Monday, March 24, 2014

Marvel at orangutans in the rainforests of steamy Borneo

‘Eoowwww!’ Our short and stocky guide Joe is calling out to the dense forest in the steamy island of Borneo. It sounds like a mix between a particularly loud owl and an aggressive wolf howling. Moments later two tiny blinking eyes and a hairy arm emerge from the foliage.

‘Its an orangutan,’ someone yells and everyone rushes over paparazzi-ready with their cameras as he lumbers forward with the cautious grace of a tipsy old man.

There’s a flimsy rope barricading a feeding platform at the Tantung Haraban centre from visitors who have walked the half hour from the port on Sekonyer river. Rather unsurprisingly orangutans appear to have no awareness of public boundaries and soon he walks forward towards the tourists clamoring to take pictures.

Uncomfortably close. ‘Back, back,’ screams another guide. ‘He’s got us cornered,’ someone cries as he fixes us with his beady eyes contemplating where to move next.

Nonchalantly he scratches himself, unaffected by the crowd around him, but is soon distracted by a female orangutan swinging through the trees with a baby clinging onto her, a tiny fuzzy thing gripped like Velcro to its mum. A teen orangutan making its way to the feast rips a branch off and flings it to the ground.

It lands inches from a man snapping away. ‘Was that meant for me?’ he asks as the impish ape scampers down. It certainly looks that way.

We watch as they wolf down a mountain of bananas after the male orangutan backs away, relieved that they’re more interested in food than us.

Along with Sumatra, the rainforests in Borneo are the only place in the world where you can see orangutans. The name ‘orangutan’ means ‘person of the forest’ in Malay and Indonesian. The centre is located in the beautiful Tanjung Putting National Park.

You can take a traditional riverboat called a klotok from the port of Kumai in Pangkalan Bun, which is a short flight from the capital Jakarta. As we take a leisurely cruise along the river we spot colourful butterflies, dragonflies, Rhinoceros Hornbills, Water Monitor lizards, Humpback dolphins and Proboscis monkeys.