Watching Orangutans at the Semenggoh Wildlife Center in Borneo

September 29, 2017

One of the special things you can do in Borneo is see wild (or semi-wild) orangutans. Borneo and Sumatra are the only places in the world where orangutans still live in the wild – pretty amazing, and sad. So we used the opportunity of being here to see some orangutans that had been rescued and then released in the wild again, at the Semenggoh Wildlife Center. The center is at the edge of a jungle and, after they release orangutans in the wild, they still provide food for them twice a day at a feeding site. The orangutans sometimes come, sometimes not. But usually they don’t say no to a free meal, which creates an opportunity for curious tourists like us to observe them.

So that’s what we did this morning – together with about 50-60 other tourists, all having their photo equipment ready, from smartphones to huge tele lenses. Initially there was only one big male orangutan at the feeding site and for almost an hour, he didn’t do much except eat the fruit he was given and scratch himself from time to time, always with his back turned towards us tourists. This was not great, because after an hour, tourists have to leave the feeding site and the park.

But just briefly before we were about to get kicked out by the park rangers, a female and her baby showed up at the feeding side too. They were lovely together, and clearly a bit afraid of the big male that was there already. Finally they worked up the courage to get closer and take some of the food for themselves, the baby most of the time clinging to its mother. It was great to see them approaching from very high up in the trees, get to the feeding platform, and then go away with the food again. It may not sound like a great show when I describe it here, but we both (and all other tourists who had been patient enough) were delighted watching them. There were lots of “ahhhh”s and “ooohhh”s and lots of clicking of photo camera shutters. The rangers had to insist that we leave, otherwise we would have stood around for a lot longer trying to spot more orangutans.

As a side note, the word “orangutan” comes from the Malay and Indonesian words orang meaning “person” and hutan meaning “forest”, so orangutan means “person of the forest”. How cool is that!

Next stop: Mulu National Park

Tomorrow we’re flying to the Mulu National Park – another jungle experience here in Borneo. Since this jungle is inland and there are no roads leading there, the only way to get there is to fly (or to take a boat for about 3 days, which we will not do to ourselves). In this national park, the attraction is more the landscape (river, caves, a canopy walk, the forest itself) than the animals (although a lot of bats live in said caves – I’m still deciding whether I want to go see millions of bats or rather steer clear of them).

We’ll be there for 4-5 days, with probably no internet access, except maybe sporadically through the mobile phone network, if we get a signal. So very likely I’ll update the blog only in a few days again.

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