Working towards conserving orang-utans and their habitats

Batang Ai National Park (BANP) and Lanjak-Entimau Wildlife Sanctuary (LEWS) are home to 90% of the orang-utan in Sarawak.

Community dialogues were held before the start of every social survey. Photo © WCS-Malaysia Program

The primary objective of our work is to renew a sense of ownership and appreciation towards orang-utan and their habitats among the local communities.

Results from previous social surveys revealed general support for orang-utan conservation, but local communities were unsure of how to respond to poaching of orang-utan. It was also found that the local communities saw the national park as a provider of jobs, but did not appreciate its ecosystem services such as clean water and good prey habitat.

Community profile

The conservation programs with the Iban communities living along the six main rivers in the landscape: Batang Ai, Ulu Engkari, Sungai Mujok, Ulu Kanowit, Sungai Ngemah and Ulu Katibas. Most villages are only accessible by boat, but some can now be reached via logging roads.


Most of the local communities depend on the forest and river as their sources of protein and income. But as the population grows, demand and competition for work have prompted many to move out of the longhouses to towns and cities, and they return only during festive seasons or school holidays.


Thus, the longhouses tend to be populated by older members as well as the occasional group of grandchildren in their care.


Orang-utan Conservation Education and Outreach Program with local communities


Orang-utan-themed skit

An orang-utan conservation education and outreach program was jointly conducted with Sarawak Forestry Corporation (SFC) and also with the assistance of some of the local communities at a total of 23 selected longhouses in Batang Ai, Ulu Engkari, Ulu Lemanak, and Ulu Skrang.

Group photo with the longhouse people of Rumah Bakar, Nanga Bawi Patoh, Ulu Lemanak. Photo © Lukmann Alen

 The main activity in this program was the 15 to 20 minutes orang-utan-themed skit complemented with a quiz session, video presentation and a short PowerPoint slide presentation.

The objective of this program was to renew a sense of appreciation for wildlife and conservation in resident communities through conservation-based activities.

The storyline for the skit was adapted from a script produced by the winner of the Orang-utan Drama Contest 2014 (Sekolah Menengah Sains Kuching Utara), held at the Matang Wildlife Centre, Kuching on 11th October 2014. Modifications were made to the performance to suit the local communities.

Social research (evaluation and assessment) 

Social survey

An interview session conducted in the dark as some longhouses still rely on generators and oil lamps. © WCS-Malaysia Program

A social survey conducted in 2012 to evaluate the effectiveness of the radio program and also to gauge the perception of the longhouse communities on wildlife and orang-utans as well as to improve the orang-utan conservation education program in the future.

In total, 334 respondents were interviewed from 27 longhouses located along six rivers at the Batang Ai-Lanjak Entimau (BALE) complex. These include Batang Ai, Ulu Engkari, Ulu Katibas, Ulu Ngemah, Ulu Mujok, and Ulu Kanowit. Prior to the survey, the questionnaire was pilot-tested with the local communities in Kampung Rayu, Lundu and Nanga Delok, Batang Ai. 

Iban language radio program

The Saga of Bujang Sigat

In order to explore more ways to engage the longhouse communities, the orang-utan radio program entitled “Jerita Bujang Sigat” or “The Saga of Bujang Sigat” was developed and aired. The goal of the program was to disseminate information about the importance of the park and its ecosystem services as well as to engage local communities to conserve orang-utans and other wildlife in the BANP-LEWS landscape.

Listen to a short audio clip from Episode 4 of ‘Jerita Bujang Sigat’.

© Radio Television Malaysia (Iban Services Section)

Social surveys were later conducted to assess the effectiveness of the radio program as a communication and conservation tool and to collect suggestions and opinions to improve conservation action in the landscape.

Orang-utan conservation radio advertisement

Dr. Melvin Gumal, the Country Director of WCS-Malaysia Program was one of the speakers. Photo © WCS-Malaysia Program

A series of 12 three-minute radio advertisements on various orang-utan conservation topics were pre-recorded and aired via Wai FM. The advertisements were prepared and read by speakers from WCS-Malaysia and partners such as SFC, Forest Department of Sarawak (FDS), and Borneo Adventure.

The objective of the radio advertisement is to increase the level of awareness of the unique features of wild orang-utans and high conservation value forests of Ulu Sungai Menyang landscape among its resident communities. 

The program was broadcasted from 23 January 2016 until 2 April 2016 on a weekly basis, every Saturday and Sunday at 7am. 


Books Entitled “Orang-utan Folklores and Iban Communities” and “Ensera Mayas Enggau Bansa Iban   


Front cover of the book available in both Iban language (left) and English.

A collection of folklores, stories, taboos and tales (hereafter known as folklores) about orang-utans exist among the villagers around Lanjak-Entimau and Batang Ai.  These folklores show how the communities are culturally related to the orang-utans. These folklores which existed as oral histories have now been documented. The Iban language version of the folklores was officially launched by YBhg. Datu Sudarsono Osman, on 10th of August 2015.  It has since been translated into English and both are now available for purchase at WCS and selected outlets in Sarawak.

Bookaroo Children’s Literature Festival

As the lead author of the book entitled “Orang-utan folklore and Iban communities”, Ailyn Nau Anak Sidu was invited to the Pustaka-Bookaroo Children’s Literature Festival (16th and 17th April 2016) to share orang-utan stories from her book. Bookaroo's mission is to bring children and books together in a borderless world. 

School activities

Orang-utan Drama Contest

In 2014, we pilot-tested two school activities. Past programs were mostly teacher centred, but these new activities targeted students.

The Orang-utan Drama Contest targeted secondary schools in Kuching. The theme for the contest was "Rebuilding the cultural bridge between local communities and wild orang-utans”.

Schools were asked to create their own script, which had to include a conservation message as well as a positive scenario between local community and orang-utans. In all the drama teams, we found that the students were the driving force in creating and developing the scripts.

Watch a video compilation from the Orang-utan Drama Contest 2014.

Participatory Photography Event


Students from SK. Nanga Delok taking part in the Participatory Photography Event. Photo © WCS-Malaysia Program

The Participatory Photography event with the theme, “Appreciating nature through pictures”, was held at SK. Nanga Delok, a primary school near Batang Ai National Park. This is a boarding school with students from different longhouse communities in the area. It was exciting to see the students becoming more aware and appreciative of their surroundings.

Conservation site tour


Winners enjoying their dinner at Rumah Ngindang, Nanga Delok. © WCS-Malaysia Program

The US Embassy partnered with WCS-Malaysia on an orang-utan social media contest entitled “Baby Orang-utan: Caption Me!” in conjunction with World Orang-utan Day 2015.

The winners were given the opportunity to visit the orang-utan habitat at Batang Ai National Park and Ulu Sungai Menyang area to learn about orang-utans and their nests as well as other local biodiversity. The winners were brought to stay for two nights at Rumah Ngindang, Nanga Delok, an Iban longhouse situated near the Batang Ai National Park to interact with the local community and observe their way of life. 

Future directions

We hope to continue working with the local communities surrounding this important orang-utan habitat, to develop solutions for the conservation of the species.


The orang-utan nest count surveys and conservation education programs were financially supported by the US Fish and Wildlife Service Great Ape Conservation Fund (USFWS GACF), Margo Marsh Biodiversity Foundation (MMBF), Whitley Fund for Nature, Arcus Foundation, Crest Megaway, and Kathy Ruttenberg. Additional funds were provided by the Orang-utan Project Sdn Bhd (formerly known as Way Out Experiences (M) Sdn Bhd) and Borneo Adventure. In-kind contribution for accommodation at the operational bases, boats and additional manpower were provided by Sarawak Forestry Corporation (SFC), the conservation partner for this project. Additional off-road transportation was provided by Hariwood Sdn. Bhd. Administrative support was provided by the District Offices as well as District Police Offices of Lubok Antu, Kanowit and Song. Permits to conduct the surveys, past and present were provided by the Forest Department of Sarawak (FDS).

Text by Sylvia Ng, Elvinson Anak Rosedy and Melvin Gumal.

Page updated 12 Oct 2016

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