Tag Archives: orangutans

Saving What Matters: Taking Sustainability Personally

I was asked to deliver a talk to the School of Arts, Design and Media at Nanyang Technological University last week.  As I was preparing, I recorded a rehearsal version of the talk and posted that on YouTube:

This version cut off the bottoms of the slides, which included some important source links and some other information.  That information is visible in this PDF: MM talk to ADM Sept 2015 v4


Dr. Merrill will discuss her research on rainforest apes, how these experiences moulded her views on sustainability, and how everyone’s choices shape the future. She will share her adventures watching bonobos (Pan paniscus) in central Congo, and orangutans (Pongo abelii) in northern Sumatra. She will talk about some of the threats to these endangered primates, and how they connect to the decisions people in Singapore and all over the world make about what to buy and do. She will show why these actions and choices have repercussions that are relevant to the well-being of current and future generations of people everywhere. She will provide examples of how we can make better choices, and explain how these choices can have greater effects because of the way humans have evolved to learn.

Leuser Under Threat Again

And yet another sad but important recent article related to my upcoming talk, this time on the Leuser Ecosystem (where I studied orangutans at Suaq Balimbing and Ketambe research sites in 1999-2000) and the palm oil producer (PT. Aloer Timur) who is encroaching on its lowland forests.

A report produced by Greenomics Indonesia presents evidence from spatial monitoring and field observations that documents the clearing of High Carbon Stock (HCS) forests in a PT. Aloer Timur concession located inside the Leuser Ecosystem. RAN confirmed this destruction in June 2015. At the end of June, Greenomics released another report with photographic evidence showing PT. Aloer Timur had still been bulldozing HCS forests as of June 24, 2015.

From Rainforest Action Network

Latest article on the Palm Oil threat to the Leuser Ecosystem

A recent summary of the current challenges facing Leuser, where I went 16 years ago to study orangutans, then watched their home being desecrated by the relentless chainsaws.

“Right now, huge swaths of vital forest habitat in Indonesia are being cut, cleared and burnt to the ground to make way for industrial-scale palm oil inyourpalm480pxplantations. These illegal operations produce a cheap supply of palm oil to a voracious international market that is growing at an exponential rate. Demand for this vegetable oil has sky-rocketed in the past decade as palm oil companies have managed to keep consumers in the dark about the hideous crimes being committed against humanity, endangered creatures and the planet.

I hope I have managed to impart even a sliver of the exceptional uniqueness and immense beauty that is embodied by this special place. Only then can one begin to fully understand the weight of loss that is sustained with every single fallen tree. Yet the true measure of this problem extends far beyond the initial insult of deforestation and spreads like a virus into lives of hundreds of innocent people and animals alike. ” ~Heather Rally

Note especially Michelle Desilets’ comment: “May I suggest readers have a look at campaigns by groups such as the Rainforest Action Network and the Union of Concerned Scientists to urge manufacturers and retailers to source only deforestation-free, conflict-free Certified Sustainable Palm Oil.”   This problem is so big and so pervasive that a handful of us tree-huggers refusing Oreos is going to barely make a dent – the companies involved won’t budge without a large, organized push.  So by all means, reduce your complicity, but don’t forget to organize and collaborate for maximum effect.


Evidence of illegal logging activity detected by conservation drones in Gunung Leuser National Park

Michelle Y. Merrill, Ph.D.:

More logging in Leuser – ouch! At least the Gunung Leuser National Park officials seem to have given an appropriate response. Here’s hoping those conservation drones can catch more illegal loggers before they do much damage.

Originally posted on :

The ConservationDrones Asia Team and the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme (SOCP) flew two separate missions over a part of the Gunung Leuser National Park (Indonesia) between two time periods barely a few months apart. In these two drone images you can see clear evidence of illegal logging within the national park. The loggers even left a strip of forest on the river bank to conceal the patch of logged forest from view. These images were given to park officials who subsequently acted to stop the logging activities.



View original


Conservation Drones?

When I was slogging through the swamps and slipping down the mud-slicked trails of Sumatra, following orangutans, I often daydreamed about how the right tech would make the job so much easier.  I even started to write a novel about it.

Now one of those gizmos I so wished for is a reality: small aircraft with cameras that can get above the canopy to see what’s going on up there from a much better vantage than on the ground.  And a colleague and friend, Serge Wich, who worked in Zaire and then on Sumatra at roughly the same time as I did (but always much more skillfully and proficiently over much longer timeframes), got some support from National Geographic to set the things up.  Here’s some video of my buddy Serge Wich talking to Nat Geo reporters:

and here’s a TED talk by his co-conspiritor at ConservationDrones.org, Lian Pin Koh:

Great job, team!


News from Indonesia’s Forests

Visiting Mongabay.com/Mongabay.org is always an emotional roller-coaster.  The reporting is great, and what they have to say is… often not so great.  The latest news out of Indonesia (especially Sumatra) is a typically mixed bag.

Despite moratorium, Indonesia now has world’s highest deforestation rate :-(

Observational Learning in Sumatran Orangutans

Sumatran Orangutans, in lowland/wetland “protected” forest, just before the forest there was illegally, selectively logged in 1999.

ConAgra adopts greener palm oil policy :-)

Elephant poaching soars as Sumatran forests turn into plantations :-(


Depleted forests force Borneo Orangutans to nest in oil palm estates

Our furry orange friends are just trying to find a place to sleep for the night… they’ve had to go from secure and cozy places where they could make a nice bed for themselves, to the orangutan equivalent of sleeping under a bridge.

Depleting forest forces Orangutans to nest in oil palm estates

Posted on July 1, 2014, Tuesday | Borneo Post Online

SANDAKAN: A new landmark study based in Sabah’s east coast has shown that orangutans in Kinabatangan have no choice but to nest in oil palm plantations as they travel from one forest patch to another.

“These findings have long term implications for the oil palm industry and those working in conservation as we have to look at a larger landscape rather than concentrate only on forested areas,” said Dr Marc Ancrenaz, the lead author of the findings published in Oryx, the international journal of conservation…

“Where were these missing orangutans. We knew they could not have just disappeared from the small forested areas of lower Kinabatangan. So we looked outside the forested areas and what we found, truly shocked us,” said Ancrenaz who is also scientific director of HUTAN-KOCP, in a statement yesterday.

Ancrenaz said the researchers found that orangutan nests within the oil palm landscape within small patches of trees, even single trees.

“The orangutans are not adapting to the oil palm and are using them to find other forested areas. This means the palm oil industry now has a very important role to play to sustain the long term survival of the orangutan population living in Kinabatangan and other agricultural lands in Sabah.”

The study also found the orangutans only used the oil palm plants to nest when they had no access to native trees and usually did not go too far inside with 90 percent detected within 100 metres of the forest edge, although it did find that some had roamed further inside.

Read more:  http://www.theborneopost.com/2014/07/01/depleting-forest-forces-orangutans-to-nest-in-oil-palm-estates/#ixzz36ByM977S