Are Social Media Reports Useful For Assessing Small Ape Occurrence? A Pilot Study From Peninsular Malaysia

ASU Author/Contributor (non-ASU co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Susan Lappan PhD, Associate Professor (Creator)
Appalachian State University (ASU )
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Abstract: Citizen science-based research has been used effectively to estimate animal abundance and breeding patterns, to monitor animal movement, and for biodiversity conservation and education. Here, we evaluate the feasibility of using social media observations to assess the distribution of small apes in Peninsular Malaysia. We searched for reports of small ape observations in Peninsular Malaysia on social media (e.g., blogs, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, iNaturalist, etc.), and also used online, radio, print messaging, and word of mouth to invite citizen scientists such as birders, amateur naturalists, hikers, and other members of the public to provide information about small ape observations made during their activities. These reports provided new information about the occurrence of all three species of small apes (Hylobates agilis, Hylobates lar, and Symphalangus syndactylus) in Peninsular Malaysia. Social media users reported observations of small apes in almost every state. Despite the fact that small apes are believed to occur primarily in the interior of large forested areas, most observations were from fairly small (<100 km2) forests near areas of high traffic and high human population (roads and urban areas). This suggests that most outdoor enthusiasts primarily visit well-traveled and easily accessible areas, which results in biased sampling if only incidental observations reported on social media are used. A more targeted approach specifically soliciting reports from citizen scientists visiting large, less-accessible forests may result in better sampling in these habitats. Social media reports indicated the presence of small apes in at least six habitats where they had not been previously reported. We verified the reported data based on whether reports included a date, location, and uploaded photographs, videos and/or audio recordings. Well-publicized citizen science programs may also build awareness and enthusiasm about the conservation of vulnerable wildlife species.

Additional Information

Mohd Rameli, NIA, Lappan, S, Bartlett, TQ, Ahmad, SK, Ruppert, N. Are social media reports useful for assessing small ape occurrence? A pilot study from Peninsular Malaysia. Am J Primatol. 2020; 82:e23112. Publisher version of record available at:
Language: English
Date: 2020
gibbons, hylobatidae, passive citizen scientist, Peninsular Malaysia, small apes, social media

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