Protecting orangutans - 'every click counts' in citizen science survey

Researchers from the University of Aberdeen are looking for citizen scientists to help protect endangered orangutans in Northern Borneo.

They are appealing for help to identify orangutan nests in the jungle, through an online survey featuring thousands of aerial images.

As part of a conservation project funded by the United Nations, researchers have been using drones to map the jungle canopy in the state of Sabah, where government and industry have signed a landmark deal to help protect the forest.

The images are being used to identify orangutan nests, as well as the presence of Strangler Fig Trees, a vital food source.  In doing so, they hope to determine their minimum habitat requirements, to develop future conservation strategies.

The research team has collected nearly 6000 images across 260,000 hectares of mixed-use land over the course of the two-year field study, which is funded by the United Nations Development Programme.

They are now asking people to help them survey the images through - a major volunteer-driven research platform.

PhD student Sol Milne is leading the project, under the direction of Dr David Burslem and Dr Julien Martin from the University’s School of Biological Sciences.

“Orangutans are critically endangered threatened by local extinction in Borneo, mostly due to habitat loss,” explained Sol.

“Thankfully an agreement has been reached that no further forest will be logged within the state for the oil palm industry, and that at least 30 per cent of the land mass will be dedicated as forest reserves by 2025.

“This provides a great opportunity to develop strategies to conserve the remaining orangutan populations, however we need to determine the characteristics of the kind of habitat they need to survive.

“Orangutans make nests every day, large enough to support their weight in the tops of trees.  By counting the number of these nests we find, we can get a better idea of their habitat requirements.

“Through our research we have carried out drone surveys which have yielded thousands of images that need to be reviewed individually, and carefully, for signs of nests and distinctive fig trees in the forest canopy. 

“We are asking citizen scientists to help out as our ‘eyes in the sky’ as part of this effort – by registering online and joining our survey, you can help us make a vital contribution to protecting critically endangered orangutans.  Every click counts, so the more volunteers we can involve the better.” 

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