) examines images taken by the trail camera fasterend to a tree (Left) at ground level. © supplied

Loken says when the cameras he set up to spot the leopards began showing several images of orangutans regularly walking on roads and trails on the ground, he was surprised to discover there was virtually no research on this behaviour.

His own research into this previously unknown behaviour has been published in the scientific conservation journal Oryx.

He says that science typically thought of these gentle slow-moving apes as spending almost all their time in the trees, only rarely coming to the forest floor.

Loken says he seems to have accidently stumbled on the fact they sometimes choose to travel on the ground because he isn’t a primatologist and so wasn’t affected by a preconceived bias that they didn’t often come down from the trees.

A female carrying a baby on her back captured by the motion sensitive camera in the Wehea Forest of Bornea in 2012. Brent Loken is now researching population density of these relatively docile and slow-moving engangered apes. © Loken SFU

At first he says he thought they were adapting to logging (both commercial, and illegal) which was creating gaps in their forest cover and so were using the logging roads to travel from point to point.

However, later additional research found that orangutans in non-logged areas were also using trails on the ground for travel.

A female orangutan and youngster captured by the motion sensitve trail camera. Loken at first speculated that the apes were adapting to massive logging causing them to travel on the ground via logging roads. More research show the prveiously unknown behaviour was more generalized © Loken SFU

He strives to point out though that trees and a dense forest are absolutely essential for the species survival, but that Borneo’s forests are being cut down at an incredible rate, surpassing even that of Brazil’s deforestation.

Loken says his ongoing research into orangutans will now try to determine population numbers of the animals, as right now there is little information on how many of the endangered animals are in the forest.

Another large oragutan, probably male, pauses after the camera snaps his picture in 2013. Loken says he’s often been very close to the orangutans but has never felt threatened or in danger. © loken- SFU

He will also continue is work with the NGO he founded,Ethical Expeditions, and working in East Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo with the indigenous Wehea Dayak community to help build a sustainable social-ecological system.

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One comment on “Canadian research: new orangutan discovery
  1. The things you do really useful . Trail cameras have recorded great things . hope there will be many new discoveries to help the animals .