Welcome to POKOK (Project on the keys to understanding orangutan killing, or Pola kematian orangutan dan konflik manusia): a novel anthropology-conservation collaboration that explores new ways of improving human-orangutan coexistence in rural Borneo.

Today, the killing of orangutans – whether through conflict, poaching or hunting – is a significant threat facing this critically endangered species. Yet conservationists know surprisingly little about the complex local conditions in which these take place. What do people in Borneo know and think about orangutans? How do they relate to the other parties – including animals, government officials, corporations, migrants and conservationists – who share their world? What social, cultural, economic, political and religious currents shape their daily lives and their hopes, fears and priorities? And how can conservationists tap into and work with such currents?

Such questions have not received much attention in existing orangutan conservation strategies, which mostly draw on biological and ecological research, and focus on maintaining protected areas of rainforest as safe habitats for orangutans. But without a full understanding of social complexities on the ground, efforts to improve human-orangutan coexistence are inevitably doomed to failure.

Our project seeks to fill this gap by building up a nuanced, in-depth understanding of human-orangutan relations in Borneo. We argue that orangutan killing needs to be understood in context: as part of much larger set of factors that shape people’s thoughts, lives and actions. It is only by understanding these factors – and being willing to take them seriously – that we can formulate appropriate, effective strategies for mitigating the problem and promoting better human-orangutan coexistence.

We aim to use our research in three main ways:

  • To formulate empirically grounded, locally appropriate approaches to the problem.
  • To better account for why certain conservation schemes and initiatives work – and why others fail.
  • Ultimately, to help conservationists engage with local communities and other stakeholders in more productive, effective ways.

This project runs from 2017 to 2022. It is generously funded by the Arcus Foundation and Brunel University London and supported by the Borneo Futures network and the Center of Excellence for Environmental Decisions, University of Queensland.