HUTAN-Kinabatangan Orangutan Conservation Project

Image: HUTAN/Shernytta Poloi

Synchronicity Earth has supported Hutan since 2014 in its work to conserve and restore the biodiverse ecosystems of the Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary, in Malaysia Borneo as a part of its Regeneration portfolio.

Forest degradation and fragmentation present major threats to the long-term survival of biodiversity in the Kinabatangan floodplain, a part of Borneo that has already lost 80 per cent of its natural forest to palm oil plantations. The forests that remain are home to many unique plants and animals, but they are highly fragmented, making them vulnerable to further degradation, which also isolates wildlife populations, leaving them at risk of imminent extinction. For example, the orang-utan population in Kinabatangan has fallen from 20,000 individuals in 1900 to an estimated 785 in 2016, a decline of 96%.

Hutan was established by Dr. Isabelle Lackman and Dr. Marc Ancrenaz in 1996 and has since evolved from an small organisation primarily focused on orang-utan research to a dynamic partnership which is instrumental in the conservation in the Lower Kinabatangan of Sabah, Malaysian Borneo – one of the world’s most important biodiversity areas. Hutan undertakes its mission to conserve the Bornean orang-utan through a holistic, multi-faceted approach. It carries out survey and monitoring work for orang-utans; it creates solutions for better management of palm oil plantations; it works with local communities to create innovative mechanisms where local development is compatible with long-term conservation of orang-utans and their habitat; it regenerates degraded forests, and it works to influence wider policy in Sabah Province. Whilst the organisation’s focus is on orang-utans, in working to conserve the habitats of the Lower Kinabatangan floodplain its work also benefits a number of other species including the Helmeted hornbill, Bornean gibbon, Proboscis monkey, Edible nest swiftlet and Asian elephant, and it has even begun to develop specific programmes of work for some of these species.

The main focus of Synchronicity Earth’s support to date has been Hutan’s reforestation unit. Since 2003, Hutan’s reforestation unit – made up of women from local villages – has been rehabilitating crucial wildlife habitat and forest corridors in the Lower Kinabatangan River Basin. Forest corridors connect isolated patches of forests and aim to provide shelter, food and dispersal paths for orang-utans and many other animal species, as well as restore carbon stocks and ecosystem functions. Restoration projects around the world vary greatly in terms of their success: to date Hutan’s meticulous care for seedlings means that 90% of those planted reach maturity. The purchase of seedlings from community nurseries generated $19,000 of supplementary income to the local community, between January 2016 and May 2017.

At A Glance