I Have a Dream for International Orangutan Day – A Primatologist Works to Protect the Orangutan’s Forest

Dr. Ahmad Yanuar scans the forest for orangutan nests. Wehea Forest, Indonesian Borneo. Photo © Katie Hawk/TNC
Dr. Ahmad Yanuar scans the forest for orangutan nests. Wehea Forest, Indonesian Borneo. Photo © Katie Hawk/TNC

By Dr. Ahmad Yanuar, Orangutan Program Manager & Primatologist, The Nature Conservancy

Indonesia, where I’m from is famous for its diversity of primate species. And some of these primates are found only in Indonesia. Unfortunately, many of them are also threatened with extinction. This is what first made me interested in studying these animals, who share so many characteristics with humans. The first primate I studied was the Mentawai gibbon in west Sumatra for my undergraduate degree in 1990. After that I traveled across Indonesia to survey a variety of primates, from Sumatra and Java to Sulawesi and the North Maluku Islands.

Orangutan in Tanjung Puting National Park in Central Kalimantan, Indonesia. Photo © Katie Hawk/TNC

One of these trips was to study a population of Bornean orangutans in Kalimantan (Indonesia Borneo) in 1991. It was here that I first met a wild orangutan up close. I was surveying in the afternoon by canoe in a lowland swamp forest. The orangutan was holding her baby while she ate fruits on the river bank. She didn’t run away as my canoe approached her, and I was struck by how immense and calm she seemed. Then when I returned to our camp deep in a pristine dry lowland forest, I unintentionally encountered a male orangutan with a huge cheek pad. He was walking on four legs along the forest floor. He ran and climbed a tree when I approached and looked angry as he broke a twig and threw it at me.

I think that these two encounters with orangutans in their natural habitat are what made me fall in love with conservation work. I’m especially dedicated to the conservation of gibbons and orangutans because they play —> Read More

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