In March of 2016 and February of 2018 I participated as Assistant Instructor for the Borneo Tree Monkey Project. We trained non-profit organizations how to climb trees with ropes and gear, for rescue, rehabilitation, maintenance, and research of Orangutans and Sun Bears. The goal is to leave each center with members of conservation staff which can competently and safely climb trees within their field sites in Borneo. We also donated a full set of climbing gear to each center. Tree climbing is an essential skill for everyday work at these centers with tasks including (but not limited to):
Orangutans and many of the animals in the rainforest are arboreal and live the majority of their lives in the trees. Research tasks include tracking released Orangutans, capturing of collared animals to retrieve collars, and retrieving animals for health checks.
Many rescued Orangutans are orphaned babies that no longer have their mothers carrying them and training them to climb trees. Currently conservation workers train them at Forest School; wooden jungle gyms in the forest that are built up to 14 foot tall. Yet Orangutans normally spend 70% of their lives in the high tree canopy, which the workers are currently unable to climb. Therefore, trained climbers with ropes and gear will use their skills and equipment to create ways of encouraging baby Orangutans to explore higher in the canopy to reconnect with their natural abilities to climb.
Many Orangutans get caught in a forest that is about to or is being cut down, or find their way into a palm plantation and get lost. Project Orangutan as well as other centers have a trained group of rescuers that will find and dart the Orangutans to rescue them. After the Orangutan is drugged it will frequently fall out of the trees and the rescuers can obtain and remove them. But in many cases the Orangutan will fall into a crotch of a tree or onto a limb, in which case a rescuer will have to climb the tree by hand without equipment which can lead to an injury or death of the rescuer by falling out of the trees. Technical tree climbing techniques using ropes, harnesses, and equipment will help rescuers to retrieve the Orangutans safely and may even assist to bring the Orangutan down from the trees gently as well.
Tree climbing will help to trim trees around enclosures and pens to keep animals from escaping as well as install, fix fencing on high walls, and provide safety when working on climbing towers and observation decks. Tree climbing will also allow the workers to install enrichment and Forest School training activities for the Orangutans and Sun Bears.
Furthermore, we also assisted one center to track and attempt to capture a previously released Slow Loris (small nocturnal primate). The Slow Loris had been rehabilitated and released to the wild. The purpose of the capturing attempt was to remove its VHF radio collar. We hiked through the jungle while tracking the VHF signal and then our team climbed the trees in attempt to capture and remove the radio collar.
Additionally, we also partnered with Rainforest Connection; a nonprofit based in California which transforms recycled cell-phones into autonomous, solar-powered listening devices that can monitor and pinpoint chainsaw activity at a great distance. We deployed a unit in the Borneo canopy to track for illegal logging of the rainforest. The unit creates real-time awareness for real-time intervention to interrupt perpetrators.
Borneo is the third largest island in the world and is made up of 3 countries; Indonesia, Brunei, and Malaysia. Borneo is home to one of the oldest rainforest in the world with some of the richest biological diversity, second only to the Amazon. One of its unique qualities include being the only home of the Endangered Borneo and Sumatran Orangutans.
Orangutans are becoming endangered due to the loss of jungle habitat from illegal logging, illegal mining, and the over-development of palm oil plantations. Orangutans are also being traded illegally as pets and for the exotic food markets of East Asia.
Many non-profits are working tirelessly to save these wonderful animals from extinction.
Tree Monkey Project (www.TreeMonkeyProject.org) – tree climbing training nonprofit based in California
Jejak Pulang (2018) in Balikpapan, Indonesia. Trained 5 Orangutan conservation workers and 2 Sungai Wain National Forest Rangers. And 1 worker from our 2016 training returned for additional training and to assist instruction of the new students.
Matang Wildlife Centre – Project Orangutan. In Sarawak, Malaysia. Trained 1 wildlife conservation trainer.
BSBCC – Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre, in Sabah, Malaysia. Trained 5 Sun Bear conservation workers.
Tabin Orangutan Post-Release Monitoring Project, in Sabah, Malaysia. Trained 3 Orangutan rescue workers.
BOS – Borneo Orangutan Survival. Samboja Lestari center in Indonesia. East Kalimantan Orangutan Reintroduction Program. Trained 4 Orangutan conservation workers and rescue team.
KWPLH in Balikpapan, Indonesia (Sun Bear) – Kawasan Wisata Pendidikan Lingkungan Hidup. Trained 1 Sun Bear conservation worker.
Sungai Wain National Forest in Kalimantan, Indonesia. Trained one jungle firefighter.
Rainforest Connection, based in California – Tracking sensors to monitor for illegal logging. Installed sensor unit in Borneo jungle canopy.