Orang Utans of Borneo

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December 4th 2008
Published: December 8th 2008
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To look into the eyes of ‘Princess’ - a rescued and rehabilitated Orang Utan in her home environment was a spine tingling, magical experience. She is one of over 200 Orang Utans that have been returned to their natural habitat by rangers working at Camp Leakey deep in the rain forest of Borneo. Truth be told ‘Princess’ has not been fully rehabilitated - she had too much contact with humans in her early days of rehabilitation and now tends to hang around the camp. She was once part of an experiment to see how much language Orang Utans can master - she has a vocabulary of over 140 words in signing. She is mother to a baby of 6 months, which still clings to her, and a juvenile of 6 years who still stays with her and will do for about another year. Babies are totally dependent on their mothers for the first few years of their lives consequently Orang Utans in the wild give birth every 6 years or so.

Camp Leaky was established in 1971 by the Canadian zoologist Dr Birute Galdikas. With assistance for the Leaky Foundation she set up the camp originally to study Orang Utans in their natural environment and has spent year tracking them in the wild and studying their behavior but the camp also became a major center for reintroducing orphaned or rescued Orang Utans to the wild.

Most of the rehabilitated Orang Utans live independently but some still return for a free meal to the feeding platforms in their territory from where they were released into the wild. It is at the feeding stations that the public can observe these wonderful animals feeding, playing, fighting and mothering their young.

Eye contact with Tom, the dominant male at Camp Leaky, was quite a scary experience - he is now rehabilitated and does not hang around the camp but sometimes turn up at the feeding station to enjoy free bananas and check out the females. He was very frisky the day we saw him and none of the females were interested. When he left the feeding platform and seated himself some 12 feet from us and gazed nonchalantly at the 6 of us perched on a wooden plank our guide moved up close to us and warned us to do exactly as we were told if Tom got bothersome. You can be
3- Tom Sulking3- Tom Sulking3- Tom Sulking

Male Orang Utans are recognised by the two large flaps of flesh on the side of their faces - also they are blinking enormous!!!
nonchalant when you weigh in at 300kg and have the strength of 9 men. Thankfully after 10 minutes or so he returned to the feeding platform to finish off the bananas and took off up into the trees where he busied himself making a nest to sleep in that night.

Sitting with and observing these soulful creature in their natural habitat was incredible and I loved it but their deep dark jungle habitat that is so important to them to me was a hostile place, I was so uneasy in the jungle.

Our room was lovely so couldn’t complain about that, it was a purpose built eco lodge with all mod cons powered for a limited time in the evening by a generator. Food was good, staff friendly and our Indonesian guide was superb but features on which it was sold rather than exciting me caused me great anxiety.

The lodge is built on wooden stilts in the swamp on the river’s edge. We were told not to swim or dangle our feet over the edge of the walkways because of the crocodiles, don’t leave anything outside the rooms because the monkeys will swoop in and steal anything. Spray your self and all your clothes in insect repellants and always check the toilet for stray reptiles. The noises of the night were not exotic music to me but the triumphant cries of bugs and beasts hell bent on devouring me. I was feeling particularly vulnerable after my long running ear incident and also because I had stitches in my foot from an injury I sustain just before leaving Kupang and I had been told on no account to let it get wet and re-infected. But what really unnerved me being 2 hours by boat from the nearest settlement which itself was half an hour from a town with its tiny airport and our exit point out of Kalimantan to civilization. I hated feeling so isolated and dependent on the boat people. We were the only guests which added to the feeling of isolation. To compound my despondency on the second night something bit me on my back, this resulted in 3 large lumps, which, with their puncture holes, are still there!!!! In my initial panic l speculated that it was a deadly spider, scorpion perhaps even a snake but I suspect it was ants (they were the
5- Get as many bananas in the mouth and up the tree to eat them5- Get as many bananas in the mouth and up the tree to eat them5- Get as many bananas in the mouth and up the tree to eat them

When the mouth and one hand is full with bananas they scuttle up to a safe place to eat the booty.
size of a small mice!!!).

We spent most of the daytime on our boat on tributaries visiting the feeding stations, reforestation projects and a resettlement projects for the forest people who have been moved out of the national park and those experiences more than made up for the terrors of the night. We were incredibly lucky with the weather as it is the rainy season and at night the sky in the distance was lit up with lightening but we were in sunshine all day. So I’m not complaining just reflecting on what a wimp I’ve become when I’m outside of my comfort zone.

Colin on teh other hand loved it - anywhere on a boat is good for him and he was intrigued by being in an environment largely untouched by humans since for ever.

Anyway that said it was a remarkable experience and of course I’m pleased we did it.

Now we are off to Sumba for a few days, Sumba is another Island off the beaten trail. It is purported along with Papua to have one of the richest tribal cultures. It is one of the poorest island in Indonesia and we will be visiting and staying with two VSO volunteers who are on the island working with the tribal and village people on various aspect of health care- so it should be a very interesting visit.

I've overdone the photo gallery a bit but at least you are not trapped in my living room enduring an enforced slide show!!!

Bye for now

Additional photos below
Photos: 40, Displayed: 26


River Sungai Lamandau our way into the rainforestRiver Sungai Lamandau our way into the rainforest
River Sungai Lamandau our way into the rainforest

The rain forest of Kalimantan (Borneo)
Touch down at Pangkalan BunTouch down at Pangkalan Bun
Touch down at Pangkalan Bun

There is only one plane a day in and out of Pankalan Bun and it didn't turn up the day we were due to leave so we had an extra night in Pangkalan Bun .
view from rear of boatview from rear of boat
view from rear of boat

The box construction is the toilet

he'd come the the water's edge to eat the soft bit at the root of the water reeds.

8th December 2008

wish I had been there
What fantastic photos Rosie!1 Trust the alpha male who is hyper and then sulks to been called Tom!!! Their faces were so soulful and the night listening to the jungle must have been awesome! Can't wait to be 'trapped ' in front of the photo show at Christmas. But forgoodness sake, stay out of harm till you get back safely on Friday. Love Penny
10th December 2008

last leg
will do Penny - these maladies are getting boring!!!! Yup I also thought of our Tom when we introduced to Rusty Red Tom.
11th December 2008

What a great experience
That was just wonderful, what an amazing experience Rosie wish I could have done it really do. Look forward to seeing you when you get back. Loads love.
14th December 2008

Superb photos
What an adventure, Rosemary! Trust you are now safely back home. Loved the orang utans - not as scary as gorillas. Best wishes - Rhonda

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