National Geographic : 2003 Oct
NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC RESEARCH AND EXPLORATION Cheryl Knott Anthropologist Gunung Palung National Park, Indonesia "At the current rate of habitat destruction, orangutans could be extinct in the wild in 10 to 20 years. We must stop this trend-the alternative is unthinkable." By Cheryl Knott Photographs by Tim Laman &A arissa had a baby!" The good news arrived with my field assistant Rhanda as he dashed into our research camp in Borneo's Gunung Palung National Park. For three days we hadn't seen Marissa, one of about 50 orang utans I've studied in the wild since 1994. Rhanda found Marissa eating fruit from a Gnetum vine with the newborn female clinging to her mother's side. Orangutans bear young only about once every eight years (thought to be the longest span of any mammal), so there was much to celebrate. That was in 1998, shortly after I first reported on my re search for NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC. In several successive trips to Borneo, I've been relieved to find that Martina (as we named the new arrival) and the other orangutans at our site are doing well, despite the ever expand ing reach of illegal logging. But the threat of deforesta tion cannot be ignored. While our work continues to reveal new secrets about these apes, we're redoubling our efforts to protect their fragile habitat. Sporting dreadlocks from her birth three weeks earlier, Martina grips mother Marissa's still enlarged belly. Marissa (featured in the August 1998 NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC) Is part of a population of orangutans studied In Borneo. Some of our closest kin, orangutans are also some of the most endangered-victims of defor estation and hunting, and unable to bounce back easily because of their own slow rate of reproduction.