Mapping for Orangutan Conservation

By Dr. Amanda West, GPOCP GIS Consultant

Last year, I was recruited by GPOCP to evaluate critical habitat for the Bornean orangutan in and around Gunung Palung National Park. Map results from this research will provide explicit geographic information that can be used to enhance monitoring efforts and conservation planning in the region. This month, I had the wonderful opportunity to visit the study area and share my knowledge and experience in geographic information systems through a series of workshops for staff from GPOCP, Gunung National Park, and local villages.

Maps are a form of communication that go beyond language barriers; that is one of the things I love most about making maps. It is also why I strive to share my knowledge and experience in map making with a broader audience outside academia. I have been teaching GIS to students who are new to geospatial analysis for almost five years and have developed a series of QGIS (an open-source GIS software) tutorials explicitly for this purpose. Over the past few years I’ve found that place-based tutorials provide more tangible and enduring curricula. Because most of my teaching experience has been in Ethiopia, to prepare for my visit to the field, I adjusted these tutorials to focus on Indonesia, including data on Indonesian cities, provinces, and orangutan follow GPS points. Cassie (GPOCP Program Director) and I also translated the tutorials into Bahasa Indonesia so that they could be shared with a wide audience. Before I began the workshops I was a little bit concerned about the language barrier! However, with help from the English-speaking GPOCP staff, we were able to translate the instructions so that everyone could understand. There were a few funny moments, but it was a great learning experience for all.

The first order of business for Amanda's visit: a 5-day QGIS training for GPOCP staff! Everyone learned a lot and had a great time.

The first order of business for Amanda’s visit: a 5-day QGIS training for GPOCP staff! Everyone learned a lot and had a great time.

During my time here, I have led two different workshops for 35 people, including GPOCP staff, National Park staff, and village leaders. Participants learned how to organize and manage geospatial data, derive shapefiles, identify features and attributes, analyze common patterns in geographic space, work with datums and projections, and compose maps. All of the participants were highly motivated and eager to create maps using the data I shared with them. When I reflect on my five weeks in Ketapang and Kayong Utara, the first things that come to mind are excited faces of workshop participants after making their first map. Some of the participants even saved their maps as their new computer desktop background! On the last day of each workshop, I took time to work with individuals who had additional questions. Many participants had their own geospatial data, and wanted to learn how to analyze it with QGIS. Others wanted to learn how to acquire coordinate points using a GPS and visualize them on a map in QGIS. Throughout the workshops, the enthusiasm of participants and their willingness to help each other provided evidence to me that they not only felt accomplished in cartography, but also that they were confident enough to continue this pursuit after the workshops ended.

Another important part of my visit was presenting the results of the research that I’ve been working on for GPOCP to National Park staff. I have created a map that shows potential suitable orangutan habitat for the entire GPNP landscape, and we printed a large version of the area surrounding the National Park to share these results with them. First, I met Pak Endro, who manages Cabang Panti Research Station for the Park. He was very enthusiastic about this work, and arranged for me to do a presentation for the rest of the staff. They were equally excited to discuss the map and incorporate this new information into their conservation management plan. Finally, I had the privilege of meeting Pak Dadang Wardhana, the head of Gunung Palung National Park. We had a great conversation about the potential utility of GIS-based analyses to conservation of the Park, which we hope to integrate into GPOCP’s routine conservation work.

As an Ecologist, I like to envision that my research is making a real and lasting difference in the world. Too often, scientific research is bound in the realm of peer-reviewed journals and inaccessible to broader audiences, including individuals worldwide who can use methods and results from this research in conservation planning. During my visit here I am honored to have been able to work with local conservation and community leaders. Thanks to GPOCP, JICA for making my trip to Ketapang and Kayong Utara a success. Special thanks to Cassie who provided me with advice and direction throughout the trip. Thanks to Kat Scott for guiding me during an amazing visit to Gunung Palung National Park, where I had the privilege of accompanying a team on an orangutan follow. We are also grateful to International Animal Rescue for contributing data to our ongoing GIS analysis of suitable orangutan habitat, and the Phoenix Zoo for funding this project. Finally, thanks to all the workshop participants who truly made this trip fun and memorable. I look forward to continuing these collaborations, and wish everyone the best in their future conservation endeavors.
Amanda is a Post-doctoral fellow at the Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory at Colorado State University.

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