Thursday, July 17, 2014

Postcards From Borneo: Chasing Orangutans

My boot slips in the mud as I chase down the hill after the orangutan. I duck under thorny rattan vines as I scramble over roots and rocks that jut out of the earth in the most unexpected places. We are chasing after a young female orangutan named Walimah as she charges down the steep slope.

We are in Borneo at my mom’s research site where she studies wild orangutans and my dad photographs them for National Geographic.

The field assistants who work for my mom following orangutans have to get up at three in the morning to get to the orangutans before they wake up. The orangutans sleep in nests that they build every night out of leaves and branches up in the trees.

Even though I love to follow the orangutans, I’m glad that we don’t have to stay out from before dawn till after dusk when they go to sleep. They are really cool animals and it’s funny when you see them behave in a way that is so similar to humans, like when they make ‘umbrellas’ out of lumps of leaves even though they probably keep less than two percent of the rain off.

But now, I’m slipping and sliding over the slick wet leaves, I grab small trees around me to keep myself from falling forward on my face as I race after Walimah as she sprints through the canopy.

Even though we don’t think of orangutans as particularly fast animals, when they want to they can be super speedy. Finally Walimah decides to give us a break and settles down in a big tree overlooking the river at the bottom of the slope. I swat away a group of bees hovering around my head and pull my binoculars out of my backpack.

I peer through them at Walimah. She is grabbing food with one foot and using her hands to shove it into her mouth. Unlike most mammals who have four feet, orangutans practically have four arms. All their limbs are long and their feet look a lot like hands.

With longer fingers than humans on both their feet and hands, orangutans are perfectly adapted for swinging through the trees. If they want, an orangutan can hang upside down from a branch using only their feet.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: Postcards From Borneo: Chasing Orangutans