Sunday, June 09, 2013

Orangutans: Endangered Jungle People

The eyes and facial features of Orangutans are a photographers dream. The faces of older Orangutans project wisdom and a sad understanding of the perils facing their kind in the form of rampant unchecked deforestation of Borneo and Sumatra.

The faces of younger ones, ignorant of their plight, display a cockiness and mischievousness that comes with youth. However it’s a cockiness that quickly disappears as the realities of life in an ever diminishing homeland becomes apparent in the form of starvation or a life confined behind bars in a zoo.

Orangutans are absolutely magnificent animals that once freely roamed the dense jungles of Borneo and Sumatra. Sadly due to uncontrolled destruction of the forests without any consideration to its consequences by logging and palm oil plantation companys Orangutans in Sumatra are now critically endangered and those in Borneo endangered.

Increasingly confined to small pockets of isolated dense forests their plight as a species is very serious and the likelihood of their becoming completely extinct in the wild, except for limited numbers in a few protected reserves within the next ten to fifteen years is extremely high.

The desperate plight of Orangutans is wonderfully presented in a heart wrenching must watch documentary about an Orangutan called Green which can be viewed at  After seeing these magnificent jungle people in the wild and watching the movie one can’t help but wonder what is it that makes mankind so ignorant and uncaring for a species that is almost as human as we are.

After years of living in Malaysia and never finding the time to travel to Borneo we finally we got round to visiting the Orangutan Rehabilitation center in Sepilok, Sabah. Sepilok may only be a short thirty minutes drive out of Sandakan, a small seaport town in the top north east of Borneo, but it’s a twenty years old ambition finally put to bed. And what a trip it was. Fantastic is the only words to describe it.

Centers like the one in Sepilok which rescue captured, injured or displaced Orangutans and rehabilitate them back into the wild are their only hope. Young Orangutans spend time in a nursery learning skills essential to life in the jungle such as climbing and using the trees for mobility, finding food and building sleeping nests that they would usually quire from their mothers

Once ready, they are moved to an outdoor nursery where their freedom is increased and their dependence on food and emotional support of their handlers is gradually reduced.  Eventually most animals achieve independence and become integrated into the wild population within the broader Sepilok protected forest reserve.

Visitors to Sepilok get to view the Orangutans in the process of becoming habituated back into the wild within the outdoor nursery area. Twice a day food is placed on a feeding platform for any of the Orangutans not quite able to survive alone in the forest without it.

This provides an opportunity to observe a variety of big and small animals as they leisurely swing in to see what’s on offer for the day. Interestingly on both the visits we made to the center it seemed to us that the Orangutans were not really hungry as some didn’t eat at all, a sure sign that they were surviving fine alone in the jungle. We got the impression that for some of those visiting the feeding platform it was an opportunity to meet up with others of their kind, as much as it was to sample a free meal.

When we entered the park we were told that the feeding platform is the most likely place to see these animals, and that once they leave the leave the platform area they are very difficult to spot. Fortunately for us our luck was in when on our way back to the entrance after watching some feeding we were very surprised and happy to come across a small group of about five younger Orangutans on and above the walkway. This was exactly what we wanted to see, these great apes free and wild. What an experience!

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: Orangutans: Endangered Jungle People