Great Ape Conservation

Blog posts on: apes | orangutans | palm oil | primates

Bookmarks for: apes | orangutans | palm oil | primates | rainforests

Orangutan_Cultures. M.Y. Merrill, 2004. Ph.D. dissertation

Listing of Organizations

These are some of the organizations dedicated to the protection and preservation of the great apes, and additional information related to our presentation, “The Ape Capers: Perspectives on Primates” by Michelle Merrill, Robin McFarland, and Renée Kilmer, Cabrillo College Flex session: February 1, 2012.

 Organizations:   A-C  |  D-G  |  H-M  |   O-R  |  S-W   |  PALM OIL LIST  | LEGISLATION  |  ARTICLES  |  BOOKS

African Wildlife Foundation:

The African Wildlife Foundation, together with the people of Africa, works to ensure the wildlife and wild lands of Africa will endure forever. The African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) is the leading international conservation organization focused solely on Africa. We believe that protecting Africa’s wildlife and wild landscapes is the key to the future prosperity of Africa and its people – and for over 50 years, we have made it our work to help ensure that Africa’s wild resources endure. Who better to protect their land and resources than Africans themselves? Living on the land we strive to protect, Africans are in touch with both its potential and its challenges. They have witnessed the draw of tourists to their land. And, they have come face-to-face with the sometimes destructive consequences of sharing land with Africa’s wildlife.  Empowering Africans to be Africa’s stewards is at the core of our strategy. And, we begin right here at AWF. Approximately 85 percent of our staff are African.

The Bonobo Conservation Initiative:

(BCI) is dedicated to ensuring the survival of the bonobo (Pan paniscus) and its tropical forest habitat in the Congo Basin. By working with indigenous Congolese people through cooperative conservation and community development programs, as well as on the national and international levels, BCI is establishing new protected areas and leading efforts to safeguard bonobos wherever they are found. The Initiative is working to conduct bonobo surveys, establish protected areas, build capacity of Congolese partners and indigenous communities, and to increase global awareness about bonobos.  Our work is firmly grounded in a number of principles, including a belief in the importance of indigenous knowledge, stakeholder involvement, and the empowerment of Congolese organizations and communities—as well as the conviction that EVERYONE can make a difference. We encourage volunteer participation and always seek new partnerships with other like-minded organizations and individuals. Our growing team includes experienced professionals from a range of disciplines who share a common commitment to the survival of the bonobo, as well as peace and prosperity in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Borneo Orangutan Society/Orangutan Protection Foundation

(video Orangutan Protection Foundation is helping to fund Borneo Orangutan Survival’s Nyaru Menteng Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre in Central Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo, which has more than 600 orangutans in its care.  They also support RHOI (Restorasi Habitat Orangutan Indonesia), to identify and secure areas of rainforest which will provide a permanent and safe home for those orangutans who are able to be returned to the wild.

The Bushmeat Project:

Great apes — gorillas, chimpanzees, and bonobos — are being hunted to extinction for commercial bushmeat in the equatorial forests of west and central Africa. A ragged far flung army of a few thousand commercial bushmeat hunters supported by the timber industry infrastructure will illegally shoot and butcher more than two billion dollars worth of wildlife this year, including as many as 8,000 endangered great apes. People pay a premium to eat more great apes each year than are now kept in all the zoos and laboratories of the world. If the slaughter continues at its current pace, the remaining wild apes in Africa will be gone within the next fifteen to fifty years. With them will vanish most of the equatorial rain forest, and the cultures of indigenous people who have lived there for millennia. The Bushmeat Project has been established to support partnerships that will help the people of equatorial Africa to protect the region’s vital ecosystems and vibrant societies. The program is a long-term effort to provide economic and social incentive and to enable the expansion of capacity in the conservation arena.  A primary theme of the Bushmeat Project has been the attempt to convert “poachers to protectors.”

Cabrillo College: Phil Kaplan’s “Making a Difference”:

“We are accepting (working or not plus accessories) cellphones, iPods, MP3 Players, laptops, digital cameras, all small computer accessories, inkjet printer cartridges, energy bar wrappers (foil inside), potato chip bags and corks to help raise funds for the Orangutan Conservancy, Santa Cruz SPCA and Save Our Shores. Over 2500 cell phones, 50,000 corks, and 19,000 energy bar wrappers have been kept out of the landfill and refurbished or recycled in environmentally-safe ways through our program. They can be given to Phil. Other out-dated or unwanted electronics, including computers and TVs, can be recycled for free at Grey Bears on Chanticleer near the old Skyview Drive-Inn and Flea Market. Read about the increasingly sad plight of the Orangutan (which is Malaysian for “person of the forest”).”


Care2 Causes: Top 3 Victims of Palm Oil:

April 2012 summary of palm oil use and its impacts on people, wildlife and the planet.  Includes a video clip by WWF about palm oil products and production problems.

Center for Science in the Public Interest:

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) is a consumer advocacy organization whose twin missions are to conduct innovative research and advocacy programs in health and nutrition, and to provide consumers with current, useful information about their health and well-being. In general, CSPI’s three main goals are:

  • To provide useful, objective information to the public and policymakers and to conduct research on food, alcohol, health, the environment, and other issues related to science and technology;
  • To represent the citizen’s interests before regulatory, judicial and legislative bodies on food, alcohol, health, the environment, and other issues; and
  • To ensure that science and technology are used for the public good and to encourage scientists to engage in public-interest activities.
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The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund Int’l:

Founded by Dian Fossey in 1978, we are dedicated to the conservation and protection of gorillas and their habitats in Africa. We are committed to promoting continued research on the gorillas and their threatened ecosystems and to providing education about their relevance to the world in which we live. In collaboration with government agencies and other international partners, we also provide assistance to local communities through education, health, training and development initiatives.

Ethical Consumer:

Our mission is to make global businesses more sustainable through consumer pressure. We research company behaviour and record this information against 23 ethical criteria on our unique and extensive database. We then analyse and present this information to you in a convenient ratings format, with the option to look deeper at our   comprehensive, independent, and totally transparent data.

Friends of Borneo:

An organization dedicated to protecting the wildlife of the island of Borneo, home to orangutans, pangolins, and myriad other amazing creatures.  They also work to support the rights of the indigenous Dayak people.

The Great Apes Survival Partnership (GRASP)

A project of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).  Site has free e-books and reports, including Orangutans and the Economics of Sustainable Forest Management in Sumatra (2011), The Last Stand of the Gorilla: Environmental Crime and Conflict in the Congo Basin (2010), The Last Stand of the Orangutan, State of Emergency: Illegal Logging, Fire and Palm Oil in Indonesia’s National Parks (2007), and World Atlas of Great Apes and Their Conservation(2005).

The Great Ape Trust

This is where the bonobos, including Kanzi and Panbanisha, are now living and working with Dr. Sue Savage-Rumbaugh. Great Ape Trust is a scientific research facility in Des Moines, Iowa, dedicated to understanding the origins and future of culture, language, tools and intelligence, and to the preservation of endangered great apes in their natural habitats. Announced in 2002 and receiving its first ape residents in 2004, Great Ape Trust is home to a colony of seven bonobos involved in noninvasive interdisciplinary studies of their cognitive and communicative capabilities, and to two orangutans. In addition to the communicative and cognitive work with bonobos and orangutans, Great Ape Trust has also supported and directed since late 2007, a chimpanzee conservation and forest restoration initiative in Rwanda.

Green Palm

An organization that certifies products as containing only sustainable palm oil (Girl Scout Cookies now have their certification).

The Gorilla Foundation:

The Gorilla Foundation is a non-profit 501c3 corporation dedicated to the preservation, protection and well-being of gorillas through interspecies communication research and education. The mission is to bring interspecies communication to the public, in order to save gorillas from extinction, and inspire our children to create a sustainable future for all great apes. The foundation was established in 1976 and is best known for its groundbreaking work with two western lowland gorillas, Koko and Michael, who were taught to become fluent in American Sign Language (ASL). The results are published in numerous research papers, books and videos that can be found in our Bibliography.

The Gorilla Organization:

The Gorilla Organization works internationally to save the world’s last remaining gorillas in the wild from extinction by funding grass-roots projects run by local African partners aimed at tackling the very real threats to the gorillas’ long term survival.  At the Gorilla Organization we understand that if gorillas are to have a realistic chance of survival in the context of Africa’s other significant challenges, conservation and poverty alleviation need to work side-by-side. That’s why we work with local communities to find alternative resources to those found in the forest, lessening encroachment into the gorilla habitat and helping lift local people out of poverty. At the same time, we work with the UN, EU and other agencies to resist incursion into the forest by international companies.  Our grass-roots approach to gorilla conservation is sustainable, holistic and has a long-term effect.

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Humane Society of the US:

The Humane Society of the United States is the nation’s largest and most effective animal protection organization, backed by 11 million Americans. We help animals by advocating for better laws to protect animals; conducting campaigns to reform industries; providing animal rescue and emergency response; investigating cases of animal cruelty; and caring for animals through our sanctuaries and wildlife rehabilitation centers, emergency shelters and clinics.

Humane Society Int’l:


At one time, Africa’s chimpanzee population was believed to have been one million, but today, there are no more than 150,000 individuals left. Wild chimpanzees are already extinct in four of their former range countries on the continent, and their population continues to decline in the remaining 21 African nations in which they survive. Only 10 of these nations have chimpanzee populations exceeding 1000. The Chimpanzee Conservation and Sensitization Program (CCSP) is a collaboration between several large international chimpanzee and animal welfare organizations to aid local and national institutions in Guinea and Sierra Leone. It is one of many projects that Humane Society International is involved in. The hope is that, by involving local leaders, educators and law enforcement personnel, the plight of chimpanzees can be better understood around the world and the push to save these endangered animals will gain widespread support.

Illegal Logging at Suaq Balimbing

The original site developed by Michelle during the illegal logging crisis at Suaq Balimbing, plus links to information about later threats to the Gunung Leuser Ecosystem and information about orangutan cultures research.

Int’l Union for the Conservation of Nature:

IUCN is a membership organization made up of more than 1,000 organizations, as well as 10,000 individual scientists and experts structured in six Commissions. The priorities and work of IUCN are set by Member organizations every four years and subsequently coordinated by a professional secretariat with 1,100 staff in more than 60 countries.

The Jane Goodall Institute

Famous for her groundbreaking chimpanzee research, Goodall now works tirelessly for great ape conservation and sustainable development in the tropics.  Her Roots & Shoots program for global youth ( is particularly innovative.

Michelle Merrill’s Website

Orangutan Info

Download a 2MB video of an orangutan at Suaq Balimbing making and using a feeding tool. Read or listen to a recent NPR Radio Expidition to Leuser Ecosystem (where I worked) and learn about the orangutan conservation work of my friend Dr. Ian Singleton, and the earlier report about the orangutan cultures work I and my colleagues reported in the journal Science. My entire dissertation is available as PDF files here.

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Orangutan Conservancy:

The Orangutan Conservancy (OC) is dedicated to the protection of orangutans in their natural habitat through research, capacity building, education and public awareness programs, and by supporting numerous on-the-ground efforts to save Southeast Asia’s only great ape.

Orangutan Foundation International (OFI):

The mission of the Orangutan Foundation International is to support the conservation, protection, and understanding of orangutans and their rain forest habitat while caring for ex-captive orangutan orphans as they make their way back to the forest.  Furthermore, OFI educates the public, school children, and governments about orangutans, tropical rain forests, and the issues surrounding orangutan and forest conservation and protection.

Orang Utan Republik Foundation:

This site includes some detailed and well-researched background articles on the major threats to orangutans and their habitat.

Palm Oil Action

An Australian organization focused on palm oil issues that impact orangutan conservation.

Palm Oil Product List PDF: ProductPalmOilList2012FlexWeek

The lists Renée provided with common palm-oil based ingredients, products known to contain palm oil, products that are moving toward sustainable palm oil (if there is such a thing) and products known to be palm-oil free are here: ProductPalmOilList2012FlexWeek

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Project O.R.A.N.G.S

Project O.R.A.N.G.S. (Orangutans Really Appreciate And Need Girl Scouts)  A couple of concerned Girl Scouts managed to persuade the vast national organization to consider the impact of palm oil in the world-famous Girl Scout Cookies. They now have an online petition at, and a blog at Their goal is: “ to remove all palm oil from all Girl Scout Cookies across the U.S.A.; because palm oil is grown on what used to be rainforest land but has been cleared for palm oil plantations. This means that orangutans and many other endangered animals lose their habitat.”

Project Primate:

Project Primate, Inc. is a United States 501C (3) not-for-profit organization dedicated to the protection and conservation of chimpanzees, chiefly through the support and release of chimpanzees who have been orphaned, and through local public education. Project Primate a chimpanzee rehabilitation sanctuary, which is currently home to 38 orphaned and confiscated chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes verus) located in the Parc National du Haut Niger (PNHN), Guinea. In June 2008, the CCC (Centre de Conservation pour Chimpanzés) has released its first group of chimpanzees back to the wild in the PNHN. A second group has been released in 2011. All the CCC’s objectives are part of a worldwide conservation effort to save great apes. The CCC is hoping to continue improving the lives of the chimpanzees under its care, continue the monitoring of the first released group, release the second group of the CCC’s chimpanzees into the wild, protect the chimpanzee population living in the PNHN (the largest wild chimpanzee population in Guinea) and continue its education and awareness program.

Rainforest Action Network

A highly effective activist organization committed to the preservation of habitats for great apes and other tropical and temperate wildlife. Make Girl Scout Cookies Rainforest-Safe

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Save the Chimps:

To provide and build support for permanent sanctuary for the lifelong care of chimpanzees rescued from research laboratories, entertainment, and the pet trade. Save the Chimps was established in 1997, under the leadership of founder Carole Noon, Ph.D., in response to the U.S. Air Force’s announcement that it was getting out of the chimpanzee research business. At the end of the long giveaway process, most of the chimpanzees, described by the USAF in a Wall Street Journal article as “surplus equipment,” were sent to the Coulston Foundation (TCF) in Alamogordo, NM, a biomedical laboratory with the worst record of any lab in the history of the Animal Welfare Act. Save the Chimps sued the Air Force on behalf of the chimpanzees given to TCF. After a year-long struggle, Save the Chimps gained permanent custody of 21 chimps, survivors and descendants of the baby chimps captured in Africa in the 1950’s and used by the Air Force in the original NASA space research program.

Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme (SOCP):

A collaboration of conservation NGOs and the Indonesian government struggling for the survival of the orangutan in Sumatra. This comprehensive and integrated program includes orangutan reintroduction, research, habitat protection and environmental education.

Sumatran Orangutan Society (SOS):

SOS works with local people on habitat preservation and restoration, provides environmental education,  builds resources for ecotourism and “conservation villages” and works on international campaigns to preserve wild Sumatran orangutans and their rainforest homes.

United Nations Environment Program (UNEP):

UNEP provides leadership and encourages partnerships in caring for the environment by inspiring, informing, and enabling nations and peoples to improve their quality of life without compromising that of future generations.

Wild Chimpanzee Foundation:

The aim of the WCF is to enhance the survival of the remaining wild chimpanzee populations and their habitat, the tropical rain forest, throughout tropical Africa. We hope to reach this goal for 20-25’000 chimpanzees in the 17 countries in which they still exist in fairly intact habitat and to cover thereby the behavioral diversity of the species, still widely unknown today.

Wildlife Direct:

Wildlife Direct is a Kenya and US registered charitable organization founded and chaired by African conservationist Dr Richard Leakey, who is credited with putting an end to the elephant slaughter in Kenya in the 1980s. Its main office is located in Nairobi, Kenya.  Wildlife Direct was established in 2006 to provide support to conservationists in Africa directly on the ground via the use of blogs, which enables anybody, anywhere to play a direct and interactive role in the survival of some of the world’s most precious species.

World Wildlife Foundation:

For 50 years, WWF has been protecting the future of nature. The world’s leading conservation organization, WWF works in 100 countries and is supported by 1.2 million members in the United States and close to 5 million globally. WWF’s unique way of working combines global reach with a foundation in science, involves action at every level from local to global, and ensures the delivery of innovative solutions that meet the needs of both people and nature.

  • Vision: WWF’s vision is to build a future in which people live in harmony with nature.
  •  Mission:  WWF’s mission is to conserve nature and reduce the most pressing threats to the diversity of life on Earth.

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Current U.S. Legislation

Great Ape Protection and Cost Savings Act:

Bill Number H.R. 1513/S. 810

To phase out the use of chimpanzees in invasive research in the United States, retire the approximately 500 federally owned chimpanzees to permanent sanctuary, and make the recent National Institutes of Health decision to end breeding on federally owned chimpanzees statutory. Bill Sponsors:

  • H.R. 1513 – Representatives Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD), Steve Israel (D-NY), Dave Reichert (R-WA), James Langevin (D-RI), and Edolphus Towns (D-NY): 150 co-sponsors, 27of them from California
  •  S. 810 – Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Susan Collins (R-ME), and Bernie Sanders (I-VT)

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Ape Articles by Presenters

“Functional Anatomy and Adaptation of Male Gorillas (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) With Comparison to Male Orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus).” (November 2011), Adrienne L. Zihlman, Robin K. Mcfarland, and Carol E. Underwood, The Anatomical Record Vol. 294 (11):1842-1855.

“Orangutan Cultures and the Evolution of Material Culture.” (2003) Carel P.van Schaik, Marc Ancrenaz, Gwendolyn Borgen, Birute Galdikas, Cheryl D.Knott, Ian Singleton, Akira Suzuki, Sri Suci Utami, and Michelle Merrill, Science Vol. 299 (3 January 2003):102-105

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Great Ape Books for General Audiences

Among Orangutans: Red Apes and the Rise of Human Culture (2004), Carel van Schaik and Perry van Duijnhoven

Michelle’s Ph.D. advisor, Carel van Schaik summarizes our ideas about the origins of culture and cultural variation in orangutans, with lovely photos of Suaq Balimbing and Ketambe by our friend Perry.

Bonobo: The Forgotten Ape (1997),  Frans de Waal and Frans Lanting

Includes good summary text by primatologist Frans de Waal and images by Santa Cruz photographer Frans Lanting.  Frans de Waal has several other excellent, popular books on great ape behavior, including Chimpanzee Politics (1982) , Peacemaking among Primates (1989), Good Natured: The Origins of Right and Wrong in Humans and Other Animals (1997), and The Ape and the Sushi Master: Cultural Reflections of a Primatologist (2001).

Next of Kin: My Conversations with Chimpanzees (1997), Roger Fouts and Stephen Tukel Mills

A nice summary of the ape language experiments, particularly work with chimpanzees using American Sign Language, and their ethical implication for great apes.

Demonic Males: Apes and the Origins of Human Violence (1997), Dale Peterson and Richard Wrangham

An intriguing look at the capacity for violence in male apes, especially chimpanzees and humans.

Reflections of Eden: My Years with the Orangutans of Borneo (1995), Biruté Galdikas

An autobiographical description of the first decades at Tanjung Puting.  A recent article about Galdikas’ work to save orangutans and their habitat is “A Quest to Save the Orangutan” Smithsonian, 2010.

Kanzi: The Ape at the Brink of the Human Mind (1994), Sue Savage-Rumbaugh and Roger Lewin

Describes the amazing work with Kanzi the bonobo and some of the chimpanzees at the Language Research Center.

The Third Chimpanzee: The Evolution and Future of the Human Animal (1992), Jared Diamond

The Pulitzer-prize-winning author of Guns, Germs and Steelgives his take on human’s relationship to the other great apes, particularly chimpanzees.

Chimpanzee Material Culture: Implications for Human Evolution (1992), William McGrew

One of the first academic titles to discuss non-human behavioral variations as cultures.

Gorillas in the Mist (1983), Dian Fossey

The classic work by the late champion of mountain gorilla conservation.  Famed wildlife writer Farley Mowat does a nice job of providing context and alternative perspectives on Fossey’s work in Woman in the Mists (1988).

In the Shadow of Man (1971), Jane Goodall

The breakthrough research of a primatology pioneer.  She gives you a window into the community and personalities of the famous chimpanzees of Gombe.  Goodall has several follow-up books that focus more on conservation, including 1986’s award-winning The Chimpanzees of Gombe: Patterns of BehaviorThrough a Window: 30 years observing the Gombe chimpanzees (1990), Reason For Hope: A Spiritual Journey (1999), and Hope for Animals and Their World: How Endangered Species Are Being Rescued from the Brink (2009).

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