Building Bridges in Borneo

Building Bridges in Borneo

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In Sabah, Malaysian Borneo we partner with HUTAN-KOCP and the Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD) on our Orangutan Project.  Two years ago, a team from Chester Zoo travelled out to Sabah, to assist our partners to construct artificial bridges, designed using webbing material from the zoo, to allow orangutans to move around in an area where their habitat has become fragmented. 

Two years on and a team of four staff are back in Borneo to assist our partners.  Dr Nick Davies (Assistant Mammal Curator) and Debi Williams (Primate Keeper) are assisting with the orangutan bridge project and have been joined by Wayne McLeod (Birds Team Leader) and Paul Morris (Bird Keeper) who are assisting with a new project. There are eight species of hornbill found in the Kinabatangan region and, this year, we’re also working with HUTAN-KOCP and other partners on artificial hornbill nest box construction.

Read on to hear the team’s latest update from Nick:

“After months of preparation and planning, and a last minute panic for a forgotten mosquito net, we met at Manchester airport at 4am to begin the long journey to Borneo.  Our first night in Borneo was spent in Sandakan; two hours’ drive away from our final destination of Sukau. 

We were able to recover from the long flight and planned to meet Markiss and Eddie from the HUTAN-KOCP team the next morning.  Our first day in Sukau was spent meeting the team we’d be working with and plan the activities for the next two weeks.  Before we left the UK, we’d packaged up a box of materials to send over and luckily this had arrived in time! 


Following a briefing session, we went out to do a recce of the bridges we helped construct two years ago.  We spotted long tailed macaques on one of the bridges and, even better, was the sight of orangutan nests on both sides of one bridge which is really positive.  We’ll be putting camera traps up on a few of the bridges this week to monitor them.  

This will be really important so we can assess how successful they are. Orangutans are very cautious and although locations of nests near the current bridges are positive signs, it is very difficult to get proof of their use. We are also looking at different designs and the best location for bridges. Some orangutans are known to be trapped in small pockets of forest which is not sustainable. Using the expert knowledge of the HUTAN-KOCP orangutan team, we have identified the best locations for bridges which will have maximum benefit.

Ken giving a climbing demo

The hornbill team had a great start to their trip as well - Paul and Wayne were thrilled to spot helmeted hornbills on their first day in Sukau! They met up with two keepers from Beauval Zoo in France who are also assisting HUTAN-KOCP with the hornbill project, and half the team have been busy purchasing the necessary items from their ‘hornbill next box shopping list’!

The list included two large water barrels, chicken wire, polystyrene and some bags of cement. The rest of the hornbill team went on a recce to find the best location for the boxes….and unfortunately they also found the leeches!

The sizes of the nest boxes are really important with height, width, hole location and size needing to be the right dimension. Even the floor shape needs to be right to make sure the eggs stay in the right place. All these things have been learnt from years of experience working with and successfully breeding large hornbills at Chester and Beauval”.

I'm Nick Davies, Assistant Mammal Curator at Chester Zoo, and I Act for Wildlife

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