Part 3: Protectors of the rainforest ecosystem

In my last few posts I have been explaining about orangutans and why they are dependent on the forests for their survival. However, the forests also need orangutans. I have mentioned that orangutans are primarily frugivorous and that they are experts at moving through the forest canopy. The combination of these factors makes the orangutan an excellent seed disperser. Also, because of their large size, orangutans are able to eat bigger-seeded fruit which other species in their ecosystem aren’t able to. Orangutans thus play a crucial role in propagating fruit trees.

As orangutans move through the canopy they will inevitably bend or break branches, opening up the forest canopy. This allows light to reach the forest floor thus helping seedlings to grow and the forest regenerate. Truly, orangutans are a vital cog in the working of the rainforest ecosystem.

SB Dense Jungle

The rainforest floor - seedlings compete for light and space

The interdependence between orangutans and the forest has huge implications for conservation. I think I have written before that Indonesia has the world's highest deforestation rate; it also has the world's highest number of threatened mammal species (146 species); is number two in the world for threatened bird species and remains high up there for the remaining taxonomic groups. To save the orangutan, you have to save the forest and when you save the forest you save everything else. (For better or worse, that includes spiders!)

An example closer to my heart is the proboscis monkey, which is only found on Borneo. Tanjung Puting National Park has one of the largest remaining populations. Why? Because of our orangutan conservation work. As an aside, proboscis monkeys are fascinating in their own right. The males have a spectacular nose! (see photo)

Dr Mark Fellows - Proboscis Monkey

Photo by Dr Mark Fellows - Male proboscis monkey (sorry the photo is so small)

Another special thing about the proboscis monkey is that they swim, a rare behaviour amongst primates. Proboscis monkeys actually have slightly webbed hands and feet and are able to swim underwater for about 20 metres.

Proboscis monkey swimming

Proboscis monkey swimming

Similarly, a study of the critically endangered Malaysian False Gharial, a type of crocodile, concluded “High observational records of Tomistoma at the main study site may represent the most viable and stable Tomistoma population of the entire National Park due to the conservation efforts of the Orangutan Foundation”.

False Gharial

False Gharial

There is a lot I haven’t mentioned and I could go on but I don’t want this to turn into a textbook. I find the science of conservation fascinating; indeed the Foundation always argues conservation has to be based on sound science. But, as the saying goes, science only informs. It is passion that persuades.

If you have any questions please feel free to ask.