The Bornean orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus) population has declined over 50% during the last 60 years, encounter rates of wild orangutans have decreased six fold, and most scientists estimate fewer than 50,000 individuals survive in the wild. This sharp decline has occurred almost entirely due to human activities and development and is projected to continue into the future. In order to preserve wild orangutan populations, reliable and inexpensive methods are needed for estimating population size and monitoring populations, but such methods are lacking. Furthermore, since the majority of wild populations (~ 75%) are located outside of protected areas, it is imperative to work with local communities and governments to build sustainable policies for management of forest resources.


1. Implement a new method for counting orangutan populations which will produce more accurate, cost effective and reliable population estimates of this endangered primate.

2. Use education to rediscover the strength of cultural traditions, wisdom of the Wehea Elders and a philosophy of respect and love for Nature.

3. Collaborate with the Wehea Dayak to enable research to be cost effectively scaled up, while also engaging communities in conservation-oriented interests.

4. Protect the existing orangutan population in Wehea

5. Expand and elevate the status of the existing ranger program to foster respect and pride for the Wehea Forest and the rangers who protect it.

Project Summary

This project aims to develop effective methods to assess and monitor the Wehea orangutan population that can also be used elsewhere, support the professional development of the Wehea Rangers, implement a rediscovery program to reconnect Wehea youth with their forest, and map the Wehea social-ecological system. Professional development of the Wehea Rangers will ensure that not only the critical boundaries of Wehea are patrolled, but also the orangutan population is scientifically monitored. The rediscovery program will address the loss of traditional knowledge by the Wehea Dayak youth, which is of grave concern to the Wehea elders. This rediscovery program will help protect orangutans by influencing the mental models of the youth and increasing the knowledge of their resource, both important variables in sustainable resource use. The community mapping project will increase knowledge of the Wehea system and bring together local stakeholders and policy makers. Lastly, by developing an accurate method for assessing orangutan populations, better and more integrated management policies of this endangered species can be implemented on the island of Borneo.

Collaborating Scientists


Dr. Stephanie Spehar – Dr. Spehar is principle investigator on the orangutan study. She is an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh and has conducted primate research in Wehea since 2008. Dr. Spehar will also assist in training of rangers in biodiversity monitoring and data management.

Brent Loken – Brent is collaborating with Dr. Spehar on the orangutan research in Wehea. He is Executive Director of Integrated Conservation, Pierre Elliott Trudeau Scholar, Vanier Scholar and currently a P.h.D student at Simon Fraser University. Brent has been involved in work with Wehea since 2009.

Nunuk Kasyanto– Nunuk is the Research and Education Coordinator for Integrated Conservation and will help organize this study. He has extensive knowledge of the forest, the biodiversity found in Wehea and experience working with the Wehea rangers. He has been documenting the biodiversity in Wehea since 2007. His passion and dedication to Wehea is an inspiration.