Wild orang-utans

Trip Start May 18, 2003
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Thursday, June 12, 2003

Today I saw my first wild orang-utans.

After a long wait for the local bus (which only ended when we started a special 'bus dance' to the tune of "The wheels on the bus go round round round...") and a fifty minute journey (RM2 fare) south of Kuching we arrived at the Semenggoh Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre (RM3 entrance fee). This is a huge (over 600 hectre) wildlife reserve that supports many endangered species. The twenty minute walk into the centre goes past some excellent landscaped gardens that follow different themes, and the sound of exotic birds accompany you on the walk. Of course the main draw here is the chance to see orang-utans in their natural habitat, so tempting as it was to stop and admire the views we pressed on.

At the centre itself they no longer have orang-utans in controlled enclosures as there are sufficient orang-utans in the wild that train newcomers how to climb trees and forage for food. The manager of the centre told me that ten years ago the wildlife reserve rangers had to literally climb trees to show the orang-utans how to do it. Once they are released into the wild the only contact they have with humans now are at the daily feeding times when a token amount of food is left out on a special platform in the jungle for any orang-utans to help themselves to.

There were a couple of hours to kill before the 3pm feeding time so a short walk around the centre revealed that they also keep four crocodiles here too. They were all in separate enclosures but one of the cages did not have a padlock on, only a piece of wire tied around the posts!

Walking in the jungle here is so removed from anything I have seen before. Everywhere you look there are such amazing sights and the jungle sounds are so intense at times. When we got to the feeding platform huge butterflies were circling around the floor, occasionally landing and flexing their wings before making another circuit. The trees were very tall and produced a welcome canopy over a hundred feet tall that kept the temperature fairly cool on the ground.

Fifteen minutes before feeding time we could see something moving high up in the distance. Ever so gracefully and without making a sound a female orang-utan slowly started making her way towards us, swinging along the vines about thirty feet above the ground. Soon it was apparent that she had a small baby orang-utan with her. I guess that the offer of free food every day is popular with nursing orang-utans as soon there was another female with a baby, descending from a different direction. Both the babies had fuzzy hair and looked very young. The orang-utans quietly made their way to the platform where a ranger had left some green bananas, only the sound of rustling leaves giving them away. At one point the first female walked passed us on the viewing platform and I was within five feet of her. It was a sight I will never forget. They are so calm and gentle in their movements, it is very sad to think this species may be extinct within my own lifetime.

The manager of the centre mentioned that they do take on volunteer staff from time to time so if any of you are interested in spending some time here (Caroline take note) contact the Forest Department of Sarawak at the following address:

Forest Department Sarawak,
Wisma Sumber Alam,
Jalan Stadium, Petra Jaya,
93660 Kuching, Sarawak,
Malaysia.
Tel : 6 082 319102 / 319103
Fax : 6 082 441377
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