These forests are home to some of the most threatened species on the planet – including the iconic Bornean orangutan and pygmy elephants. As a zoo, we are in a unique position to provide technical support and assistance to projects on the ground, using our skills to help boost their conservation efforts. Conservation is all about partnerships and our relationship with HUTAN is exactly that; HUTAN have a strong sense that collaboration is key to successful projects.
Our partnership has grown over the years and despite the challenges that remain in the field, we continue to work hard to help make a positive difference.
Working with the community to bring about change
For a number of years we’ve been working with HUTAN’s education team (HEAP), assisting with a strategy for their learning programme. Our Discovery and Learning team here at the zoo are specialists in their field and together with HEAP successfully produced a plan for their education programmes which centres on improving knowledge about the forests and the negative impact humans can have on wildlife. Over the years, the HEAP team have built up a positive reputation in the community and work closely with schools, other conservation organisations, government departments and communities to protect the wildlife of the region. Our next steps will look into how some of the community and education skills we use at the zoo can help the local community to get more involved in efforts to protect wildlife.
Sustainable palm oil
One of our key campaigns at the zoo is our Sustainable Palm Oil Challenge, aiming to increase the demand for sustainable palm oil. This is a hugely important campaign for us, as it directly impacts the work that our partners are doing in the field. By working on the consumer end of the palm oil supply chain, we are backing up the work that HUTAN is doing in the field on the production end of the chain.
We are in a unique position as a conservation organisation to help promote behaviour change; not only are we a conservation organisation that has over 1.6 million visitors a year to talk to, we are also a conservation organisation that procures and sells food items on site. This means that we can have a huge impact on the demand for sustainable palm oil in the UK. We work really hard with other UK and international partners to improve the sustainability of palm oil and increase demand, supporting HUTAN’s work on the ground. But we need your help too!
Starting in 2004, the orangutan bridge project is an area we have increased our involvement in. The bridges are an innovative idea for reconnecting orangutan populations which have become isolated from each other for many reasons, such as oil palm plantations, roads and drainage channels. Following the initial six bridges built by HUTAN and partners, we got involved in 2011. The reason for our initial involvement was simple; HUTAN needed a new material to build their rope bridges with as the ropes they had been using were too heavy and could cause damage to trees. We discussed the use of webbing material used in our orangutan enclosure in the zoo which has unique properties; lightweight, non-biodegradable and UV resistant – perfect for the environmental conditions found in Sabah. Most importantly, the material had been tried and tested by the orangutans at Chester Zoo! Our teams at the zoo have been involved in two trips so far to build more bridges to connect vital patches of habitat and more are planned in the future. We also have great evidence now of the use of these bridges thanks to one observant tourist!
Artificial hornbill nest boxes
Eight species of hornbill are found in the Kinabatangan region; many are classified as endangered and the helmeted hornbill has been reclassified recently as critically endangered. Due to the forest being a secondary forest, it lacks old mature trees for hornbills to nest in. As a temporary measure, artificial nest boxes are a key part of the strategy to ensure the hornbill species remain and successfully breed in the area. For many years, our bird team in the zoo have been creating artificial habitat for hornbills to encourage conservation breeding. Our teams therefore have excellent knowledge and experience of trialling and testing these boxes to end up with a positive result for hornbill breeding. In 2013, we started to work with HUTAN on this new project to help develop a successful prototype to use in the field. The boxes built in 2013 are being monitored in the field by HUTAN, and we’re working in the zoo to develop new prototypes which will hopefully promote breeding by the larger more threatened hornbill species of the region.
Artificial hornbill nest in a tree. Photo credit: HUTAN
Our newest partnership project with HUTAN has recently developed with our marketing team at the zoo. Our marketing professionals have extensive experience in areas including website design, social media and behaviour change. All of these areas of work are important in communicating and promoting environmental protection. We’ve started to work alongside HUTAN to develop this area of work and we’ll keep you posted with how it goes!