Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Close encounters with orang utan

Mother and child feeding on the platform

Visitors watching the antics of orang utans from the viewing platform

Visitors being briefed on the rules and regulations by forest ranger Abdul Rahman

A male orang utan on top of a tree

Photos courtesy of and Copyright to NYL and Brunei Press Sdn Bhd.


The orang utan was once a common forest dweller in Sumatra and Borneo, but wildlife preservation authorities estimate that only a few thousand survive in the wild today. An adult orang utan requires at least 1,000 acres of virgin forest to subsist; as the habitat dwindles, the orang utan population declines.

Semenggoh Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre (SORC), about 30km south of Kuching, was set up to rescue and rehabilitate orang utan. They were orphaned at a young age or caught by local villagers as pets. Rangers from SORC search areas about to be developed, and respond to tip-offs by locals to rescue endangered or captured orang utan. These orang utan are then brought back to the centre to be rehabilitated.

Rehabilitation is a long and arduous process. At the centre, the orang utans undergo a medical check-up before being quarantined for 90 days to undergo observation.

They are then introduced to the rest of the troupe in large outdoor socialising cages. Swings and ropes are placed in cages for the orang utans to build up their strength and stamina in preparation for their return to the forest. Once they are about five to six years old, they will slowly be weaned off human care and contact, and brought back into the forest in stages.

The orang utans are gradually led to different feeding platforms, where they are fed less and less as they go deeper into the forest. This is to encourage them to learn how to search for their own food, until they can be completely independent of human care.

Being 97 per cent genetically similar to humans, these men of the forest are mischievous creatures and highly intelligent to boot.

Visitors to SORC get to observe orang utan at the feeding stations twice a day.

A 20-minute walk into the centre goes past some excellent landscaped gardens with wildlife in their natural habitat.

Visitors are briefed on the rules and regulations at the reserve by forest ranger Abdul Rahman, who also cautioned them against getting too near the orang utan.

"They look tame and adorable, but orang utan can be mischievous and sometimes aggressive. Hide your food and drinks, and anything that might attract their attention because they will grab things from you," he said.

The ranger also warned visitors from having any physical contact with the apes, and using flash when taking their photographs because it can damage their eyesight.

We walked a short distance through the jungle before we got our first glimpse of them. Orang utan are good timekeepers and as feeding time approaches they start to make an appearance.

Ever so gracefully and without making a sound, a female orang utan slowly started making her way towards us, swinging along the vines about 10 metres above the ground. Soon it became apparent that she had a baby orang utan with her.

She was joined by another female with a baby, descending from a different direction. Both the babies had fuzzy hair and looked very young.

They quietly made their way to the platform where a ranger had left some bananas.

Orang utan are omnivores. They eat both plants and animals like birds and small mammals as well as insects.

At one point the first female walked passed us on the viewing platform and I was within five metres of her. It was a sight I will never forget.

Orang utan are a worldwide endangered species, and SORC plays a crucial role in helping these tree-dwellers survive and return to their natural habitat. However, this cannot be just a one-sided effort, and everyone should take an active interest in this important task.

In addition to the orang utan, visitors will be able to see other endangered species at SORC. The centre has housed a wide range of wildlife, including rescued gibbons, porcupines, crocodiles and river terrapins.

In the surrounding forest, cries of rehabilitated gibbons, as well as the songs of a host of wild bird species can be heard. Brightly coloured lizards and various species of squirrel are also frequently encountered.

Courtesy of Borneo Bulletin

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