In light of Orangutan Caring Week, OuTrop’s Orangutan Scientist Jenn Brousseau sat down with Orangutan Field Assistant Twenti, who has followed orangutans with OuTrop since 2004, to discuss what he has learned about orangutans over the years and why he still cares about them after almost 12 years.
Jenn: When you started working with OuTrop, what did you know about orangutans and OuTrop’s research?
Twenti: When I first started working for OuTrop, I had never seen an orangutan before and didn’t know anything about orangutan behaviour. In my village, at the time I started working with OuTrop, everyone was scared of orangutans and thought they would hurt you if you met one. Therefore, when I started working here, I was a bit scared of orangutans, but also excited about the new opportunity. At that time, I understood that we were meant to help protect the forest, but I understood very little about the orangutan research.
Jenn: What is your first memory of an orangutan follow and what were your feelings when you saw an orangutan for the first time?
Twenti: I remember the first day I saw an orangutan was when I was searching with research assistants Santi and Oto and I met an un-flanged male while searching by myself. I first thought he was very big and wild, kiss squeaking a lot,but I was not as scared as I thought I would be. I was impressed by how fast he moved on the ground and ran away from us, so we were unable to follow him until he made his night nest.
Jenn: What was one of your favorite, most memorable moments from following orangutans when you started working with OuTrop?
Twenti: One of my favorite orangutans is Indah, whom the project has followed since the project started. On one of my most memorable days, we were following Indah and an un-flanged male named Romeo. He was forcing her to mate with him and she making crying sounds. It was strangely human-like, but what I found more human-like and interesting about the follow was then a flanged male chased Romeo away as if he was protecting Indah. We then ended up losing Indah, Romeo and this unhabituated flanged male, because he did not really want us to follow him!
Jenn: After you had worked with OuTrop for a year, did you want to continue working with orangutans? Did you ever think you would work with OuTrop for the next 12 years? How have your thoughts about orangutans changed over the years?
Twenti: After one year working with OuTrop, I still did not have a long-term plan, but I wanted to continue working with OuTrop. I never thought I would work for OuTrop for 12 years, but it has helped my life tremendously and I have learned a lot from the researchers here about orangutans, conservation and speaking English. I care about orangutans much more than when I started, because now I understand a large amount about their behaviour and why it is important to learn about their behaviour.
Jenn: Why do you think it is important to care about orangutan behaviour?
Twenti: It is important to care about orangutan behaviour in order to know how best to protect them. For example, if we know how many hectares orangutans occupy as their home range, we can understand how much area of forest is essential to protect so they have a large enough range area. When I return to my village now, I share with everyone the information I have learned about orangutans and why it is important to protect the forest (and hence orangutans) to help change their perceptions about orangutans.
Jenn: If someone in your village were to ask you why is it important for OuTrop to still care about orangutans and collect orangutan behavioral data, what would you say?
Twenti: If I was asked this question, I would say it is important for OuTrop to collect data to monitor the orangutan population in Sabangau and learn more about current/new behaviors. If we were not conducting research in the forest of Sabangau, who would monitor the orangutans? Without our presence, logging, mining, and palm oil companies could enter the forest and destroy the remaining forest home of these orangutans.
Jenn: How do you think organisations and individuals can show they care about orangutans to help with conservation?
Twenti: I believe that reforestation efforts (like the work of OuTrop’s nursery team) are very important for orangutan conservation to rebuild their home. Damming is also a very important conservation effort to carry out to prevent the forest from becoming too dry. Organisations can carry out these efforts, as well as help protect the forest from logging, palm oil, mining and hunting. Individuals can support organisations carrying out these efforts to show they care about orangutan conservation, but can also help by educating others about the importance of orangutans to change the community’s perception of these animals to care about their conservation.
Jenn: And finally Twenti, what are your hopes for your future and for the future of orangutans?
Twenti: I hope that I can continue to follow orangutans and work for OuTrop in the near future, because the forest is where I feel most at home working and I care very much about orangutans. My hopes for the future of orangutans are that they can live a comfortable life in the forest without future forest fires or other disturbances to disrupt their lives. I hope others will read this and undestand why it is important to continue to care about orangutans and the forest they live in.