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Borneo Futures is involved in a number of studies on the conservation ecology of orangutans, and we have a project on the taxonomy, evolution, and conservation of wild pigs, and the importance of pigs to human societies. Wild pigs are an important source of protein for many people around the world, but they are threatened in many places by disease and over-exploitation, and an invasive pest in other parts of the world.

Nature does its own thing. It doesn’t need ‘help’ from humans – in fact, natural environments and the non-human species that occupy them would probably be far better off in the absence of people – or at least these environments would contain a lot more wildlife. What we are trying to highlight here is that Borneo Futures sees conservation as an issue focussed on the management of people rather than the management of wildlife. Nevertheless, in order to create and implement successful interventions or policies, we must first understand the ecology of species, which allows us to understand their specific needs and susceptibility to threats.

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A map showing how rapidly the range of the Tapanuli orangutan has dwindled in the past 130 years

The Borneo Futures team has a long history of studying the ecology and evolution of mammal species, primarily on Borneo and Sumatra. One of our most recent studies (2020) analysed the historical distribution of the Tapanuli Orangutan. The study revealed that the species has lost over 95% of the range it occupied 130 years ago, but, perhaps unexpectedly to most, the majority of population loss occurred before the start of large-scale deforestation in the 1970s. This indicates that Orangutans are extremely vulnerable to the combined effects of forest fragmentation and unsustainable killing-rates – killing being a key factor here as other studies have provided that Orangutans can be very resilient in fragmented forest areas given that they are protected from external threats. The insights that we gathered from such studies allow us to directly apply outcomes and inform the conservation management needs of the remaining population in a case-specific manner.

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Cartoon produced for a satirical article we wrote about developing a hydrodam in an area critical for the survival of the Tapanuli orangutan

Operating at the interface between conservation science and practice, Borneo Futures uses these kinds of insights to put pressure on governments and companies that threaten the survival of endangered species. Solid science should underpin conservation policies and management and when this is not the case it is important that the science is brought to the attention of decision-makers. An example of our scientific advocacy work is the various articles we have written on the Batang Toru hydrodam.
We do not only work on global conservation icons, such as the Orangutan, but also species that are locally ‘important’ in their own sense. For example, Christian communities on Borneo, of which there are many, are likely to be more interested in Bearded Pigs than Orangutans, both as a source of meat and as a pest to their crops. Therefore, in these circumstances, it is crucial to understand pig ecology, as well as their interactions at the human-wildlife interface, in order to present efficient interventions and targets to communities. We have engaged in similar work in Vietnam, where one of the rarest mammals in Asia, the Silver-backed Chevrotain, was recently rediscovered.

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The Silver-backed Chevrotain, a species only known from a handful of specimens, was thought to be extinct but rediscovered and its continued survival recently confirmed.

Finally, Borneo Futures also employs the study of taxonomy as a tool to indicate which mammal species have high species endemism and are therefore extra important for conservation. Ultimately, however, we do this work as it if fun and intellectually stimulating. To quote the great Richard Feynmann, here at Borneo Futures we are firm believers in “the pleasure of finding things out”.

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