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Department of Evolutionary Anthropology

Network Information


The major reason for the orangutan network is that it is becoming increasingly clear that orangutans, like chimpanzees, have local traditions that are at least in part based on socially transmitted behaviors. It is very important that we map this variation before we lose forever the opportunity to study this model system for the conditions that favored the evolution of culture as we know it in humans. This task requires an increased coverage of the orangutan geographic range and standardization of methods. The orangutan network can therefore make important contributions to the study of culture. Most of the resources found on this website were developed to facilitate the work at the various field sites and boost the comparability of the results obtained.

Another reason for this network is that field projects based at permanent field stations have a conservation impact that is disproportionate to the very moderate level of investment they require. There are several reasons for this.

First, these projects involve many local people who, upon gaining experience, become local ambassadors in the neighboring towns and villages. They also are a source of employment, which creates local goodwill. A permanent presence and integration into local cultures creates long-term contacts and fosters mutual understanding of objectives, and therefore may help to identify solutions that capture the interests of both parties as much as possible.

Second, the research projects serve as eyes and ears for the conservation agency. Because of their potential to report both inside and outside the country, their very presence discourages transgressions and encourages effective conservation action by government agencies.

Third, these projects involve many students – the future leaders in the conservation effort – and provides them with a unique experience during an impressionable stage in their lives. Often, this field training turns them into life-long conservationists, and so generates a network of supporters, even if the students end up in very different walks of life.

Fourth, many field sites have spawned ecotourism development nearby by bringing publicity to the local area and attracting visitors. Often, staff from these projects have been critically important to the success of the local ecotourism enterprise. Ecotourism, if properly developed, can support local economies and can produce yet another constituency of conservation supporters.

This conservation impact has especially been strong for primatological projects, because research tends to be long-term, up to decades long, and the researchers, by regarding their study subjects as individuals, tend to develop very strong respect and admiration for them – an admiration that rubs off on those who visit. Great apes are charismatic; hence, they are ideal subjects to turn initially indifferent people into conservationists. The research on culture underscores this point because it illustrates once again the remarkable similarity between humans and great apes, and should galvanize support for their in situ conservation.

We should be able to capitalize on this experience by replicating successful examples of active great ape field sites as much as possible.



The Board of the Orangutan Network consists of active scientists and conservationists, from both host nations (Indonesia, Malaysia) and other countries with active research interests. Their most important task is to facilitate the comparisons and support conservation efforts; they will vote among themselves when new members need to be elected.

  • Prof. Dr. Carel van Schaik, University of Zürich (Switzerland)
  • Dr. Sri Suci Utami, Universitas Nasional, Jakarta (Indonesia)
  • Prof Dr. J. van Hooff, Utrecht University (Netherlands)
  • Prof. Dr. Birute Galdikas, Orangutan Foundation, Los Angeles (USA)

All interested individuals or institutions can become a member of the network. It is our hope that all active orangutan projects will be members and share methods.