Orangutans in Borneo - An experience I can't help but share!
They often say you learn something new everyday... On this particular day (on our very own boat kitted up ready for our first day in Borneo's jungle) I actually found out the name Orangutan actually means "person of the forest" - So long for the 33 years I thought it was because of their ORANGe like colour!
The last time I visited my friends, Tom and Kelly, over in Jakarta they invited me to the 'visit the Orangutans in Borneo'. The way they described it to me was amazing but unfortunately I didn't take them up on the offer - I was itching to get on a beach in Bali and soak up the sun!
Two years later, I made plans to go visit the gruesome twosome again, this time for the sole purpose of going to see the Orangutans in Borneo's jungle!. Having booked the trip in the summer and saved like a mad man, October soon came round and I was on my way. I had purposely bought a GoPro camera to make the most of my trip - (more about that later...) some would say it's a once in a lifetime event, but I am pretty sure I want to go back again.
After a days stay in Jakarta we made the trip to Borneo, planning to stay three nights and four days in the jungle. The plane touched down (through a haze of Palm oil plantation fires) at a tiny hut of an airport - but this sure added to the authenticity my trip. The weather was scorching and the excitement of the next few days was off the scale!
We arranged to meet up with our guide, Kris, who took us via taxi to this primitive looking boat with its own crew - including an awesome chef. Anyone who knows me, knows I am not the biggest fan of mucking it out - but I was in Borneo... so anything goes!
The boat took us deeper and deeper in to the jungle, proceeding upstream along a calm river, which eventually led to the Black River (due to its high peat content). The whole Orangutan experience is based around a reserve known as Camp Leakey - located in Tanjung Puting National Park. Set up by Dr. Biruté Galdikas. Her sole aim was to study, develop and protect the Orangutans, whose numbers had dramatically declined due to global hunger for Palm Oil.
After dinner we docked the boat and Kris explained we would be going in to the jungle to a feeding station, which is loaded with fruit and milk. Since these are semi-wild Orangutans, these feeding stations are vital in keeping the groups of Orangutans together to monitor their progress. Even at this stage - fighting off the bugs, sweat and humidity - I really didn't know what to expect! Once we arrived, there right in front of my very eyes were a group of Orangutans - metres away enjoying the banquet of food laid on for them by the rangers. This sort of interaction is the sort of thing you see on a David Attenborough documentary!
'I am in the jungle with real Orangutans! Awesome!'
What was remarkable is that Kris knew each and every one of them, as they were human beings. This is crazy stuff... "Oh this one's Stephen, his mother does this and he has a brother called..." Unfortunately even me trying to describe the experience doesn't do it any justice - you really had to be there to feel the intensity of what was in front of us! The Orangutans continued to trade places on the feeding station - each getting their tummy filled. An unwritten (as well as written rule) is to keep silence at all times when they are in the vicinity. This was not a problem from where I was standing - I was mesmerised by the whole experience! We even had the 'pleasure' of an Orangutan 'leader' getting it on with one of the females. Over in all of 15 seconds - it was quite a sight! Haha
Back on the boat, we enjoyed our evening meal and a short trip down the lake to another docking station. It was amazing to see the array of wildlife from Kingfishers, Crocodiles and Monkeys. The jungle was heaving with activity.
We would spend the next day at various Feeding stations at Camp Leakey getting up close and personal with more Orangutans including the 'King' of the Jungle, Tom. He was an incredible beast - Like 'Wow'.
We were fortunate to enjoy his presence, as - according to Kris - he hadn't been seen for months! We had the impression he was on a mission to get his wicked way with some of the females. He didn't disappoint! While we all know it's nature's way, it is pretty brutal - I don't think this poor female had much of a say in matters!
This was much more than a trip to see the Orangutans, I learned so much more about the surroundings. I was even shown to a base of a tree with a hole decorated with web, which was home to a huge Tarantula! Seriously, what was I doing there?! haha. Kris even gave us some survival tips if you become isolated in the jungle. Scary stuff! I was just happy to stay close by to the people around me.
While the whole experience up to that point was nothing short of incredible, the second to last day, we experienced something truly magnificent. We joined a group of trekkers at a feeding station and enjoyed the sight of a family of Orangutans devouring their food. As the feeding time came to an end and the 40 or so people who were present dispersed. We hung around for a short while, which ended up turning in to a few hours. The sun was relentless. We took it upon ourselves to take 'selfies' and enjoy our surroundings. Kris encouraged us to give off some Orangutan heckles... I have to be honest we were pretty good at them!
Our patience paid off... we could hear some rustling in the distance get louder until a small group of Orangutans climbed on to the feeding station. The five of us had the whole jungle and Orangutans and ourselves! Kris had some extra fruit to give to them as well. We gently offered them the fruit and they tentatively obliged.
This was the most surreal moment ever! We were feeding Orangutans!
While star struck by what was happening, we clambered to our phones to record everything we possibly could. This probably would never happen to us again so every second was precious. Unfortunately for me, I have no idea how it happened but my GoPro had got that hot in the heat, I think it corrupted the SD card which was in the camera. This is surely the biggest "can you believe this just happened?!" moment ever! Luckily enough we had enough cameras between us to not spoil this experience and we got some really incredible pictures and videos. I am slightly disappointed such a thing could happen.
Our final night was crowned with star-spangled, glitzy light show in the form of Fireflies in the jungle. You have to take our word for it - as it was nearly impossible to take any pictures in the pitch dark. The jungle decorated with flashing luminous green lights from the Fireflies resembling the kind of flashing photography you would see as a Wrestlemania!
To conclude - and I know this is probably the polar opposite to something you would expect to find on a creative agency's blog. I just hope this is a gentle reminder that - as much as we love our line of work - there is more to life than being sat behind a desk all year round. Go recharge your batteries, you will come back feeling a million dollars :o)
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