Gunung Palung Orangutan Conservation Program




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The Gunung Palung Orangutan Conservation Program (GPOCP) was established by orangutan researcher, Dr. Cheryl Knott in 1992, and is now in its 22nd year. The project represents one of the longest running studies of wild orangutans in existence. Since the project’s inception there has been an exponential increase in the amount of land converted to large-scale agriculture, as well as illegal logging and mining within the park. These activities have made immediate conservation action in this area of paramount importance.

Gunung Palung National Park, located in western Borneo, Indonesia, represents one of the most important blocks of orangutan habitat. The Park and the surrounding areas harbor one of the most viable remaining populations of orangutans in Borneo, and the world. A census conducted in 2001, funded in part by the Orangutan Conservancy (OC), estimated there to be 2,500 individual orangutans living inside the park, with an almost equal sized population living in the unprotected areas outside the park.

Dr. Cheryl Knott
Dr. Cheryl Knott

In 1999, in response to the growing threat that human activities posed to orangutans and other endangered wildlife living in and around Gunung Palung National Park, Dr. Knott and colleagues started the Gunung Palung Orangutan Conservation Program (GPOCP) . GPOCP began with a series of environmental education programs for school children and quickly developed into a multi-faceted program combating orangutan conservation threats through a number of strategic initiatives. Since 2002, they have made huge strides in helping to stop large-scale illegal logging within the park’s boundaries, and have evolved into a landscape level conservation organization, working towards the protection of Gunung Palung National Park and surrounding ecological areas as whole, using the orangutan as a flagship species for conservation.

The Orangutan Conservancy was one of the first supporters of GPOCP and has made a significant contribution to their many successes. In 2007-2008 we assisted in the rebuilding of the Cabang Panti Research Station, supporting the work of Dr. Andrew Marshall as well as that of Dr. Knott. The Orangutan Conservancy also played a crucial role in building GPOCP’s new Environmental Education Center, bordering the national park. The center serves as the focal point for GPOCP’s efforts to help communities develop sustainable, alternative sources of income and fuel that do not lead to rain forest destruction.

Adult male Bornean Orangutan (named Roman) feeding on wild durian fruits.
Adult male orangutan feeding on wild durian fruits (Tim Laman)

GPOCP’s mission is to conserve orangutan populations and forest habitat in and around Gunung Palung National Park. The orangutan is considered the umbrella species for conservation in the area, and is also an important ecological agent for seed dispersal and seed predation. Currently, however, their rainforest home is severely threatened, as illegal logging continues at an alarming speed.

The program combats this critical situation with a number of approaches:

  • Customary Forest Protection – helping communities obtain legal designation for their lands
  • Establishment of Sustainable, Alternative Livelihood – reducing the need for further encroachment into the national park
  • Monitoring, Investigation and Human-Wildlife Mitigation – saving orangutans that come in contact with humans
  • Conservation Awareness and education for Adults and Children – providing the knowledge and conservation will to protect orangutans
  • Mass Media Campaign – reaching out to communities through radio, newsletters, mobile cinema, and community forums
  • Capacity building of staff and local conservation partners – ensuring the development of a conservation community for the long term
  • Conducting scientific investigation – discovering the factors that govern orangutan reproduction, population viability and health

More about Gunung Palung National Park:

This 100,000 ha (241,700 acres) park is located on the southwestern coast of Borneo. It is rich in rain forest habitats and plant and animal biodiversity. It has coastal mangrove forest and fresh and brackish water swamp forest, lowland peat swamp forest, various types of lowland forest, submontane and montane forest. Until recently its wildlife populations were undisturbed.

The orangutan is considered the umbrella species for conservation in the area, and is also an important ecological agent for seed dispersal and seed predation. It is believed that orangutans at Gunung Palung constitute one of the most dense and largest populations on Borneo.

Currently, however, their rainforest home is severely threatened, as illegal logging continues at at an alarming speed.

Featured Image: A one year old Bornean orangutan with its mother. (photo by Tim Laman)

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