Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Sarawak, Borneo: Seeing Wild Orangutans

They are so at home in the trees, with hands and feet of apparent equal dexterity!
One of the main reasons for visiting Kuching was to see orangutans in the wild. This was actually one of my 101 in 1001 goals, and for good reason: they are the only species of great ape living outside of Africa, one of the world's most intelligent species (they create and use tools, for example), and endangered, meaning that in the not-so-distant future it may no longer be possible to see them.

The Semenggoh Nature Reserve is just 12 miles away from Kuching, and offers the chance to see wild orangutans in their native habitat. The reserve also includes a rehabilitation center, where animals are reintroduced to the wild.
B and R in the jungle (I wanted her off the ground, as the rainforest is not very toddler friendly)
Here's one reason why: huge numbers of insects! Leeches present but not pictured.
We arrived at "feeding time", when food is put out for those orangutans interested in coming to get it. We were lucky enough to see both an adult male and a young female orangutan. The male actually descended from the trees and walked along the path that we were standing on (much to the concern of the park rangers, who quickly herded everyone out of the way with alarm: you can see why below).
The "feeding station"
The man is a park ranger: visitors are kept at quite a distance
We had planned to spend the day hiking in the Nature Reserve but upon arrival found that most of the paths had been closed to visitors thanks to a recent orangutan attack on a man. Like chimpanzees, they are much stronger than humans and while not typically aggressive to humans, this is not always the case.  I was rather disappointed, because while seeing the orangutans at the feeding site was great I had hoped to see some under less-staged conditions.
Photos of one of the attackee's wounds
What the orangutan did to his jeans: they are very strong!
However, on our way back to the parking area we struck it lucky and saw a mother and her young offspring hanging out in the treetops, for quite some time. At certain points they were almost directly overhead so we had a very good view. The young orangutan was quite agile and playful, the mother more sedate.
They eat mostly fruit
Mom hanging out
The whole thing was really incredible and I feel so lucky to have been able to experience it.

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