I live with wild orangutans in the Bornean rainforest, AMA!
Hi Reddit! My name is Robert Rodriguez Suro and I am a field biologist and photographer. I was recently awarded a National Geographic Young Explorer's Grant for a project that I'm organizing in the rainforests of West Kalimantan (Borneo), Indonesia. After graduating from Boston University in 2013, where I graduated with a B.A. in Biology and Anthropology, I started working at Dr. Cheryl Knott's orangutan research project in Indonesia. I lived in the rainforest for a year, as a research assistant. I followed orangutans around all day, collecting what they ate for analysis in the lab. You could also say that I worked as a professional orangutan urine catcher! We collect their urine in order to test it for hormones and other compounds that can tell us about their health. One of my favorite jobs, and the one that became my main responsibility during my time as a research assistant, was photographing orangutans. Wild orangutans can be really hard to tell apart! I used my past photography experience to take great photos of them, and build a database of images that can be used to ID them and tell them apart.
In a couple months, I'll be heading back to the forests of Borneo to begin my National Geographic Young Explorer's project. This is an independet project that I'm carrying out, to unravel the mysteries of male orangutan territory size and ranging patterns. We don't have very accurate models of how large their territories are because their territories are so large that they overlap most research sites. So when they exit the research trail system, we usually just let them go and return to camp. So there is all this data that is missing from beyond the borders of the research site! My mission is to unravel this mystery by equipping myself with enough food gear and supplies to follow them beyond the borders. I'll be camping out in the rainforest for days in a row, tracking male orangutans via GPS and surviving only on what we can carry on our backs. Besides getting this valuable ranging data, I'll be documenting their behavior on photo and video. Orangutans have a wealth of cultural behaviors, some of them very rarely observed. By following them for longer periods, I'll be able to capture these behaviors when they occur. Documenting these behaviors is not only important for scientists, but also help to promote orangutan conservation. Orangutans are slowly but surely dwindling in numbers, and one day, this footage may be all we have left of them. Let's hope that's not the case, but that's why we're workign hard to study these orangutans and learn how best to conserve them.
I'm currently running a fundraiser on EXPERIMENT.COM/ORANGUTANS for this project! I'm about halfway to the $5000 goal, and have 26 more days to get there! It's all or nothing funding, so if we don't reach the goal, the pledges don't get awarded! So it's important to reach the goal! TODAY ONLY, Experiment.com is matching all donations made until midnight PST, or 3AM EST. So if you would like to help out, NOW IS THE BEST TIME! Lots of bonuses in store for donors, including photos and updates straight from the field! And you can feel good for supporting science research and conservation, especially if you love animals.
EDIT: It's time for bed! I'll keep answering questions tomorrow morning, and can take new questions! Thanks for the turnout!
Edit 2: I've been back and can continue answering questions for a while! Ask away! Also, just reached the goal for the fundraiser!! Experiment.com is great and I recommend it. It's still running for another 25 days so you can still donate!
Edit 3: I'm on the road and signal is poor so can't write from my phone. I'll try to answer the remaining questions later today! But for now, remember to follow me on instagram twitter and fb to follow my adventures in the rainforest!