Helping Bornean Communities Spare the Forest Habitat of Remaining Orangutans

September 30, 2015

Empowering local communities to manage their natural resources and protect wildlife is the focus of two of the three grants in the Arcus Foundation’s fall 2015 Great Apes Program portfolio.

In West Kalimantan, Indonesia, where logging and land conversion threaten the Bornean orangutan with extinction, the Gunung Panung Orangutan Conservation Program (GPOCP) and Health in Harmony are working to implement ingenious ideas to help communities find alternative livelihoods and motivations that spare this critical habitat.

The Gunung Palung National Park, home to 10 percent of the world’s remaining wild orangutans and other endangered species (and an important site of scientific research), has long been a site of conflict among loggers, law enforcement, and local communities who seek the economic benefits of its resources. Following from its success in repelling poachers and rescuing confiscated orangutans in the park and its surrounding buffer zone, the GPOCP now plans to partner with five villages surrounding the park to establish new Customary Forests covering 30 square miles in the Paduan River and Penjalaan area. These forest designations are a mechanism for local people to adopt sustainable forest management and find alternative livelihoods that do not depend on forest destruction. GPOCP will pursue legal recognition of these forests and work to integrate scientific data and strategies for orangutan and habitat conservation into their management.

The organization Health in Harmony will incentivize conservation through a program providing more affordable health care—the community’s greatest need—in exchange for reduction of illegal logging and killing of wildlife. The organization provides a mobile clinic whose fees are further reduced for those who engage in a conservation program. This project builds on the group’s earlier conservation-incentive program, of which an evaluation has revealed new orangutan nests in reforested parts of Gunung Palung National Park.

A third grant in this cycle aims to support the long-term sustainability of the Center for Orangutan and Chimpanzee Conservation in Wachula, Florida, which provides high-quality, lifetime care to apes rescued from the entertainment industry, advertising, or medical research. Because the viability of this center is so critical for the provision of model care and well-being of its inhabitants, funding will help strengthen its fundraising, human resources, and educational outreach capabilities.