WUR and the Great Ape

Blogger Nadya Karimasari read the history report in Resource magazine on the reputation gained by WUR scientists in Indonesia during the colonial era. There is also the lesser-known historical role of Wageningen in the establishment of conservation projects in Indonesia.
Nadya Karimasari

© Sven Menschel

Little did people know that scientists of our very own Wageningen were crucial figures in the establishment of conservation activities and research in Indonesia, especially in Gunung Leuser National Park (GLNP) where I am doing my research now.

Ketambe, located in Southeast Aceh, is the oldest and most famous research station of orang-utans in the world. It gained the same level of respect and historical reputation among primatologist as the Gombe in Tanzania, which made Jane Goodall famous studying chimpanzees, Karisoke in Rwanda where Dian Fossey studied gorillas, and Tanjung Puting National Park in Indonesia where Birute Goldikaz studied Bornean orang-utans.


Herman Dirk Rijksen played a key role in the launch and maintenance of Ketambe Research Station. He was a PhD student financed by the Netherlands Foundation for the Advancement of Tropical Research (WOTRO) to do research on the ecology and conservation of wild orang-utans.

In conjunction with the research, in 1971, the Indonesian Nature Conservation Service (PPA) built Ketambe, the first orang-utan rehabilitation station in the world with modest support from the World Wildlife Fund Netherlands Appeal (WWF). His dissertation (1978) was issued by the Mededelingen of Landbouwhogeschool Wageningen. Later on, with support from IBN-DLO (Institute for Forestry and Nature Research – now part of WUR), Herman Rijksen managed to secure funding from the European Commission on one of Indonesia’s biggest conservation project, the Integrated Conservation and Development Programme in GLNP starting in 1995.

Buffer zone

Nicolaas van Strien also graduated from Wageningen University in 1985 with a dissertation on the Sumatran rhino. Sumatran rhino scientists and conservationists today still solely refer to van Strien’s work in GLNP due to its outstanding reputation. Another name to be mentioned is Jan Wind, an expert of conservation buffer zone in GLNP who currently enjoys his life in Ede as a nature photographer.

Ketambe was inactive for a couple of years from 1999 and was burnt down in 2011. It was rebuilt and reopened in 2015 and attracts quick-visitors such as students, documentary filmmakers, donors, a Hollywood actor – Leonardo diCaprio, as well as yours truly. It feels like visiting a conservation artefact in which I am carrying the torch of Wageningen’s study of conservation in Indonesia, in times when the golden era of primate research in Ketambe has been long gone.

Nadya Karimasari is a PhD candidate in the chair group Sociology of Development and Change

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