Helen Pople is a science research master’s student, at The University of Portsmouth and another student whose research we helped through our Studentship programme.
Little research has been carried out on proboscis monkey behaviour – here Helen tells us more about the work she has been doing around this species and how they are affected by humans in the Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary.
“In February 2014, I flew to Malaysian Borneo in order to carry out behavioural research on the endangered proboscis monkey. My work focuses on understanding the effects of humans on wild proboscis monkey behaviour and whether unregulated tourism can induce stress and other negative behaviours. I’ve always been interested in animal behaviour and jumped at the chance to study primates in the wild.
“The endangered proboscis monkey is endemic to the island of Borneo; living along forest edges and waterways, feeding off and sleeping in the trees along riverbanks.
“Around 60,500 tourists visit the Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary each year and enjoy boat tours hoping to catch a glimpse of the monkeys. This, combined with the abundance of many other species, suggests that such a place needs strong regulations for tourism. In studies on proboscis monkeys it is clear that they are affected by human presence; they often flee when researchers or tourists get too close. We decided that it was important to further our understanding on how humans can negatively affect proboscis monkey behaviour.
“The results could be used to propose guidelines for tourism such as a set distance and speed limits that tour boats must obey when approaching the proboscis monkeys, and limitations on the times of day for boat tours. Whilst tourism creates essential revenue for conservation, it is important that we do not negatively affect wildlife in the process.
“Very little research has been carried out on proboscis monkey behaviour so the second part of my study aimed to find out more about proboscis monkey behaviours in general.
“In order to complete my research I was stationed at the Danau Girang Field Centre, positioned in the middle of the jungle, with a half an hour boat journey along the Kinabatangan River to the nearest town. I used satellite-tracking techniques to find the proboscis groups, who had already been safely collared by researchers at the Danau Girang Field Centre (another project that Chester Zoo works with).
“A typical day involved waking up at 4.30am to set off in the boat and find the groups at 5.00am before it got light. By locating the groups the previous evening we were able to arrive very slowly in the dark and wait for the group to wake up without disturbing them. I would then film the individuals in the group one by one from the opposite bank for around two hours to get a general understanding of behaviour. In the afternoon we would head out again to find a new troop of proboscis monkeys and complete a boat approach experiment before dark. This involved changing the speeds and proximity of the boat and filming the proboscis monkeys at the same time.
“Whilst we are still in the process of analysing the results, just from observations it seems that proboscis monkeys are indeed negatively affected when boats get too close or are too fast. Once the results are analysed, a report will be written up and sent to the wildlife department of Borneo. We hope to use these results to suggest stronger rules for improving tourism and to protect our wildlife while we all continue to enjoy the environment.”
Photo credit: Tim Garvey