Chasing Orangutans Into an Unknown Frontier

© Robert Rodriguez Suro

After a year of planning, fundraising, and mental preparation, I have finally arrived in West Kalimantan, Indonesia on the island of Borneo to begin my National Geographic Young Explorer’s Grant project. I’ll be venturing deep into the rainforest of Gunung Palung National Park, where I’ll be following male orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus wurmbii) outside the borders of established research areas. I’ll be entering into mysterious areas under the shadow of Mt. Gunung Palung, places where few have ventured into and where none have followed orangutans. I’ll be exploring the unknown.

From above the canopy, the rain forest looks like a mysterious array of “broccoli, broccoli, broccoli”, and it is difficult to appreciate the wide diversity of terrain and biology that lies beneath. I don’t know how far in the orangutans will take me, but I will have to navigate my way under the shadow of the canopy, keep up with these males, and eventually make my way back home. (Photo by Robert Rodriguez Suro)
Orangutans are the most arboreal of the great apes, but will occasionally come to the ground. This flanged male, Codet, seems to come to the ground more often than other males I’ve encountered. I hope to document interesting idiosyncratic behavior such as this throughout the year. (Photo by Robert Rodriguez Suro)

I’ll be tracking these male orangutans with GPS, in order to learn more about their territory size and ranging patterns. It’s logistically very difficult to follow orangutans in such remote areas away from an established research camp. Because their home ranges are so large that they extend beyond research areas, no one has managed to map out the full range of an individual male from this population. I’ll be the first one to try it. I have no idea what to expect, other than the —> Read More