Sunday, May 04, 2014

Meeting orangutans in Borneo

Orangutans in The rainforest is still, when suddenly, a branch snaps. The crowd gasps. It's 10.12am, and feeding time at Sepilok rehabilitation centre in Borneo. On a wooden platform, a jungle breakfast of banana, papaya and bamboo shoots has been laid out.

And our first auburn-haired visitor, round-bellied Gellison, is about to enter from the forest, stage right.

Aged four, Gellison is still a child. When he first came to the sanctuary, the largest in the world for orphaned orangutans (rescued from plantations, or homes where they were kept as pets), he preferred rolling in the mud to climbing. Now he is discovering how to fend for himself in the 45 sq km reserve, with the fallback of one guaranteed meal a day.

The rangers hope he'll eventually stop coming for food, and will be ready to be released into the wild.

And at this centre in Borneo, one of two remaining natural habitats in the world for orangutans (the other is in Sumatra), there's a guarantee for humans, too: a rare sighting of the little orange man.

With a daily human audience, there's naturally a bit of showmanship (Chiquita, the resident diva, is said to blow kisses at her admirers) but the centre is much more than a glorified zoo. As our guide explains, our three-day wildlife tour of Borneo has started here because this may be the closest encounter we get with an uncaged orangutan.

But I'm hoping it won't be the only one. For the rest of our trip we're staying by the Kinabatangan river, with a 560km floodplain that's estimated to have the largest concentration of wildlife in Malaysia (of which this corner of Borneo is part).

The area is only accessible by boat, a bumpy two-hour trip from Sandakan on Borneo's east coast to the village of Sukau and its Rainforest Lodge – as good an example of rustic luxury as I've seen.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: Meeting orangutans in Borneo