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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.

1.   Can ecotourism help? 4.   Are there other parts of the world where orangutans are in decline?

2.   Can eggs and sperm be frozen for future use in keeping the species going? 5.   What are their mating practices?
3.   What are some other economic opportunities for the local people?




Name: Jon E.  
Question 1:
Could the development of further ecotourism be one way to preserve (and rebuild) the rain forests while supplying income to locals? That model seems to be working in a couple of conservation parks in Africa.
Ecotourism for orangutans is a hotly debated issue. Some people think this may be the answer and point to the African gorilla example. Others point to problems observed with gorilla and chimpanzee tourism in Africa. In many parks the infrastructure needed to support ecotourism does not exist. But this is a topic worth exploring more.
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Name:  Marylin C.  
Question 2:
Can eggs and sperm be frozen for future use in keeping the species going?
They probably could, but thankfully we're not at that point yet. It is unlikely that orangutans will ever be totally extinct because there are many orangutans living in zoos. The threat of extinction is for the wild population.
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Name:  Shane S.  
Question 3:
What are some other economic opportunities for the local people other than logging, and how can we expand on those opportunities?
There are a number of alternative income projects that have been tried. Some may have been successful on a local level, but so far there have been no solutions that seem to stop illegal logging on a large scale. However, there are many alternative income ideas that have been proposed, and I think it is useful to help support these initiatives.
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Name:  Ben  
Question 4:
Is it only in Borneo, or are there other parts of the world where orangutans are in decline?
Orangutans are found only in Borneo and Sumatra, and the problems I highlight are prevalent on both islands.
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Name:  Nigel W.  
Question 5:
It was mentioned that orangutans only give birth about once every eight years. What are their mating practices?
In my study I have found that females with infants less than four years old usually do not mate.  Hormonal level in females is heavily influenced by their nutritional status, which is a function of how much fruit is available in the forest. Thus, when there is a lot of fruit available, female hormonal functioning increases, as does the probability of conception. Matings at Gunung Palung tend to be concentrated during these periods. Consequently, matings seem to occur when there is actually some probability of successful conception. Females with low hormonal levels due to either nutritional/energetic factors or females who are not cycling because of the presence of suckling infants, do not tend to mate. For more on this please read my National Geographic article, "Orangutans in the Wild," from August 1998.
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