Rare footage of young orangutan and gibbon’s playtime captured

Monday, 17 August 2015

Fio and Chilli

Rare video footage of a young wild orangutan and gibbon playing with each other has been captured by an Oxford Brookes postgraduate student.

The two youngsters can be seen enthusiastically tickling, wrestling and chasing each other in the canopy of the rainforest. 

Tom Lloyd captured the footage, which can be viewed below, in the Borneo jungle while taking part in a long-term research and conservation project by the Orangutan Tropical Peatland Project (OuTrop) in the Sabangau peat-swamp Forest, Indonesian Borneo. 

We stood there in awe; amazed by these two individuals from different species just doing what youngsters do…having fun.

Tom Lloyd, postgraduate student in Primate Conservation, Oxford Brookes University

The intelligent primates are normally competitors, sharing habitat and food in the jungle, but usually preferring to stay out of each other’s way. When they meet they are far more likely to fight than to play, so researchers were surprised to discover these two young apes – affectionately known as Fio the orangutan and Chilli the gibbon – apparently having such a great time together. 

Tom, who is studying a master’s degree in Primate Conservation at Oxford Brookes said: “What started off as a typical day in the forest, turned into something special when an Indonesian field researcher and I came across the pair play-fighting. 

“We stood there in awe; amazed by these two individuals from different species just doing what youngsters do…having fun!”

Dr Susan Cheyne, OuTrop Director of Gibbon Research, has worked at the Sabangau research site for over 10 years, she said: “Having spent so much time studying these apes you would think you’d have seen everything that the forest has to offer, but it never ceases to surprise us!

“We believe this is one of the first times that play between these two primate species has been videoed in the wild. It is an exciting discovery.
“It reminds us that we still have a lot to learn about these popular species, particularly orang-utans which some may think are a well-studied species.”

The Sabangau Forest is home to the world’s largest population of orang-utans and many thousands of gibbons and is one of the most important rainforests left of the island of Borneo. Both these species are highly endangered because of the rapid destruction of their forest home for the international trade in palm-oil and timber.  

Despite legal protection, the forest is threatened by dry-season forest fires that are expected to be especially fierce in 2015. Left unchecked, these fires will put all of Sabangau’s wildlife in danger. 

Dr Cheyne is mindful of the threats: “Fires in tropical rainforests aren’t a natural occurrence, but are the result of human activity from clearing adjacent land for development. Fires get out of control and spread quickly, so all of our efforts right now are going into supporting a local community fore-fighting team to find and put out these fires. 

“At times like this, when we are facing serious threats, we worry about the orangutans and gibbons like Fio and Chilli, that we have come to know.”

More information about primate conservation postgraduate courses or research can be found on the Department of Social Sciences webpages

Video and image credit: Tom Lloyd, OuTrop.