How can this study help gorillas and orangutans?
If we hope to better understand apes and their unique modes of communication, an increase in knowledge will allow those who care for (and about) them to better co-exist alongside them. The results of our study may help primate keepers better understand how mother and infant gorillas and orangutans communicate with one another and how they navigate their group lives. It will be interesting to learn which gestures are successfully communicated when mothers and infants are in close proximity to one another, and which are more effective from a distance.
In the wild, both orangutans and gorillas are critically endangered, which means they are teetering on the brink of extinction because of threats like deforestation, disease, poaching and bushmeat, as well as the illegal wildlife trade. Scientists estimate that only 100,000 Bornean orangutans remain in the wild, and their habitat is largely made up of unprotected, fragmented forests. Western lowland gorilla numbers in the wild are slightly higher—estimated at 360,000—but about 80 percent of those individuals live in unprotected habitat. The Zoo participates in the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Species Survival Plan for both species, as well as the Ape Taxon Advisory Group (TAG), which contributes to protection of these species in the wild. To be successful in conserving apes and their habitats, the Ape TAG serves to coordinate efforts among AZA zoos to protect wild apes. They also contribute funds and expertise directly to field projects and offer grants to conservation organizations.
In June, Meredith and Alex will travel to Tuanan, a wild orangutan research field station in Central Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo. Stay tuned for details of their journey to come and more on how individuals can make difference in the lives of these amazing apes!