Studying human behavior to protect orangutans: Q&A with Liana Chua

Studying human behavior to protect orangutans: Q&A with Liana Chua

Social anthropologist Liana Chua leads a project, POKOK, that aims to reduce the killing of orangutans in Indonesian Borneo through deeper engagement with local people. The project came about as a result of research by conservation scientist Erik Meijaard that indicated far more orangutans were killed by humans than previously assumed. His study, based on interviews with more than 5,000 villagers throughout Kalimantan, the Indonesian portion of the island of Borneo, estimated that some 30,000 orangutans had been killed either for food, opportunistically while hunting, or for traditional medicine during the course of these people’s lifetimes. Another 25,000 to 35,000 were also killed for so-called conflict reasons — encroaching onto palm oil plantations, for instance, or raiding food crops — in the same period. Chua’s research is still in its early stages, but she says fieldwork has already backs up her suspicion that while orangutans are an international conservation cause célèbre, indigenous communities in Borneo do not generally share this deep concern for the species’ welfare. In an interview with Mongabay, Chua says she hopes her team will be able to provide deeper insights into how these communities view both orangutans and orangutan conservation, and that these insights will lead to better-informed conservation policies with real benefits for both apes and people. Social anthropologist Liana Chua crossing a bamboo suspension bridge in Borneo. Image courtesy of Liana Chua. Mongabay: What first sparked your interest in orangutans? Liana Chua: I’ve done fieldwork with the Bidayuh, an indigenous group in Malaysian Borneo, since 2003, and…

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