Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Wild orangutans stressed by eco-tourists, but not for long, IU study out of north Borneo finds

16.03.2012
Wild orangutans that have come into contact with eco-tourists over a period of years show an immediate stress response but no signs of chronic stress, unlike other species in which permanent alterations in stress responses have been documented, new research from an Indiana University anthropologist has found.

IU anthropologist Michael P. Muehlenbein can't say yet what makes the wild orangutans of Borneo deal with stress differently than other species in other locations, but an analysis of orangutan stress hormone levels recorded before, during and after the apes interacted in the wild with eco-tourists found evidence of acute elevation of the stress hormone cortisol the day of an interaction, with levels then returning to baseline afterward.

By analyzing fecal glucocorticoid metabolite (fGM) levels of orangutans in the Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary in Sabah, Malaysia, the team led by Muehlenbein was looking to, among other things, gather evidence about levels of disturbance on wildlife exposed to eco-tourism, a multi-billion-dollar-a-year industry that is growing annually. Red Ape Encounters, a community-owned and -operated eco-tourism program in Sabah that assisted with the research, facilitates the only trekking program for wild orangutans in the world.

"Revenue can enhance economic opportunities for the locales involved, and it can support environmental education, protect natural and cultural heritage, and be used to conserve biodiversity," Muehlenbein said. "But rapid, unmonitored development of nature-based tourism can also lead to habitat degradation and negative impacts on the very species we wish to protect. Given the increasing demand of tourists to encounter wild orangutans, it is critical to evaluate any potential physiological effects this and future programs may have on this charismatic and endangered species."

Bornean orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus morio) are considered an endangered species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, which produces the Red List of Threatened Species.

Eco-tourism guidelines used by Red Ape Encounters include limiting visitation groups to seven people for no more than one hour; excluding sick tourists; maintaining a 10-meter minimum distance; and requiring appropriate behavior. The company hosts about 250 tourists per year, with most of the visitor activity centered on the two wild habituated orangutans used in the study: Jenny, an adult approximately 32 years old, and her 11-year-old son Etin.

To produce the results, researchers collected fecal samples from Jenny and Etin in association with 25 unique tourism visits, along with fecal samples collected from several previously unidentified wild unhabituated orangutans. After developing standardized hormone degradation rates through earlier comparative studies of samples from captive orangutans at Cleveland Metroparks Zoo and those from two other wild orangutans in Borneo, the team was able to collect samples within an optimum time after defecation in order to limit the effects of time-based physiological processes that degrade samples.

"When we compared samples from Jenny and Etin obtained the day before, the day of and the day after tourist visitation, we found that stress hormone levels were significantly elevated in samples collected the day after tourist visitation, which is indicative of elevated cortisol production on the previous day," Muehlenbein said. "As for the unknown wild orangutans that we were also able to gather samples from, we found numerically, but not statistically, higher stress hormone levels in these animals following contact with researchers than in the habituated animals."

Different species and populations of animals likely react differently to human exposure, and those differences may be due to variation in tourism intensity (including distance between animals and visitors), the animal's stage of habituation, animal temperament, and even the presence of adequate coping or escape mechanisms, he believes.

"Transiently elevated stress hormone levels must be interpreted conservatively, as these may simply reflect normal responses to stimuli," Muehlenbein said. "But nature-based tourism programs that result in permanent alterations of stress physiology in their animals cannot be viewed as sustainable. However, low levels of predictable disturbance likely result in low physiological impact on these orangutans."

On a wider scale, he pointed out, animal usage should be kept minimal -- at least for pregnant females and ill animals and during times of resource restriction -- and the habituation processes gradual for all animals involved in eco-tourism.

Funding for this research was provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Great Ape Conservation Fund, the Disney Wildlife Conservation Fund and Indiana University.

Co-authors with Muehlenbein were Marc Ancrenaz of the Sabah Wildlife Department, the Kinabatangan Orangutan Conservation Programme, and the North of England Zoological Society; Rosman Sakong of Red Ape Encounters; Laurentius Ambu of the Sabah Wildlife Department; Sean Prall of IU Bloomington's Department of Anthropology; Grace Fuller of Cleveland Metroparks Zoo and Case Western Reserve University; and Mary Ann Raghanti of Cleveland Metroparks Zoo and Kent State University.

For more information or to speak with Muehlenbein, please contact Steve Chaplin, IU Communications, at 812-856-1896 or stjchap@iu.edu. Tweeting IU science news: @IndianaScience

"Ape conservation physiology: Fecal glucocorticoid responses in wild Pongo pygmaeus morio following human visitation," published March 15, 2012, in PLoS ONE, by Michael P. Muehlenbein, Marc Ancrenaz, Rosman Sakong, Laurentius Ambu, Sean Prall, Grace Fuller and Mary Ann Raghanti.

Steve Chaplin | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.iu.edu

More articles from Studies and Analyses:

nachricht Researchers simplify tiny structures' construction drip by drip
12.11.2018 | Princeton University, Engineering School

nachricht Mandibular movement monitoring may help improve oral sleep apnea devices
06.11.2018 | Elsevier

All articles from Studies and Analyses >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: A Leap Into Quantum Technology

Faster and secure data communication: This is the goal of a new joint project involving physicists from the University of Würzburg. The German Federal Ministry of Education and Research funds the project with 14.8 million euro.

In our digital world data security and secure communication are becoming more and more important. Quantum communication is a promising approach to achieve...

Im Focus: Research icebreaker Polarstern begins the Antarctic season

What does it look like below the ice shelf of the calved massive iceberg A68?

On Saturday, 10 November 2018, the research icebreaker Polarstern will leave its homeport of Bremerhaven, bound for Cape Town, South Africa.

Im Focus: Penn engineers develop ultrathin, ultralight 'nanocardboard'

When choosing materials to make something, trade-offs need to be made between a host of properties, such as thickness, stiffness and weight. Depending on the application in question, finding just the right balance is the difference between success and failure

Now, a team of Penn Engineers has demonstrated a new material they call "nanocardboard," an ultrathin equivalent of corrugated paper cardboard. A square...

Im Focus: Coping with errors in the quantum age

Physicists at ETH Zurich demonstrate how errors that occur during the manipulation of quantum system can be monitored and corrected on the fly

The field of quantum computation has seen tremendous progress in recent years. Bit by bit, quantum devices start to challenge conventional computers, at least...

Im Focus: Nanorobots propel through the eye

Scientists developed specially coated nanometer-sized vehicles that can be actively moved through dense tissue like the vitreous of the eye. So far, the transport of nano-vehicles has only been demonstrated in model systems or biological fluids, but not in real tissue. The work was published in the journal Science Advances and constitutes one step further towards nanorobots becoming minimally-invasive tools for precisely delivering medicine to where it is needed.

Researchers of the “Micro, Nano and Molecular Systems” Lab at the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems in Stuttgart, together with an international...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

“3rd Conference on Laser Polishing – LaP 2018” Attracts International Experts and Users

09.11.2018 | Event News

On the brain’s ability to find the right direction

06.11.2018 | Event News

European Space Talks: Weltraumschrott – eine Gefahr für die Gesellschaft?

23.10.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

In focus: Peptides, the “little brothers and sisters” of proteins

12.11.2018 | Life Sciences

Materials scientist creates fabric alternative to batteries for wearable devices

12.11.2018 | Materials Sciences

A two-atom quantum duet

12.11.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>