In 2000, Benoît Goossens started a Darwin Initiative Project on the conservation of the orang-utan in Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary. The goal was to utilize non-invasively collected samples from wild orang-utans to investigate the genetic consequences of recent demographic changes brought about by human pressure, habitat disturbance, population fragmentation and high density of orang-utans. The results of the study showed that adult females were indeed more related to one another than were adult males (Goossens et al., 2005)
After 18 years, HUTAN and DGFC decided to re-assess the parentage and relatedness of the orang-utans at KOCPs study site. Although the orang-utans in the study site are habituated and many of them have been followed since before the Darwin Initiative Project, it is practically impossible to keep track with all individuals. This is especially true for animals that leave the study site at a young age and precise identification characteristics have not been fully established. With the habitat reduction and anthropogenic pressure in the area, it appears there are more males roaming the intensive study site than before. The project is currently being developed by Felicity Oram (KOCP), Milena Salgado Lynn and Nuralwanie Maruji.
Some of the research questions are:
- Are the new individuals being found at the study site the same that left it while being adolescent?
- Are the new coming males related to the existing females?
- How are the males in the study site related to each other?
- Are the new flanged males found at the site, the same unflanged males from the previous study?
- Are males that have been long-time residents of the study site more successfully parenting offspring than new comers?
- What are the current and future dispersal patterns that could result in increased inbreeding and maintenance of a genetically viable population?
The results of this study will provide current information on the dispersal patterns of the orang-utans of the Kinabatangan Sanctuary, and potentially on the behaviour of male orang-utans. This could be used as a model in areas where anthropogenic pressure might be forcing orang-utans to return to their native range in densities and frequencies not experienced before. Ultimately it might provide recommendations for the management of the species in the whole Kinabatangan Sanctuary.
For years, DGFC and HUTAN have shared data on Bornean orang-utans, contributing to the knowledge on this species in the Kinabatangan region as well as throughout its range. Some of the information produced by their collaboration on population genetics has been incorporated into the State Action Plan for the management of this species in Sabah.
Some related publications
The collaboration with the NGO HUTAN goes back before DGFC was established. HUTAN has been running the Kinabatangan Orangutan Conservation Programme (KOCP) since 1996. Their intensive study site is located in Lot 2 of the Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary. KOCP’s site is a 4 km2 forest area in which in which KOCP research assistants conduct behavioural observations on habituated orang-utans.
HUTAN and Benoît Goossens started their collaboration back in 1999 and this has continued between HUTAN and DGFC until today.