27 Aug 2015

In our last blog we introduced you to Steve Unwin, veterinary officer at Chester Zoo. Steve is part of an in-house team of vets and nurses that provide clinical care to the animals at the zoo. In addition to this the team support some of our field conservation projects and are also committed to sharing their skills and training other organisations based here in the UK and overseas.

One of the projects Steve is involved in is working towards becoming a major force in shaping conservation medicine work across Indonesia and Malaysia.Orangutan in the wild

The Orangutan Conservancy – Orangutan Veterinary Advisory Group (OC/OVAG) is a network of experts working in orangutan conservation.  Initiated by Orangutan Conservancy and supported by Chester Zoo, the group aims to bring together those working with orangutans in order to share expertise, knowledge and the exchanging of ideas to move forwards with effective orangutan conservation.

Communication between conservationists and scientists is crucial to moving forwards with orangutan conservation. The many projects working to protect this endangered animal are doing an amazing job and to strengthen their work, contact between field projects, sanctuaries, zoos, academia and government in a range of countries is crucial in moving forwards.

OVAG workshop, mascot


The veterinary staff members involved in OC/OVAG are at the frontline of addressing the welfare and conservation needs of orangutans and other wildlife. Enhancing their knowledge and skills will help them to ensure the best outcome for each individual animal.

Today OC/OVAG places tremendous emphasis on the animal health standards in orangutan projects and provides a service ensuring that staff are fully trained with the most modern and effective techniques.

It is vital that we work together as an international community to prevent the only great ape found outside of Africa from disappearing. By continuing to broaden collaborations in-situ and ex-situ, OC/OVAG members and affiliates are contributing to the orangutan species’ longevity and well-being.

This year, through the project, Chester Zoo is providing expert training on disease investigation techniques and an understanding of conservation management on a global scale for two members of OC/OVAG. This programme is an additional tool to empower the participants to take the lead in conservation medicine in their own country.

This will result in an increase in the number of wild orangutans able to be released through immediate and appropriate conservation management, medical treatment and rehabilitative care.  The two members that will be spending three months in the UK are Winny Pramesywari from the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Project and Siska Sulistyo from the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation.Steve Unwin, Chester Zoo vet with OVAG member

Steve Unwin, Chester Zoo vet, with Siska Sulistyo at a previous OVAG workshop

They will also work with other organisations to enhance their skills and knowledge across a range of disciplines – including primate husbandry and health, conservation management, disease risk analysis, marketing, fundraising and social media – which they can then take back and practice in order to improve the work they’re doing in their day to day jobs.