I have been back in the UK for a few weeks now and it has given me the opportunity to fully reflect on my experiences. 11-17 November was Orangutan Caring Week 2013 so I wanted to touch on my own experiences with the 2Man of the Forest2. Since I can remember animals have always played a part in the places that I travel. I am very fortunate to have a career that allows me to go to places where wildlife experiences are part of my role. My main excitement for this trip was to see the orangutans. Last year I had the opportunity to see gorillas and chimpanzees in the wild so I was eager to tick off these playful creatures to my growing list of primates and monkeys.
Orang-utans are found in Indonesia and Malaysia and are found on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra. There are 2 types, the Bornean Orang-utan or the Sumatran Orang-utan. The origin of the name comes from the Malay language which means ‘person of the forest’; ‘orang’ meaning people and ‘hutan’ meaning forest. It is believed that 100 years ago that there were over 250,000 orang-utans found on the islands of Sumatra and Borneo. Continued deforestation has seen orang-utan population’s drop from between 30-50% over the past decade and it is estimated that there are only 7,500 left in Sumatra and 55,000 in Borneo. The biggest issue facing these super human like beings is that approximately 80% of their rainforest habitat has disappeared in the last 20 years. Moreover, although they are protected species in both Borneo and Sumatra, they are still hunted for their meat or captured for the pet trade.
I went to visit Semangoh on 2 separate occasions. I had been speaking to my guide Rives, and also to some hoteliers in Kuching and they had told me about a local celebrity at the wildlife centre – the alpha male, and oldest orang-utan at the centre, ‘Richie’. I was determined to see Richie, but was also told that he hadn’t been seen there in a while. On the first day, there was a mother and her baby, a few juveniles, but no sign of Richie so I went back the day after. As soon as we had arrived Rives had spoken to one of the local rangers and he said that Richie was there. First I went to the viewing platform. Once again, there was a mother and baby and 2 juveniles feasting on the bananas, coconuts and general fruit buffet that had been left for them. My trigger finger was at the ready and I managed to get lots of fantastic shots of them; their facial expressions are so human like and by this time I wasn’t sure if we were watching them or they were watching us. They make for excellent models, far more photogenic than my good self. But still no sign of Richie! I waited for half an hour an hour and he didn’t show up. Gutted, I thought that I should start to head back. Whilst walking the path on the way back, one of the rangers stopped me and the folks behind me. He tells me I can’t go any further as Richie is in the car park and that they need to usher him on as it would not be safe. We waited patiently, as another mother and child pairing seemed to take an interest in us from above.
Suddenly, Rives points to another platform and there he is in all his glory, commanding the feeding platform and demolishing bunches of bananas like they were penny sweets. A massive specimen, with fully evolved face flaps that must have weighed about 90kgs! I certainly wouldn’t want to mess with him!