For the first seven or eight years of his life, Fred Galdikas had a best friend called Apollo Bob. Like most friends at that age, they would play together outside. And like most children at that age, their differences seemed immaterial. Kids have an ability to look beyond race, religion, or language and just see a friend for who they are.
That was probably lucky for Fred. You see, Apollo Bob was an orangutan.
Thirty years ago, when Fred was born, his mother was living deep inside the jungles of Borneo, in the Indonesian part of the island called Kalimantan. Dr Birute Galdikas had set up a refuge for orangutans – somewhere to protect them and to research them. And while she was there, her family grew. What she didn’t realise at first was that the family would end up including the animals around her.
These days, more than forty years after she first arrived in Borneo, Dr Birute Galdikas still spends most of her time living and working with the orangutans in Tanjung Puting National Park. Fred also spends much of his life at the base camp there, when he’s not working on the administrative side of the Orangutan Foundation International organisation in the United States. His “deep innate connection” with the animals – something he’s felt since birth – means he can never be away for too long.
I first meet Fred as we sit on the wooden deck of a ‘klotok’, the traditional Indonesian boat that is taking us up the river to Camp Leakey, the heart of the orangutan conservation efforts. In the trees on the water’s edge, monkeys sit in branches and watch us go past. The river winds its way through the dense jungle and the boat lethargically makes its way upstream. Around us the dense jungle is never silent – a reminder that we’re not alone out here.
“Just remember, we are going into their world”, Fred explains.
“We’re going into an orangutan’s world, we’re not going to our world. This is where they stay, where they live. So when we interrupt that flow, it’s interrupting nature a little bit.”
It’s an interruption that is needed, though. The orangutans are under threat from a number of fronts, but mostly from a shrinking habitat. Many local Indonesians are destroying the natural forests in Borneo to create palm oil plantations – one of the easiest ways to make money on the island.
After staring out at the endless jungle of trees along the river for the past few hours, it’s hard to imagine the devastation that’s happening just kilometres away. But Fred knows the reality all too well. “There just simply isn’t enough forest for the orangutans to roam and live”, he tells me.
Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: Orangutans in Kalimantan, Borneo