We established the Orangutan Tropical Peatland Project (OuTrop) in 1999, through which we aim to understand, protect and restore the Sabangau Forest. Our base is the Natural Laboratory of Peat-swamp Forest (NLPSF) where research has been carried out since 1993. The former logging camp has been converted into a permanent research facility and the logging railway now carries only students and supplies to the forest.
The Sabangau Forest is one of the most important areas of rainforest remaining in Borneo. This tropical peat-swamp forest is the largest unfragmented area of forest remaining in Borneo’s lowlands and supports globally-significant populations of endangered species, including the largest known population of the Bornean orangutan in lowland Borneo and the white-bearded gibbon. Its vast peat deposits cover an area of 6,000 km2 and reach depths of 15m, making this one of the largest terrestrial carbon stores in the world.
We work in partnership with the Centre for the International Cooperation in Sustainable Management of Tropical Peatland (CIMTROP) at the University of Palangka Raya and we support the TSA Kalteng community patrol and fire-fighting team. This community team is made up of young, committed people from the local village, who want to stop the exploitation of their forest heritage and protect it for future generations. This team succeeded in stopping illegal logging in 2004 and saving large areas from forest fires, a prime example of how grassroots efforts can make a huge conservation difference. Their fire-fighting strategy is a model for fighting peatland fires in the province, and we are expanding our support of community fire-fighting teams to other like-minded and dedicated groups in recognition of the huge role they play in protecting forest during the worst drought seasons.
Our research activities in Sabangau are divided into four key areas:
- In-depth studies of Sabangau’s primates, understanding their behaviour, ranging, diet, reproduction, social networks and responses to disturbance; and collecting a long-term record of their density and abundance. Many orangutan, gibbon and red langur individuals have been habituated to human presence and are followed during their daily activities with the results used to discover more about the behaviour of some of our closest relatives, contribute to the study of primate evolution and support conservation planning in a multiple-use landscape. Our orangutan density research is the longest continuous study of its kind with results mapping a logging-induced crash and subsequent recovery after protection. This aids conservation management planning for this critically endangered species.
- Understanding Borneo’s elusive wild cats by capturing their movements, and that of their prey, using remote-sensored camera traps. The clouded leopard, marbled cat and flat-headed cat are magnificent and secretive beasts, and we are learning much about their behaviour and ecology through this study.
- Biodiversity and ecology studies. We study many different aspects of peat-swamp forest ecology, from birds to butterflies, litterfall to fruiting patterns, and use these to describe seasonal changes in the environment, responses to logging and recovery post-logging, and to develop ecological indicators of change and disturbance.