Out on a limb: Unlikely collaboration boosts orangutans in Borneo

A wild mother and infant Bornean orangutan. May 25, 2019. Sepilok Nature Reserve, Sabah, Malaysia.

My latest article for Mongabay!

Out on a limb: Unlikely collaboration boosts orangutans in Borneo

Click on the above link to read it, or scroll down.

I was lucky to report this article from the field, both at the medical center built by Health In Harmony and ASRI near Gunung Palung National Park, and at the new ASRI clinics near Bukit Baka Bukit Raya National Park.

Here I am at the new ASRI health clinic in Nusa Poring, on the border of Bukit Baka Bukit Raya National Park in central Indonesian Borneo. Founder Kinari Webb stands on the porch. Behind me are medical doctor Fitriyani Simangunsong, midwife Vini Talenta, and Forest Guardians coordinator Henriadi.

When I began, I thought I'd be writing an overview of Health In Harmony's planetary health model of conservation. Then, Mongabay published a podcast interview with Health In Harmony's founder, Dr. Kinari Webb, a week before my article was slated for publication. It's a wonderful podcast, you should check it out! But it covered the same territory as my article and threw a wrench in my plans, as the magazine understandably didn't want to publish two pieces on extremely similar topics in the same week.

Look at those splits! This juvenile accompanied the above mom and baby. A young orangutan lives with and learns from its mother until it's seven or eight years old, but when it's mom has a new baby, the older sibling has to keep its distance.

The dilemma forced me to rethink my angle and tell the story from a perspective I hadn't considered before: focusing on the effect of reintroduction on the viability of small, isolated orangutan populations that are now the norm.

The remaining intact ecosystem on Earth are becoming islands in a sea of human-used land. And, as David Quammen explains so beautifully in The Song of the Dodo, "A high jeopardy of extinction comes with territory. Islands are where species go to die."

Sun shines through the fur of a wild orangutan in Sepilok Nature Reserve and illustrates why this primate is nicknamed the "red ape."

I told the story of Health In Harmony and International Animal Rescue's collaboration in central Borneo from the perspective of the tiny but increasing population of orangutans inhabiting the park. What does a midwifery clinic matter to the great red ape? Maybe, collaborative survival!