Guest post: Jess Stitt, orangutan intern extraordinaire

This post is a little bit different than normal in that my friend Jess and I decided to a do a one-post blog swap, so here is a post entirely in her words!  Jess is also from the U.S., and we in fact have some friends and places in common.  She’s been here since August and is about to ship out back to the homeland, potentially to start a Ph.D. in the fall.  Anyway, I gave her some prompts for this post, which are written here in bold, and here are her responses.  If you want to see MY guest post on her blog, head on over to

More from me in a bit, right now I’m off to make some noodles for lunch!


Hello everybuddy! My name’s Jess, and I am the Orangutan Intern here at OuTrop! I get
to work and hang out with Cassie, stomping around the swamp all day in Borneo, which I
think is a pretty sweet deal.

What do you do every day?

My job is to find and follow orangutans. This means I basically have free reign over a
national park to spend my time wandering around, playing hide and seek with orangutans
in the tropics. If I find one of the big red apes, I get to follow them as they go about
their daily routine. During this time, I take data (alongside another researcher) on
activity budgeting, ranging behavior, and social encounters to get a better sense of
how orangutans live their lives. The project I am working on is specifically looking at
social networking in female orangutans, studying the interactions between individuals.
The goal is to gain a better understanding of where this population of orangutans falls
on a sociality scale, ranging from highly social to completely solitary, and what the
motivations are for social behavior. I keep sending the female orangutans Facebook
friend requests to get more info on their social networking habits, but no luck so far.


Jess may make bad jokes (a lot of bad jokes) but she takes amazing pictures- here is Teresia, an orangutan who I have actually spent a lot of time following lately, and her 1.5 year old yet-to-be-named infant

What is your favorite and least favorite thing about your job?

Well, my favorite thing about my job is my job. I have wanted to study great apes in the
jungle since I was a young girl inspired by Jane Goodall. This work here is really cool,
because we are following wild orangutans, witnessing their natural behavior, and they
are okay with playing this game of hide and seek with us. Following the same individuals
over time, I start to notice personality differences, and hanging out mostly with females
means I get to spend a lot of time with their adorable offspring, too.

I also love that I am witness to an incredible amount of biodiversity, living here and
spending so many hours out in the field. I really love the array of creatures I see in a
given day or week, and I’m always looking for new species.

However, the toughest thing about my job is spending all those hours out in the field.
Orangutans get up at dawn and go to bed at dusk, meaning the researchers have to get upan hour before dawn, and sometimes don’t end the day until an hour after dusk. It can be very physically and mentally draining to spend 12-14 hours in the field in one stretch,
especially if you do it several days in a row.

If you could be anything in our forest, what would you be?

If I could be anything in this forest, I would be a Tumih tree. This is a tree that appears to
be softwood, so it grows relatively fast, and gets quite big and tall. As a tumih, I would
tower over the forest, getting to sit and watch life go by. Being a tree means I would get
a nice long lifespan (especially since I don’t think tumih wood is commercially viable),
with great views, and get to witness the changes that occur over a century. As an added
bonus, because of deep furrows in my bark, epiphytes love to grow on me. They add
a little bit of weight, but give me a gorgeous, awesome living green coat. Orangutans
sometimes climb me to eat these epiphytes, and gibbons and kelasi like to sleep high up
in my branches, away from the dangers of lower down trees. I am sure an occasional sun
bear, civet, and clouded leopard use my open canopy for lovely lounging from time to
time too! Tumih, or not tumih – that is the question I know the answer to.


Jess hard at work taking data


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