The Ultimate Bucket List Item: Meet 13 wild orangutans in one day!


OuTrop’s Primate Scientist, Carolyn Thompson, was up for a challenge last month, as both her and three other international researchers decided to test their forest skills in finding wild primates without the aid of the gifted Indonesian staff. The day was full of surprises; 13 in total!!

We all left at 5:30 am and within 25 metres of the research camp the day’s unpredictable outcome had begun. The team bumped into an adolescent female orangutan and two adult females with their infants right on the transect. Luckily, there was already another team following the adolescent female and they were taking data on all the interesting social interactions between the three parties. The two additional adult females and their infants were not high on the priority list of individuals to be followed in April, so the team of four continued on their primate search. We each split up and set off on our already planned search routes down various transects running in all different directions in the peat-swamp forest. 

Young Bornean orangutan. Photo by Andrew Walmsley/OuTrop

The news kept coming in thick and fast from all four team members – the forest was swarming with wild orangutans! Within six hours the team had bumped into an additional two adolescent females, one unflanged male, and another two adult females and their infants – and that was just the orangutans! Two gibbon groups also made an appearance (meeting more than one researcher in some cases), but sadly no red langurs joined the party. 

It’s a dirty job, but someone has to do it! Carolyn in the peat-swamp forest searching for wild primates! Photo by Sara Thornton/OuTrop

As members of the team paired off to follow certain orangutans, I made my way back to camp. On route I sat to have a much needed cup of coffee, from my thermos, to digest the day’s exciting events. As I took my first sip, I heard a big “crunch” close by. I turned to see a huge flanged male orangutan sat only 6 metres away from me munching on termites from an old rotting log. I couldn’t believe my luck, especially as he was so habituated and did not care that I was sat metres away from him. I eventually tiptoed away to leave him to munch in peace.

Adult male Bornean orangutan. Photo by Andrew Walmsley/OuTrop

The day ended with torrential downpour and a lightning storm that lit the whole sky. Two of the researchers followed one of the adult females and her infant to a nest that was almost 3 km walking distance away from camp (that’s tough going in peat-swamp forest!). They arrived back at the research camp after nightfall at 6:15 pm, soaking wet and looking like a pair of drowned rats. Nevertheless, they had huge smiles on their faces as the female they had found had not been spotted for more than a year and they managed to follow her to her night nest!

What a dream team!!