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Orangutan Tropical Peatland Project, Indonesian Borneo (Ongoing since 1999. Volunteers June-November yearly)
Field Study in Asia
Web Site:
Location of Site: INDONESIA, Sabangau catchment, Central Kalimantan

Director: Simon Husson, Dr Helen Morrogh-Bernard, Laura D'Arcy, Dr Susan Cheyne
Phone: +625363225728   Fax: +625363236880   E-Mail:
Jalan Yos Sudarso, Palangka Raya, Central Kalimantan 73112 INDONESIA
Department: CIMTROP
Institution: University of Palangka Raya

Sponsoring Institution(s): Universities of Leicester, Nottingham, Cambridge, Oxford, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Arcus Foundation, Rufford Small Grants for Conservation, Wallace Global Fund

Research Objectives: The Orangutan Tropical Peatland Research Project works to protect one of the most important areas of tropical rainforest in Borneo - the Sabangau Forest in Central Kalimantan, Indonesia. We monitor the distribution, population status, behaviour and ecology of the forest's flagship ape species – the orangutan and agile gibbon - carry out biodiversity and forestry research, provide scientific feedback to conservation managers, and work with our local partners to implement successful conservation programmes. Our earliest work identified the Sabangau forest as home to the largest orangutan population remaining in Borneo – 12% of the total world population - thus bringing the region to the forefront of orangutan conservation efforts. This resulted in the forest becoming a National Park in 2004. We work in partnership with Indonesian NGO the Centre for International Cooperation for Management of Tropical Peatland (CIMTROP)
based at the University of Palangkaraya, Indonesia. Through this partnership we support local conservation efforts by implementing or funding a number of community-led conservation activities, including a Forest Patrol Unit, fire-fighting Team, and programmes of environmental education, developing local livelihoods and habitat restoration. Through these programmes we have succeeded in stopping illegal logging in 2005 and damming illegal logging extraction canals and drainage channels. Our research and volunteer program has been running since 2001 and is a focus for local conservation efforts, providing much-needed employment and financial benefits for the local community and replacing illegal logging as the main activity and source of income in the northern Sabangau Forest. We have three main areas of research: 1) Monitoring habitat condition and status of biodiversity. For this we survey orangutans by counting their nests; gibbons by triangulating their morning calls and carry out line transect surveys of other primate species. We survey butterfly and bird diversity and density in areas of differing logging disturbance. We measure trees in permanent habitat plots to monitor changes in forest structure at each of our monitoring stations. 2) Assessing long-term regeneration, succession, and productivity processes in forest subject to different disturbances including selective logging, fire, natural gaps and canal construction. We have a large number of plots in which we measure elements of tree size, health and productivity and seedling and sapling density, growth and survival. 3) Studies of orangutan and gibbon behavioural ecology. We follow habituated individuals of both species in order to better understand their behaviour, social interactions, food competition and ability to live in a disturbed forest. Although this does not form part of the behaviour program we do offer the opportunity to spend a day or two following both orangutans and gibbons with our behaviour research team, circumstances permitting. In addition we have a long-term felid project on the Sunda clouded leopard and small cat guild as well as flying foxes.

Field Positions and Volunteers: We run two expeditions of seven weeks between mid-June and mid-November. This is the dry season and the best time for carrying out research – although tropical downpours still occur from time-to-time. We require volunteers to assist on most parts of the project, for a minimum period of seven weeks with us. The team will initially work from base camp, beginning the research whilst acclimatising to the conditions and receiving training on the research methods. Later on we will visit some of the remote field stations where we will camp in basic huts, sleeping under canvas, washing in the river and working during the

Conditions can be harsh in peat swamp forest – it is typically hot and humid, with difficult terrain. It is therefore extremely important that all members of the team are physically and mentally fit. Each research project will be coordinated by a separate OuTrop staff leader, who will provide full training for members of his/her team. Volunteers will get the opportunity to spend on each of the projects running during the season. The success of the expedition relies on all members of the team helping out in all aspects of the project, from carrying out research to maintaining transects, from shopping for supplies in Palangkaraya to collecting and purifying water at remote field sites.
In addition to the research work, visits will be organised to the nearby Nyaru Menteng Orang-utan Reintroduction Centre, where we will see orphaned orangutans being trained for re-release into the forest, and older orangutans already released onto the beautiful Pulau Kaja island. There may also be an opportunity to visit the Kalaweit gibbon rehabilitation project. A four-day trip to the scenic and diverse Tanjung Puting National Park at the end of the project is arranged. Here you will see proboscis monkeys and longtailed macaques along the banks of the Sekonyer River, and visit Camp Leakey, the site of the first permanent orang-utan research project in Kalimantan and home to many adult
orangutans successfully reintroduced into the forest.
Opportunities exist for BSc/MSc projects or dissertations to be undertaken in most of these project areas. During the life of the volunteer programme 22 MSc and 40 BSc projects have been undertaken by volunteers. Projects must be original; contribute to the existing body of knowledge and have a conservation application; must be planned well in advance; be feasibly completed within 10 weeks; and be approved by your supervisor. There can be a limit of two projects per expedition group. Volunteers interested in undertaking a project should contact us as soon as possible, so we can inform you of our research goals for this year and then work together to develop objectives and methodology. Places are limited to 2-3 projects per group, depending on the size of the group.

Species Studied: Hylobates albibarbis (Bornean white-bearded gibbon), Macaca nemestrina (pigtail macaque), Pongo pygmaeus (Bornean orangutan), Presbytis rubicunda (maroon langur)

Publications: Cheyne, S.M., 2007a. Effects of Meteorology, Astronomical Variables, Location and Human Disturbance on the Singing Apes: Hylobates albibarbis. American Journal of Primatology 40, 1-7.
Cheyne, S.M., 2007b. Indonesian Gibbons - Hylobates albibarbis, In All the World's Primates. ed. N. Rowe. Pogonias Press Inc, Charlestown RI.
Cheyne, S.M., 2008a. Feeding ecology, food choice and diet characteristics of gibbons in a disturbed peat-swamp forest, Indonesia, In 22nd Congress of the International Primatological Society (IPS). eds P.C. Lee, P. Honess, H. Buchanan-Smith, A. MacLarnon, W.I. Sellers, p. 342. Top Copy, Bristol, Edinburgh, UK.
Cheyne, S.M., 2008b. Gibbon feeding ecology and diet characteristics. . Folia Primatologica 79, 320.
Cheyne, S.M., 2009. Studying Social Development and Cognitive Abilities in Gibbons (Hylobates spp): methods and applications, In Primatology: Theories, Methods and Research. Nova Science Publishers, New York.
Cheyne, S.M., 2010. Behavioural ecology and socio-biology of gibbons (Hylobates albibarbis) in a degraded peat-swamp forest., In Indonesian Primates. eds J. Supriatna, S.L. Gursky. Springer, New York.
Cheyne, S.M., in press. Gibbon locomotion research in situ – problems, possibilities and benefits for conservation, In Primate Locomotion: Linking In Situ and Ex Situ Research. eds K. D'Août, E.E. Vereecke. Springer.
Cheyne, S.M., Chadwick, R.J., Macdonald, D.W., in prep-a. Diversity and activity of small carnivores of the Sabangau Peat-swamp Forest, Indonesian Borneo. Small Carnivore Conservation.
Cheyne, S.M., Harrison, M.E., Morrogh-Bernard, H., 2005. Differences in Orang-utan and Gibbon Diets in the Sebangau National Park, Indonesia: Implications for Conservation. , In Proceedings of the International Symposium and Workshop on “Restoration and Wise Use of Tropical Peatland. ed. J.O. Reiley, pp. 100-103. CIMTROP, Palangka Raya, Indonesia.
Cheyne, S.M., Husson, S.J., Macdonald, D.W., in press. First otter civet photographed in Sabangau Peat-swamp Forest, Indonesian Borneo. Small Carnivore Conservation.
Cheyne, S.M., Macdonald, D.W., in press. Wild felid diversity and activity patterns in Sabangau peat-swamp forest, Indonesian Borneo. Oryx.
Cheyne, S.M., Macdonald, D.W., in review. Confirmed presence of Marbled cat in Sabangau Peat-swamp Forest, Indonesian Borneo. Cat News.
Cheyne, S.M., Monks, E.M., Kuswanto, Y., 2010. An observation of lethal aggression in Bornean agile gibbons Hylobates albibarbis. Gibbon Journal 6.
Cheyne, S.M., Morrogh-Bernard, H., Macdonald, D.W., 2009. First flat-headed cat from Sabangau peat-swamp forest, Indonesian Borneo. Cat News 51.
Cheyne, S.M., Stark, D., Macdonald, D.W., in prep-b. Estimating the density of a clouded leopard (Neofelis diardi) population in Sabangau Peat-swamp Forest, Indonesian Borneo.
Cheyne, S.M., Thompson, C.J.H., Phillips, A.C., Hill, R.M.C., Limin, S.H., 2007. Density and Population Estimate of Gibbons (Hylobates albibarbis) in the Sabangau Catchment, Central Kalimantan, Indonesia. Primates 49, 50-56.
Hamard, M., Cheyne, S.M., Nijman, V., in press. Vegetation correlates of gibbon density in the peat-swamp forest of Sabangau forest, Central Kalimantan, Indonesia. American Journal of Primatology.
Harrison, M.E., 2009. Orang-utan Feeding Behaviour in Sabangau, Cenrral Kalimantan, p. 447. University of Cambridge, Cambridge.
Harrison, M.E., Cheyne, S.M., Morrogh-Bernard, H., Husson, S.J., 2005. What can apes tell us about the health of their environment? A Preliminary Analysis of the use of orang-utans and gibbons as biological indicators of changes in habitat quality in tropical peat swamp forests. , In Proceedings of the International Symposium and Workshop on “Restoration and Wise Use of Tropical Peatland”. ed. J.O. Reiley, pp. 104-109. CIMTROP, Palangka Raya, Indonesia.
Harrison, M.E., Cheyne, S.M., Sulistiyanto, Y., Rieley, J.O., 2007. Biological Effects Of Smoke From Dry-Season Fires In Non-Burnt Areas Of The Sabangau Peat-Swamp Forest, Central Kalimantan, Indonesia, In The International Symposium and Workshop on Tropical Peatland “Carbon-Climate-Human Interactions – Carbon Pools, Fire, Mitigation, Restoration and Wise Use”. Yogyakarta, Indonesia.
Harrison, M.E., Husson, S.J., D'Arcy, L.J., Morrogh-Bernard, H.C., Cheyne, S.M., van Noordwijk, M.A., van Schaik, C.P., 2010. The Fruiting Phenology of Peat-swamp Forest Tree Species at Sabangau and Tuanan, Central Kalimantan, Indonesia. The Kalimantan Forests and Climate Partnership, Palangka Raya.
Husson, S., Meijaard, E., Singleton, I., van Schaik, C., Wich, S.A., 2003. The status of the orang-utan in Indonesia, p. 33. Pre-PHVA Meeting, Jakarta.
Morrogh-Bernard, H., Husson, S., Page, S.E., Rieley, J.O., 2003. Population status of the Bornean orang-utan (Pongo pygmaeus) in the Sebangau peat swamp forest, Central Kalimantan, Indonesia. Biological Conservation 110, 141-152.
Page, S.E., Rieley, J.O., Doody, K., Hodgson, S., Husson, S., Jenkins, P., Morrogh-Bernard, H., Otway, S., Wilshaw, S., 1997. Biodiversity of tropical peat swamp forest: a case study of animal diversity in the Sungai Sebangau catchment of Central Kalimantan, Indonesia., In Tropical peatlands. . eds J.O. Rieley, S.E. Page, pp. 231-242. Samara Publishing Limited, Cardigan.
Povey, K., Howard, J.G., Sunarto, Priatna, D., Ngoprasert, D., Reed, D., Wilting, A., Lynam, A., Haidai, I., Long, B., Johnson, A., Cheyne, S.M., Breitenmoser, C., Traylor-Holzer, K., Byers, O., 2009. Clouded Leopard and Small Felid Conservation Summit Final Report. IUCN/SSC Conservation Breeding Specialist Group, Apple Valley, MN., Bangkok, Thailand.
Ripoll Capilla, B., Cheyne, S.M., Veà Baró, J., in prep. Assessment of ranging behavior methods for Bornean Southern Gibbon (Hylobates albibarbis).
Singleton, I., Wich, S.A., Husson, S., Stephens, S., Utami Atmoko, S., Leighton, M., Rosen, N., Traylor-Holzer, K., Lacy, R., Byers, O., 2004. Orang-utan Population and Habitat Viability Analysis. Orangutan Foundation, Jakarta.
Struebig, M.J., Harrison, M.E., Cheyne, S.M., Limin, S.H., 2007. Intensive hunting of large flying-foxes (Pteropus vampyrus natunae) in the Sebangau Catchment, Central Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo. Oryx 41, 1-4.
Wilting, A., Cord, A., Hearn, A.J., Hesse, D., Mohamed, A., Traeholdt, C., Cheyne, S.M., Sunarto, S., Azlan-Jayasilan, M., Ross, J., Shapiro, A., Dech, S., Breitenmoser, C., Duckworth, W., Sanderson, J., Hofer, H., in press. Looking for a home for flat-headed cats; modelling the species distribution of an endangered Southeast Asian small cat species. PLoS Biology.

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Last Updated: 2011-02-04

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