Saturday, February 01, 2014

Borneo: Born to be wild in Tanjung Puting National Park - the home of the orangutan

It was love at first sight.

His fiery red hair, appealing brown eyes, long strong arms and engaging charms had me swooning at his big hairy feet.

Our first sighting of an orangutan had taken us by surprise.

Instead of making a grand entrance swinging through the trees, the Man of the Forest loped along the very path we had taken to reach the orangutan feeding station at Tanjung Harapan in Tanjung Puting National Park.

The park’s 741,000 acres, in Kalimantan in Indonesian Borneo, is home to around 3,000 orangutans – half the world’s population of this big primate.

As the largest tree-living mammals in the world they rarely come down to the ground, so we were spellbound by the unorthodox appearance of our local.

He, on other hand, seemed quite unfazed by us as he lounged around, leaning on a tree, waiting for lunch to be served.

But as soon as the bananas were delivered, he was off like a rocket to join his companions – among them mothers with babies in tow – who had taken a more conventional route.

Times are hard for the endangered orangutan – its natural habitat is being destroyed to make way for palm oil plantations and by illegal logging and mining.

The creature’s saviour – conservationist Birute Galdikas who has become a world authority on orangutans – arrived more than 40 years ago, setting up camp in Tanjung Puting to study these great apes.

The orphaned and injured are brought here for careful rehabilitation in preparation for a return to life in what remains of the rainforest.