Borneo is the third largest island in the world and its interior still harbors many Dayak Indians only a generation away from hunting with bows and arrows. Unfortunately the mist shrouded rainforests are rapidly giving way to palm oil plantations and slash and burn agriculture, so we were anxious to see the primitive areas while they still were that way. We sailed to a place called Kumai which we could not find in a Lonely Planet guide, and here we anchored Ventana and along with two friends from another sailboat we proceeded upriver African Queen style in a local kechak boat. Our destination was an Orangutan sanctuary started by Louis B Leaky. Leaky, of Africa fame sponsored three women anthropologists to study primates, Dian Fossey working with Gorillas, Jane Goodall studying Chimpanzees, and Birute' Galdikas's study of Orangutans in Borneo. Birute's home and research station was our destination.
Along the way up the river we spotted Longtail Macque, Proboscis and Gibbon monkeys. It was a real pleasure for a few days to leave all the navigation and boat chores to our guides and simply sit on deck while they moved us along. At night we simply tied the boat to the reeds lining the bank, and our guides fed us royally. Our traveling companions Jack and Daphne were both professional musicians so while Jack played the guitar we all sang along. At bedtime we covered the boat with mosquito nets and went to sleep on mattresses on the deck.
Placing your cursor over some photos will give you a caption and clicking on any photo will give you an enlargement of that photo. After enlarging you can hit the back button on your browser to return you here.
Late in the afternoon we arrived at one of the 3 spread out research facilities and after hiking inland a bit from the dock we found the research station buildings. We amusingly noted the researchers lived in wire cages while the white cheeked Gibbon monkeys and Orangutans were free to peer through the screens at the captives.
We had no idea how close we would get to the Orangutans and our first views were of them swinging through the trees in our direction. The Orangutans here were a mix of wild Orangutans and ones raised in captivity and since freed or ones found as babies when their parents were killed. The station provides some feed and helps reintroduce them to the wild.
As we walked along the path to the feeding station Dee met a very friendly Orang and stopped for a short chat.
At the feeding platform we met a dozen other tourists including our friends from the boat Calypso JJ. Jeff, the owner of Calypso JJ has lived in Indonesia previously and his parents run several eco lodges here including one only a few miles down the river. We were told the Orangs might come quite close which was safe as long as it was not the dominant male of the area. After a few minutes of us busily watching and taking pictures one of the young male Orangutans came and sat down by Jeff and leaned against his shoulder. Most of us would have been nervous and jumped away but Jeff, a veterinarian by trade said it was a magic moment and the two of them sat side by side for some time.
Orangutans have very long arms and are 7 times stronger than humans. They easily hang by one arm or one leg from a tree effortlessly for minutes and swing from branch to branch 80 feet up in the air without a care in the world.
At the second research station we visited we were waiting at the feeding platform for quite awhile but no Orangutans arrived. Then we heard a loud gruff call in the forest and soon the dominant male of the area arrived. No doubts about who was the boss here.
Our last stop was the orphanage and here we met a young male and female both of whom had been found as infants and hand fed for several years. They were now being reintroduced to the wild and finding their own food. The young female was laying in a tree close to the ground so I approached very close and began taking her portrait. Meanwhile Dee became enthralled with Danny, the male and stayed under the tree he was in for 10 minutes talking to him. After a bit he climbed up a few feet and ripped off a 12" twig with the leaves still attached, then extending his arm dropped it down to her. She quietly picked it up and held it in her hands and that was all the encouragement he needed. Next he gathered another twig and dropped it to her, then another and another. In a few minutes Dee was standing there holding a bouquet of a dozen leafy branches and looking at Danny the way she looked at me last time I gave her a bouquet of flowers. I was worried that Danny wanted her to use them to start building a nest for the two of them!
Webmaster- Rob Dubin © copyright 2003-2006 Rob Dubin Page Last updated 10/27/2006