Published: April 20th 2009April 15th 2009
(Day 376 on the road)
The main reason to come to Bukit Lawang in the Gunung Leuser National Park is to view the Orang Utans
living here. Once upon a time, these wonderful creatures were living in various parts of South East Asia, but today they are only found in very few places in northern Sumatra and on Borneo. In Bukit Lawang, between 5000 and 7000 wild Orang Utans are thought to live, and the place is easily accessible from the city of Medan.
Orang Utans are quite fascinating: Their genes are 97% identical with human. They can weigh as much as 90kg, and the span of their arms can be as much as 2 metres. And their name is Malay and means "person of the forest".
Bukit Lawang became famous when the WWF
and the Frankfurt Zoological Society
set up a conservation centre here back in 1973. The main purpose of the centre is to introduce formerly non-wild Orang Utans into the wild by teaching them how to live in their natural habitat. Many of the animals in the centre were previously held as pets in private homes and have been confiscated by the authorities.
After they are released, the center still provides the weaker animals (ie. mothers nursing their newborn) with food if required. Also, the centre tries to protect the ever decreasing number of the primates from the negative effects of hunting, (legal and illegal) logging and farming.
However, the future looks dire for these animals. The Indonesian government is said to do far too little to protect the animals, and actively supports the export of wood from the national park. Today, the Indonesian rain forest is destroyed at the fastest rate worldwide. Further, more and more areas are converted into palm oil plantations and other farming land, destroying the forest and robbing the Orang Utans of their national habitat. Also, every year a few hundred of the primates in the national park disappear due to illegal hunting. The UN believes that the above practices will lead to the extinction of the Orang Utans here in Sumatra by 2012.
Next stop: Pulau Weh (Sumatra, Indonesia). Also have a look at my pictures at http://pictures.beiske.com