Face to Face with Wild Orangutans

It was one of those moments in life where you pinch yourself hard to make sure it is actually happening…my mind would spin trying to grasp how I managed to be in this situation. Life is a wild adventure if want it to be.

Base and I flew to Kota Kinabalu… Borneo. We were starting a new job as Expedition guides.

It felt pretty daunting getting on this huge luxury ship and having to figure out a new role with a new company, oh and we were going to see wild Orangutans!!!!!

Within a few days of starting the job, I found myself navigating up a narrow river in Kalimantan driving a 6m zodiac with 8 passengers on board. So not only did I need to drive and navigate around floating logs and natural debris along the way, but I also had to try and be on the lookout for Orangutans and other primates, birds and anything else interesting to talk to the passengers about!

It was a sink or swim moment… Base and I were so pumped, we just push through the intimidation factor and did what we normally do… started exploring in a tender and frothing out on nature.  We had studied up and knew all about the peat moss, deforestation, palm oil and plight of the Orangutans, and we learned a few of the bird and monkey species we might see too.

Navigating through a narrow river mouth and then working our way 20km along the river to where it got narrower and narrower, with Pandanus poking out either side. I knew these zodiacs were solid, but it crossed my mind that I really don’t want to deflate a chamber of this boat… nor scratch any of my passengers with the spikey Pandanus leaves.

We spotted Proboscis monkeys leaping from tree to tree, we saw Rhinoceros Hornbill,  and longtail Macaques as we cruised along. But it was red in the trees that I was eagerly seeking. My intimidation about being up a creek in Borneo without a paddle… ( 😉 well we did have paddles) had no time or space in my mind. I was all in.

We were given a solid warning about one particular Orangutan that had been released from captivity after a pretty horrendous life in a cage.

It was fair enough that this mature male Orangutan didn’t like people. In fact, he was known to be rather dangerous around people, one more interesting fact is that this particular Orangutan, he wasn’t afraid of the water like other Orangutans… he could come into the river and approach our Zodiacs. So lots of excitement, and then add in a violent swimming great ape that hates humans!

The first flash of red I saw through the trees made my heart skip a beat. It started with one at first then as we went further up river we saw 12 wild orangutans in that first trip of the day. A couple of them had been rehabilitated into the wild, so they had a weird fascination with us humans seeking them out via boats.

The rangers of the national park often supplementary feed orangutans, because the forests carrying capacity for how much food it can grow, has been diminished from deforestation. So to allow these Orangutans to thrive they need to add to the orangutan’s natural diet.

The sound of our boats made these fascinating ‘people of the forest’ come and have a look. You would look into the face of these amazing creatures and you saw the fact that they are 97% related to us humans.

Their faces, their hands, their personalities. I wanted to stay forever and watch them. Seeing these beautiful creatures in the wild is something I will never forget and the more I learn about this species the more passionate I become to stand up for their plight in this world.

Humans are destroying the forests that these Orangutans need. They need a vast space of forest to support their food requirements. They need this land to roam and mate and live out their lives.

Palm oil is a major factor for the destruction of the rainforest. But if it’s not palm oil, its some other cash crop. We need protected forests that are monitored and properly protected from big business and poachers that bring these wild amazing creatures into the pet trade.

Seeing these beautiful creatures in the wild has forever changed me….you may not get to see them in the wild, but isn’t it something to know that you could? We need to protect this species from extinction and there are actions we can take:

Check out https://www.palmoilinvestigations.org/

This site will guide you look into the brands of packaged food you buy. We need to cull the demand of palm oil to make the supply slow down.

Also have a read of this book… it will change your view about Orangutans even more – Orangutans. My Cousins, My Friends by Leif Cocks.

Check out and support The Orangutan Project you can adopt a little Rangtan baby!

Here’s to fighting for species that can’t fight for themselves.



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