The Orangutan Health Project

A short or long-term volunteer opportunity to work on a long-running research project that studies the effects of medicinal plants on parasites in wild orangutans.

About the Project

The Orangutan Health Project (OHP) was the first orangutan research project to investigate special behaviours and ecological conditions necessary to maintain health in wild orangutans. In addition, OHP is the only on-going and long-term orangutan health research project being conducted in the world at this time. This is partly due to the complexity of self-medicating behaviours of the orangutan and the astonishing variety of flora in the rainforest, which also entails geographical and seasonal variations.

There is still a great need for more information to be gathered and for further research to be conducted in order for us to continue learning about orangutan health and how orangutans combat disease.

The primary focus of Orangutan Health Project s research to-date is investigating and understanding how wild orangutans combat parasitic infections. Parasite infections can and do affect everything from health to reproduction and fertility, and ultimately survival. Understanding preventive and curative methods in wild orangutans will aid rehabilitation programs in the future to teach possible reintroduced orangutans health practices similar to those of wild orangutan populations in surrounding areas, thus enabling a higher chance of survival once reintroduced orangutans are on their own in the forest.

Due to the rapid decline of rainforest trees and plants each year, Orangutan Health Project aims to facilitate rainforest preservation by bringing to light the enormity of the importance of Indonesian rainforests through information obtained through our research regarding the healing properties of plants found only in the rainforests. The use or consumption of these plants is not limited to wild orangutans, but also applies to captive orangutans. Perhaps, eventually, some of these same plants can be used in natural and pharmaceutical medicines to treat human ailment.

The Orangutan Health Project is led by Ivona Foitova, a Veterinary Doctor from the Czech Republic with an additional PhD in Wildlife Disease.

OHP is sponsored by the "UMI-Saving of Pongidae" Foundation (UMI), established in 1994 in the Czech Republic in order to:

  • Protect the Great Apes
  • Study and learn about their lives in captivity and in their natural habitat
  • Conserve their natural habitat
  • Improve breeding in captivity
  • Create conditions for successful breeding and study of the Great Apes in the Czech Republic

UMI chose to allocate the majority of its resources to Orangutan Health Project due to the fact that OHP’s research has the potential to help both wild captive orangutans. UMI works closely with Gadjah Mada University (GMU) in Yogyakarta, Indonesia and its Faculty of Veterinary Sciences.

Co-operation with local scientists and researchers is critical to the success of OHP, and OHP calls on the expertise (local forests, plant identification, known medicinal properties for humans, etc.) of local people as much as possible.

AREAS OF INTEREST

  • Research
  • Conservation
  • Education

CURRENT PROJECT WORK

With sufficient long observation periods, Orangutan Health Project is able to get good accurate data and results. Only with long-term research can this data be obtained. The project continues research at various different sites: in Sumatra and in Kalimantan. Orangutan Health Project aims to understand how orangutans combat parasitic infection that affects their health, reproduction and ultimately their survival. As a result of this research new avenues will hopefully be opened up for use in human medicine. It may also help to shed light on the human-primate relationship, most importantly, the health risks associated with co-existence.By comparing the health of wild and semi-wild orangutans, at different sites and under varying degrees of human pressure, OHP has begun to build a picture of the factors affecting health in these two equally important populations. Orangutan Health Project's unique approach enables us to investigate whether complex aspects of ethology and ecology influence parasite infections and how parasites may have an impact on whole ecosystems, out of all proportion to their relative size.

WHERE WE ARE LOCATED

Orangutan Health Project’s main base is located amongst the rice paddies in the village of Timbang Lawan, approximately 80 km from Medan, the capital of the province of North Sumatra, on the island of Sumatra, Indonesia. Research is conducted in three locations on Sumatra, all within the amazing Leuser Ecosystem, which spans the provinces of North Sumatra and Aceh and is one of the richest expanses of protected tropical rain forest in Southeast Asia. Research is also conducted in two locations in the province of Central Kalimantan on the island of Borneo, in Tuanan and in the Sebangau National Park., home to one of the highest wild orangutan populations in Borneo. The head of the project and principal investigator, MV Dr. Ivona Foitova PhD, is based in Brno, in the Czech Republic.

OHP WORLDWIDE COLLABORATORS

Orangutan Health Project is fostering cooperation between scientists from around the world, who are exchanging knowledge across fields of study and on a wide range of research topics.

Volunteer program

By volunteering with Orangutan Health Project,  you will be contributing to the research and conservation goals of the project. It is hoped that these efforts will lead to an improved understanding of how best to promote the long-term survival of the orangutan and its unique ecosystem by improving our understanding of both.

Social Impact

The goals of the Orangutan Health Project are amongst other to build a broader knowledge of orangutan health maintenance with an emphasis on parasite/host interactions, which will have useful applications for effective rehabilitation, conservation, and successful preservation of the species. Also, we want to improve the understanding of one of mankind's closest relatives, the human & non-human primate relationship, and most importantly, the health risks orangutans face associated with co-existence with humans.

BENEFITS

  • A broader knowledge of orangutan health maintenance with an emphasis on parasite/host interactions, which will have useful applications for effective rehabilitation, conservation, and successful preservation of the species.
  • Improved understanding of one of mankind's closest relatives, the human & non-human primate relationship, and most importantly, the health risks orangutans face associated with co-existence. Combating communicable diseases in wild orangutans becomes more urgent as habitable forests for orangutans and orangutan populations continue to decline at an alarming rate.
  • OHP’s data will facilitate improved health of captive orangutans in zoos and rehabilitation centres, potentially discovering new methods of controlling parasite infections.
  • We will expand the knowledge base of medicinal plants, and discoveries of previously unknown medicinal properties will emphasise the importance of conserving rainforest habitat.
  • New avenues will be opened up for investigation in the field of human medicine.

PRACTICAL APPLICATION OF OHP RESEARCH AND FINDINGS

Based on the preliminary results from an Orangutan Health Project study of wild orangutans in Sumatra, a feeding trial on captive orangutans was conducted at Singapore Zoo in 2001. The level of parasites was greatly reduced after changing their diet for six months (Foitova et al., 2002) and Singapore Zoo subsequently revised its orangutan diet on the basis of this trial

NPO Status
Yes, registered non-profit organisation
Foundation Year
1994
Contact Person
Victoria Wellock
Where can you volunteer?
What can you do?
Sample bottle prepping at research base Jungle Trekking A trip to the local market Main bridge in Bukit Lawang National Park vegetation Young orangutan during 5-day trek Motorbike ride through the backhills of Sumatra Baby orangutan displaying/shaking trees

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