29 September 2014

Here at Chester Zoo we’re always looking for new tools to help us Act for Wildlife and for the past year we’ve been funding an exciting project developing innovative technologies which will help us conserve the Critically Endangered Sumatran orangutan.

We are supporting Serge Wich, Professor of Primate Biology at Liverpool John Moores University, who is working with two local NGOs, the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme and the Orangutan Information Centre, to pioneer a new method for studying orangutans.

Before we can begin effectively conserving orangutans we need to answer two questions:
1) How many are there?
2) Where are they?

With this information we can set priorities, protect important areas of habitat, target ranger patrols and plan wildlife corridors.  Unfortunately orangutans are shy, secretive creatures that tend to hide in thick forest.  This makes them rather difficult to count!

orangutan nest

Traditionally researchers have to walk long distances through thick, often muddy, forest to find orangutans or the nests they make each night.  Serge and his team are using video cameras attached to the latest fixed-wing and quadcopter unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to search for orangutan nests.  With this new technology large areas can be surveyed quickly and cheaply, leaving more of our valuable time and money free for other conservation activities!

orangutan nest

Serge has already used his UAVs to find orangutans in reforested areas.  This is important because it tells us reforesting farmland, palm oil plantations and other degraded areas can create valuable habitat for orangutans.

Whilst the technique is still being perfected Serge is sure to find lots of fascinating applications in the future.  You’ll just have to watch this space!

Act for Wildlife and join us in the fight to protect orangutans and their forest home.