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Cheryl Knott
Grantee: Cheryl Knott, Anthropologist
Borneo, Indonesia

Time spent by research team:
More than 50,000 hours over the past decade

Gunung Palung National Park, Borneo, Indonesia

Park's orangutan population:
About 2,500

Worldwide population:
15,000 to 24,000 in the wild

Dangers for orangutans: By some estimates more than 80 percent of all orangutan habitat has been destroyed. Since 1996 legal and illegal logging has consumed about five million acres (two million hectares) of forest each year.

Spreading awareness:
"Through our educational outreach programs and awareness campaigns around the park, we are drawing public attention to the orangutans' plight and helping to make a difference. It would be tragic to let these great apes slip away."


Learn More

Gunung Palung Orangutan Project
Visit Dr. Cheryl Knott's website featuring her orangutan research in Gunung Palung National Park, Borneo, Indonesia.

Balikpapan Orangutan Society–USA
Learn more about these red apes at this website, which includes education resources and things you can do to help protect orangutans.

Orangutans Online
This website contains frequent updates on topics related to orangutan conservation.

Global Forest Watchenglish/indonesia/
A World Resources Institute initiative, this network provides information on forests throughout the world, including Indonesia.


Felton, Annika M., and others. "Orangutan population density, forest structure and fruit availability in hand-logged and unlogged peat swamp forests in West Kalimantan, Indonesia." Publication forthcoming in Biological Conservation
(November 2003), 91-101.

Jepson, Paul, and others. "The End for Indonesia's Lowland Forests?" Science (May 4, 2001), 859-61.

Knott, Cheryl D. "Orangutan Behavior and Ecology." In The Nonhuman Primates, ed. P. Dolhinow and A. Fuentes. Mayfield Publishing Company, 1999.

Knott, Cheryl D. "Changes in orangutan diet, caloric intake and ketones in response to fluctuating fruit availability." International Journal of Primatology (1998), 1061-79.

Matthews, Emily, ed. The State of the Forest: Indonesia. Forest Watch Indonesia and Global Forest Watch, 2002. Available online at

Van Schaik, Carel P., and Cheryl D. Knott. "Geographic Variation in Tool Use on Neesia Fruits in Orangutans." American Journal of Physical Anthropology (April 2001), 331-42.

Van Schaik, Carel P., and others. "Orangutan Cultures and the Evolution of Material Culture." Science (January 3, 2003), 102-5.


Field Dispatch: Borneo

Photographs by Tim Laman

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This Week's Questions. Click on a question for a full response.


What is the first step in becoming a primatologist?


Can females be helped to produce more offspring?


How can I learn more about primates?


What can one do to stop the deforestation of the homes of so many animals?


Can orangutans be relocated?




Name:  Amanda  
Question 1:
What is the first step in becoming a primatologist?
There are primatologists working at many levels. The first step is to obtain a college degree in a field that studies primates, usually anthropology or biology. Then, most professional primatologists have an advanced degree such as a master's or a Ph.D. in anthropology or
biology. You can also take a 'first step' by volunteering on a primate project in the field, working in a zoo, or volunteering for a conservation organization that helps support primates.
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Name:  Amanda  
Question 2:
I am a 16-year-old student, and I have a terrible obsession with orangutans and basically all other primates. My room is plastered with pictures and books. I would just like to know what is a good way that I can further my primate education—internships, summer programs, etc.... Thank you so much...a primate fanatic.
That's great that you are so interested in primates! What you are doing—becoming educated through reading books about primates is a great step. You could also read professional journals in the field—such as the American Journal of Primatology and the International Journal of Primatology. Another idea is to volunteer at a zoo or other primate facility. These organizations may have summer programs. But what I would most strongly recommend is that you research colleges that have strong primatology departments and study primatology formally. Most people studying primates in the U.S. are in anthropology departments, but some are in biology or psychology departments. Good luck in your pursuit of a primate education!
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Name:  Karen  
Question 3:
Is there any possibility of relocating some of them to another country?
I'm afraid that this really isn't possible. Orangutans are adapted to the food found in Southeast Asian rain forests and other forests just would not have the appropriate foods for their survival. However, there are efforts underway to move some threatened populations to more protected locations within Malaysia and Indonesia (where orangutans are from).
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Name:  Barbara  
Question 4:
If orangutans produce offspring so sparingly, can the babies be removed from their mother's care (at a safe age), and will this cause the mother to produce more offspring?
This is something that could be done in zoos, but is not feasible or advisable in the wild. Orangutans have such long intervals between births partly because the offspring need that period to learn about their environment from their mothers. Also, there is no safe way to
remove a wild orangutan's infant from the mother. The mother would have to be killed or darted and because they are arboreal, a darted female orangutan would likely die when she fell from the trees. In addition, if you took a baby away from its mother and raised it in
captivity, it doesn't really help the wild population. So, I'm afraid that we can't turn to this as a solution.
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Name:  Bradley  
Question 5:
What can one do to stop the deforestation of the homes of so many animals?
One can get involved at many levels. The most direct way is to volunteer or become involved with an organization working directly to save rain forest habitat. If you can't do this yourself, donations are what conservation organizations rely on to do their work. You could also write to your congressperson to support such legislation as the Great Ape Conservation Act in the U.S. Congress, which designates funds to support ape conservation efforts.
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