Camera trap
Camera trap photo of Sumatran orangutan in the Sikundur Monitoring Post. Photo credit: Sonny Royal/SOCP

Saving Orangutans Just Got More Interesting


Philadelphia Zoo conservation partner the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme (SOCP) recently released new findings from the Sikundur Monitoring Post in Sumatra, which is proving to be an excellent place for new discoveries.

This research site is one of the few lowland areas left that “maintains suitable forest habitat for the critically endangered Sumatran orangutan.” In 2012, SOCP started orangutan and habitat monitoring in Sikundur, and each year has brought new knowledge that highlights the particular importance of this area for orangutan conservation. 2014 proved to be the best year to date.

For example, data gathered from the Global Forest Watch website was used to identify key areas within the Langkat District where human activities like illegal logging and land clearing are destroying or damaging forests that provide habitat for orangutans. This information was then used to hone in on deforested areas in the vicinity of Sikundur (located within the same district) where five females, six males, and four infant orangutans are being studied. 

Camera trapping played a large part in conducting their research. Thirty camera traps were placed throughout the Sikundur monitoring site and “captured” photos of 31 animal species from 19 families.  One of the most interesting findings was the sight of orangutans on the ground. Until now, it was thought that Sumatran orangutans keep strictly to the treetops (while Bornean orangutans orangutans are more commonly seen on the ground). But several adults were observed foraging on the ground for several hours during “day follows” as well as camera trap photos. More research is needed to determine why this is happening, but these findings are undoubtedly exciting. The camera traps also frequently photographed humans engaged in illegal activities, proving that not only are camera traps good for observation, but they can help with habitat protection as well.

Unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) technology developed by is also being used in Sikundur. SOCP’s Sikundur team worked with their UAV Team to create a map showing large areas of deforestation and to conduct aerial nest surveys. Together, these two data sets will allow SOCP to gain a better understanding of how orangutans are using and traveling through the forest and to answer questions like, “How does forest canopy height influence the ways orangutans move through trees?”

Join the Philadelphia Zoo UNLESS Project for more updates from field partners like SOCP and ConservationDrones and to learn more about how Zoo360 trails are linked to protecting pathways for orangutans in the wild.

Nicole DeMentriBy Nicole DeMentri, Conservation Associate