Orangutan Spotting in Bukit Lawang, Sumatra Indonesia

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August 5th 2016
Published: August 10th 2016
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Our first stop on the Indonesian island of Sumatra was Bukit Lawang, 90km northwest of Medan. This small village is set back from the Bahorok river and covered in the dense Sumatran jungle. Famous for it’s orangutan feeding platform; the small village has become a popular tourist attraction. Unfortunately, this comes with its downsides as the locals are very pushy to send tourists on expensive tours into the jungle and can often exploit the animals as a consequence. On a limited budget we resisted the strong sales tactics of the locals and opted to visit the feeding platform costing only a fraction of the price.

On a daily basis the rangers visit the platform with rucksacks full of milk and bananas to feed the semi-wild orangutans, giving tourists a chance to see them too. Originally the programme was set up for the purpose of providing extra food for mothers and babies but many of the orangutans have now become dependent on this additional food supply. The rangers told us many stories of orangutans that become vicious and confrontational if they do not receive food immediately.

Excited for what we were about to see I jumped in
a black rubber ring and crossed the rapidly flowing river, with the aid of a rope, and clambered up the steep river bank that housed the feeding platform. Almost immediately we heard the rustling of leaves in the trees high above our heads.

We watched with anticipation as an orangutan emerged swinging down from the trees directly behind us. Once in sight we could see it was a mother, whose young baby clung to the tangled orange fur on her back. Immediately recognising the ranger’s rucksack the crafty mother went to collect her food. Without hesitation the ranger held out a bunch of bananas, which was quickly snatched out of his hand by the orangutan as she swung back into the trees. The ambitious baby struggled to hold on and eat the banana with bits dropping down to the jungle floor. We heard more rustling from the trees and a male adult arrived. Like the mother he also beelined straight for the banana stash, grabbed a bunch and swung back into the trees. The playful youngster decided to provoke the male by pulling at his fur and trying to grab onto his back. It didn’t take
long for him to lose his patience and disappear back into the dense jungle. We watched as the mother and child inquisitively climbed up and down the trees, gorging on bananas until they were full before majestically swinging back into the jungle.

We went for a swim in the river running through the centre of Bukit Lawang to cool off from the humidity. It was enjoyable watching the kids jump off the rocks and into the rapids. Keen to try out the rubber rings the locals were using we ascended up the river and found a place to enter the water. Within about 5 minutes I had fallen into the fast flowing water and was being swept downstream, being slammed into the boulders underneath the water. Panicking, I quickly made it to the water’s edge and climbed onto the bank. It’s safe to say the locals definitely made it look easy!

Next stop: Kerinci national park, as we started our 2 month journey east following the crescent-shaped path of the Indonesian archipelago towards Papua.


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