Orangutans take the low road

Brent Loken

Orangutans take the low road

The soulful Bornean orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus) is a consummate acrobat, swinging with ease through the canopy of its rainforest home. As logging invades the endangered Indonesian primate’s habitat, scientists fear orangutans, whose name means “man of the forest,” will increasingly be cut off from the food, family, and shelter they need to survive. The orange apes may occasionally shamble across the forest floor to grab a snack, scientists thought, but for the most part they depend on trees to get around. Now, new research from Wehea Forest in Borneo suggests orangutans may be more willing to hit the pavement than scientists realized. Researchers installed motion-triggered cameras in three regions of the Wehea Forest in Borneo—one ancient and untouched, one previously logged and recovering, and one now being logged. Nighttime photographs of orangutan movements over 2.5 years (see above) revealed that the shaggy apes frequently hike through pristine and regrowing forests, cleared areas, and even along deserted logging roads. Orangutans’ ability to use natural ridgelines and humanmade roads to get around may be an adaptive strategy that could improve their chances of surviving sustainable logging, the researchers suggest online this week in Oryx. Though hopeful, the findings don’t detract from the severity of the threat to the orangutan’s survival, the researchers caution. The man of the forest still needs his home.