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Research in Primatology consists of three different stages. Data collection in the field is the first stage, the second is to analyze data which often takes place behind a computer and the third to write a report, article or book chapter about the (occasionally pioneering) results.

The way to collect data depends on the subject of each project, although behavioural data are always collected using ethograms. Between most orangutan field sites the ethogram is standardized to optimize the comparisons of orangutan behaviour between different regions. An ethogram is a table to fill in behaviours the orangutan (focal) is doing, such as resting, eating (what, how high etc.), moving, association with other orangutan(s) (having a ‘party’), copulating and so on, during following. Other common ways to gather behavioural data are to make film and/or audio recordings. This is often an addition to the ethogram.

To start collecting data one first must find an orangutan. A searching day starts usually at 6 o’clock in the morning after dawn. By walking slowly and by listening, an orangutan can be found in the forest, although this is very difficult. Sometimes an orangutan is found within one hour; sometimes it can take several days or weeks. Orangutans can be found by movements, feeding smacks or even smell. After finding, following hours start and prolong until the orangutan makes a night nest which is highly variable in time per orangutan per day (ranging from 2.30 p.m. until 8 p.m.). After making this nest and the researcher is sure the orangutan will stay there for the night, the place is marked. This is to make sure that the next morning the nest can be found again. An orangutan usually wakes up early (around 5 a.m. on Borneo and 6 a.m. in Sumatra). Before this happens one must be at the nest, this means that on following days the time to wake up is around three o’clock at night (which also depends on the distance the nest is from camp). An orangutan can be followed for a maximum continuous period of 10 days. After that, it is time to give the orangutan some rest for at least a month. This maximum period is set mainly to avoid extreme habituation to human presence.

Pongo Foundation focuses on the research and conservation of two field sites, located in Sumatra.

Ketambe and Suaq Balimbing, Central Aceh, Sumatra

Ketambe and Suaq Balimbing are located in the Leuser Ecosystem. These sites consist of primary tropical rain forest in mountaineous terrain and swamp area respectively. The Leuser Ecosystem area is approximately 25 km² and lies between two rivers. Ketambe is one of the oldest research sites where studies have been conducted since 1971. As a cause of problems concerning Aceh, these sites have been closed since 1999, but have re-opened for research in November 2006. Unfortunately, a large part of these areas have been illegally logged meanwhile.

Other research sites are:

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