Sunday, February 27, 2011

Orangutans in Borneo

'Tom' - King of the Orangutans
Indonesia is a great country for seeing magnificent animals in their natural habitats. I've been lucky enough already to see whale sharks off the coast of Gorontalo, manta rays off the coasts of Bali and Flores and Komodo dragons on Rinca Island. Now I can also say I've seen orangutans, proboscis monkeys, and gibbons in the jungles of Borneo. Inspired by friends' photos last year, I quickly said yes when Mark started organizing an orangutan river trip for the end of February. Our merry band of travelers included Mark and his friend Dave, visiting from Alaska; my ELF friends Noreen and Michaela; and my housemates Melanie and Anastasia from Yogya.

Lonely Planet describes these orangutan river trips to Tanjung Puting National Park in Central Kalimantan (part of Indonesian Borneo) as "the world's easiest adventure travel" and I'd have to agree. An English-speaking guide named Ambo (like Rambo without the 'r', he told us) met our plane at the tiny airport in Pangkalan Bun and whisked us off by car to our awaiting klotok on the river. This traditional river boat would be our home for the next three days and two nights as we leisurely cruised up and down the rivers of the park, disembarking only to visit orangutan rehabilitation camps. My friends and I spent all of our time on the klotok topside and the crew did a fantastic job of transforming our living space from a lounging area to a dining area to a sleeping area and back again multiple times. We ate delicious food, slept under mosquito nets at night and kept our eyes peeled for primates in the trees.

A klotok heading up river

Dining topside

Early morning on the klotok

Looking for wildlife
Proboscis monkey - look at that nose and the long tail!

Orangutan rehabilitation has actually been deemed controversial. The original idea was to train formerly captive orangutans to live in the wild but this idea backfired when scientists realized that the reintroduced orangutans were spreading human diseases they had picked up in captivity to native orangutan populations, who were also forced to compete for food and mates. Currently, orangutans are only rehabilitated into areas with no native populations. 

A mother and baby eating bananas

Michaela, Anastasia, Melanie and Mark at an orangutan feeding station

Did you know 'orangutan' is an Indonesian word that means 'forest person'?

Treehugger :-)

There WERE crocodiles in the river! My friends saw some but I didn't :-(

A gibbon! We would listen to their calls while eating breakfast on the klotok.

A wild boar at a feeding station

Orangutans are only found in the wild in Borneo and Sumatra.

Melanie, Michaela and Noreen

Me on a boat in Borneo :-)
One of the unexpected highlights of the trip was seeing fireflies at night. At home, fireflies seem to come out individually and spread themselves out over a large area. Here, the fireflies came out in droves and would concentrate themselves around individual trees, giving the effect of Christmas trees covered in live twinkling lights. I've never seen anything like it. 

Cruising down up and down the river was magical for all the reasons I've already mentioned but it was also thrilling to think about some of the other, unseen animals of the jungle just beyond the riverbanks like sun bears, clouded leopards, and pythons...

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