Orangutans are elusive. They spend their days mostly alone, high in the treetops. The vast majority of them are found in the lush rainforests of Borneo.
With population numbers in decline, knowing exactly where orangutans live is critical. That’s why The Nature Conservancy and its partners spent two years surveying nest locations and interviewing people in hundreds of villages. The results revealed that 78% of orangutans live around villages outside protected areas, leaving their habitat vulnerable to logging and land conversion.
“Villages are the last fortresses of orangutan habitat protection,” says Edy Sudiono, TNC’s partnership manager for Yayasan Konservasi Alam Nusantara (YKAN)—a foundation that has implemented TNC’s conservation programs in Indonesia since April of 2020. “So we are working directly with people to create management plans and to help them secure legal rights to their forests. The goal is to protect communities from predatory developers. By doing so, villages can retain their connection to the land and identify opportunities for a sustainable future.”
To reach that goal, YKAN is working with hundreds of villages such as Nehas Liah Bing, the largest village of the Dayak Wehea community. “Orangutans are a symbol that our natural environment is still intact,” says Siang Geah, secretary of the Wehea Customary Community. “We consider the forest our barn. It is a source of livelihood for the Dayak Wehea community.”
Local wisdom was documented and conservation integrated into planning initiatives. Dayak Wehea community members developed communication campaigns for local television and print media, and with multiple stakeholders secured 29,000 hectares of the Wehea Protection Forest. They also support management of 532,000 hectares
of forest. These successes inform similar efforts around the country.
MORE THAN THREE-QUARTERS OF THE WORLD’S ORANGUTANS live in the lush rainforests of the Indonesian territory of East Kalimantan on Borneo in Southeast Asia. But their forest homes are shrinking as trees are logged or cleared to make room for mines and palm oil plantations.