Gracia and The Kids: Fall 2020

Despite the world coming to a stand-still due to the extraordinary situation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the BNF field team are busy protecting the Sebangau Forest and its abundance of wildlife.

Following advice from the world’s leading scientific and medical experts, BNF has temporarily suspended their research on Gracia and kids, along with the other orangutans of Sebangau, in order to reduce the risk of transmitting COVID-19 to the already Critically Endangered great ape.

Scientific evidence states that great apes are susceptible to many of the illnesses that humans carry, including the common cold, influenza, and COVID-19. Though there is no direct contact with orangutans in Sebangau, indirect transmission within their forest habitat can still pose a significant risk.

As well as COVID-19, orangutans are also threatened by habitat loss due to deforestation and forest fires. Fires are a particularly significant threat to the orangutans of Sebangau due to the flammable vegetation within the peat-swamp forest during the dry season. Thankfully, the Sebangau landscape has welcomed rainfall this dry season, which, alongside hydrological restoration activities, has substantially reduced the threat of fire this year.

BNF is working hard to keep Gracia and Kids as well as the other wildlife, their staff, and local communities safe, so they have implemented working from home procedures for all office staff, and have shifted their fieldwork focus towards biodiversity surveys and habitat restoration activities.

The critical work conducted by the field teams, including biodiversity monitoring, camera trapping, and phenology surveys, contributes to the vital long-term research needed to help protect the Bornean rainforest and its inhabitants.

The hydrology and dam construction teams have been working hard to solve one of the most critical issues the Sebangau peat-swamp forest faces— water drainage. The team has continued to regularly monitor water levels and build dams in the man-made canals of the Bakung River to reduce water loss during the dry season. Reforestation efforts are also continuing, with a stock of seedlings flourishing in the community nurseries; ready to be planted in Gracia’s home range which was sadly burnt during the catastrophic fires of 2015.

BNF's education team has postponed group activities, but has ensured that local children continue to learn about ecology and conservation by conducting discussions and classes online. As many children do not have internet access, the education team also delivers worksheets, activities, and fruit, to the Anak Sebangau children (BNF's nature youth club), promoting education and a healthy lifestyle to the next generation of conservation leaders.

While most of the world works from the comfort of their home, the Sebangau field team wake up to the dawn chorus of gibbons, cicadas, and hornbills, as the first light breaks through the forest canopy. The team start their morning by trekking through the peat-swamp, clearing overgrown transect paths to aid travel through the dense rainforest.

While the team were cutting back vegetation recently, a familiar sound of rustling leaves and cracking branches was heard in the distance. A brief glimpse of the unmistakable orange hair was seen traveling through the canopy. On closer inspection, the orangutan was cradling a baby! The team maintained a safe distance and therefore could not accurately identify the mother-baby pair, but due to the location of the sighting, it is most likely resident orangutans Gracia and her baby boy Gara— a reassuring sight for BNF's field team.

After clearing the transects, the team returned in search of nests made by the illusive orange ape. Nest surveys are a critical method to monitor the orangutan population within the study area without the need to see the animals.

Each month, the field team consistently record new nests, providing evidence that orangutans are thriving within the Sebangau landscape thanks to conservation efforts. Once again, the familiar sound of cracking branches and half-eaten fruits tumbling to the ground was heard in the distance. As the team stood silent, the long call vocalization of a flanged male orangutan echoed through the forest. The orangutans, oblivious to the chaos of the outside world, are thriving on the plentiful fruits of the Sebangau Forest, thanks to the dedication of the BNF team, and your ongoing support.

On behalf of Gracia, her kids and all the wildlife in the Sebanagau Forest, THANK YOU! {:(|}