POKOK - using anthropology to mitigate orangutan killing and human-orangutan conflict in Borneo

Current initiative

Published June 2019

POKOK is an anthropology-conservation initiative (running from 2017-21) based at Brunel University London and supported by the Arcus Foundation. It aims to mitigate orangutan killing and improve human-orangutan coexistence in rural Borneo by using in-depth ethnographic research to explore the causes and contexts of orangutan killing (ranging from hunting to conflict to poaching). This knowledge will be used to formulate new and locally-appropriate methods for dealing with the problem and improving conservationists' long-term relations with local communities.



Research for this project is being carried out in West and Central Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo, with rural communities who live in and around the forest habitats of the critically endangered Bornean Orangutan. These habitats are currently undergoing drastic transformations as a result of deforestation, large-scale commercial agriculture, and other forms of infrastructure growth and development, with significant implications for both humans and non-humans.

The poaching and wildlife trade problem

Species affected Bornean Orangutan Pongo pygmaeus

Products in trade

Live orangutans - often babies that are sold as pets or to zoos, wildlife centres and other tourist attractions in and beyond Southeast Asia.

Orangutan body parts - historically taken as trophies or for colonial collecting expeditions; sometimes traded for medicinal purposes.

Overview of the problem

The population of the Bornean Orangutan has undergone a precipitous decline in recent decades, and it is now listed as Critically Endangered. A key driver of their decline, which is relatively poorly understood and tackled, is killing, whether through conflict, poaching, or hunting. Through our work, we seek to build up an in-depth, nuanced understanding of the lives of some of the rural communities who live in and around orangutan habitat. These include indigenous Dayaks, Melayu, Chinese, and migrants from elsewhere in Indonesia. Our research focuses mainly on Dayak communities. It also seeks to understand their experiences and concerns in relation to other players, such as local and national government, ecotourism initiatives, and conservationists.

Part of our research (currently ongoing) is aimed at understanding local people's motivations for becoming involved in poaching networks, whether as sellers or as middlemen. Preliminary research suggests that the key drivers are human-wildlife conflict (leading to the death of adult female orangutans and the capture of their babies), local/regional demand for orangutans as pets, and regional demand for orangutans in zoos and other destinations. 

The anti-IWT initiative

POKOK aims to work with a range of orangutan conservation organisations and individuals in Borneo, as well as with the thinktank Borneo Futures, to formulate evidence-based strategies and initiatives for mitigating orangutan killing. Research for this project is currently ongoing, and expected to result in more concrete recommendations from c. late-2020.

The strategy

Strengthening disincentives for illegal behaviour

Raising community awareness about wildlife crime penalties and sanctions
Strengthening and supporting traditional norms and sanctions against IWT

Decreasing the costs of living with wildlife

Build/and or support sense of community ownership or stewardship

Improving education and awareness

Organisers, donors and partners

Arcus Foundation - funder

Brunel University London - funder

Borneo Futures - main conservation partner

For further information contact ().