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Trekking For Orangutans In Indonesia

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When I heard about a four day adventure that involved staying in the Indonesian jungle and trying to find endangered orangutans, I thought to myself, “Where do I sign up?”. I love ecotours where they celebrate animals and nature in their natural habitat. Carefully, I read the details of the tour, making sure that the human impact of being there would be minimal to the animals and nature. Once I read the 4 day itinerary offered by Rimba Orangutan Ecolodge, I knew that I had found my next ecotour.

In my previous blog A Stunning Borneo Ecotour With Teens, I discussed our first day.  How we travelled to the Rimba Ecolodge and what the accommodation and food was like. I also go into detail about our Klotok, the private boat and staff that we had every day to help explore the jungle. Finally, I revealed the first impressions of Borneo and the jungle, trying to put into context my preconceptions and the reality of what I saw. If you have a moment, I would recommend reviewing this article to get a better background to our full experience.

In this blog, I am going to write about our second day on our tour where we visited Camp Leaky and spent time with the orangutans in the Borneo jungle. It was an unbelievable day!

 

Our First Encounter With Orangutans

We woke up early on our second day, had breakfast and hopped on our boat. We boated up the Sekonyer River for about 1 1/2 hours going deep into the jungle in Tanjung Punting National Park. Along the way, our naturalist guide pointed out more silver langur, proboscis, and long tail macaque monkeys. He also spotted a couple of Storm’s Storks, one of the rarest birds in the world, and Tomistominae, a fresh water crocodile.

 

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Proboscis monkey and her baby

 

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A proboscis monkey flying through the air.

 

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The only homes we passed on our way to Camp Leakey

 

After the 1 1/2 hours, we turned onto a very narrow river. This river was barely wide enough for two klotoks to pass each other. We headed up this river for another 30 minutes towards our ultimate destination, Camp Leakey.

 

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The front of our boat on the narrow river to Camp Leakey.

 

Camp Leakey

Camp Leakey was established in 1971 by Dr. Galdikas. She named it after Louis Leakey, who mentored and inspired her to spend her life studying orangutans in their natural habitats. He also influenced two other famous women in their primate studies. First,  Dr. Jane Goodall, who is considered to be the world’s foremost expert on chimpanzees. She studied them in Tanzania. Second, Dr. Dian Fossey, who studied mountain gorillas in Rwanda. He personally chose these three female researchers and called them The Trimates.

Upon arrival at Camp Leakey, we walked into the jungle for approximately 45 minutes until we reached camp.  Once upon a time, Camp Leakey was only a couple of huts. Now, there is a series of wooden structures where scientists and students from all over the world still come to conduct research of various kinds. This includes the study of orangutans, proboscis monkeys, gibbon and leaf-eating monkey behavior, as well as leech behavior, and river system ecology.

 

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The walkway from the boat to Camp Leakey.

 

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Arriving at Camp Leakey with our naturalist guide and staff from our boat.

 

At camp, there is also an Education Centre for tourists. There, we learnt about some of the orangutans that  have been the focus of the scientific studies since 1971. It was very interesting.

 

The Feeding Centre

From camp, we walked another 20 minutes into the jungle to a feeding centre. The feeding centre is a simple large wooden platform raised above the ground, with three or four stairs. Once a day, park rangers spread dozens and dozens of bananas on top of the platform and call out to the orangutans. Visitors stand or sit in simple benches about 50 ft or 15m away behind two thin ropes, wait and watch.

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My daughter on a bench in front of the ropes and the platform.

 

The number of orangutans who come to feed each day is unpredictable. In our case, we visited in late March when fruit has started to fully ripen along the river. Accordingly, unlike other times a year, only a few orangutans took advantage of the “free” bananas. But what a sight!

We watched them swing through the jungle as they came towards the platform – two females, one with a baby. We watched them eat and play, the baby never being more than a reach away. One orangutan clearly had this all figured out. She stuffed about 10 bananas into her mouth and climbed to the top of a large tree. She then sat at the top, peeled every single one throwing the peels to the ground, smushed them all together and shoved it all into her mouth. It was hilarious.

 

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An orangutan coming to feed on the bananas.

 

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A baby orangutan on the back of her mother.

 

 

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An orangutan surrounded by bananas.

 

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A happy orangutan.

 

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Keeping her hands free to climb.

 

The Alpha Male

Then, an uncomfortable silence fell around us. People to the right of where we were standing started to back up slowly. We looked over and was stunned to see the Alpha male standing there. Somehow, this enormous 250 lbs or 114 kg muscled creature had crept up behind our small group and stood mere feet from us. There was nothing between this enormous male and us.  We were not sure what was going to happen next.

 

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The Alpha male who crept up behind us.

 

He stood there motionless barely looking at us for about 5 minutes. Eventually, when he was satisfied that we had given him the respect and space that he deserved, he walked very leisurely to the platform. From then on, he kept his back to the crowd the whole time, almost knowing that all anyone wanted was a photo of his unbelievable face. We managed to click off a few, but it was incredible how this creature totally controlled the encounter.

 

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The alpha male with his back to us.

 

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The spectacular face of the alpha male.

 

Return to the Lodge

On our return back to the lodge, we spotted two “wild” orangutans on the shores of the river. Apparently, this is unusual, but not unheard of in late March and April when the fruit is ripening along the river shores.

These orangutans are considered “wild” and the ones that we saw at Camp Leaky (and other feeding stations in Tanjung Punting National Park) are considered “semi-wild”. Why? The ones in the National Park have come into contact with humans at some point in their lives and although they are not friendly with them, they are also not as scared of them as completely wild orangutans.

Many of these orangutans were rescued as babies from people’s homes where they were being kept as pets; or their mothers were killed in the deforestation of areas where they used to live. Others have grown accustomed to the scientist and students from Camp Leakey and other rehabilitation centres observing them and have accepted them as part of their environment.

However, the ones that we spotted along the shores of the river as we returned from Camp Leakey were on the other side of the river, not in the national park. They were wild, very shy, and tried to hide in the jungle as we passed. It was amazing to not only watch these wild creatures that are not normally visible, but also that these orangutans were surviving outside the National Park.

 

Conclusion

Today was one of those days where at the end, you pinch yourself and ask whether you really experienced what you did. I absolutely loved spending hours on our boat spotting wildlife along the shores, on top of trees or flying above us. Our time at Camp Leakey and our heart stopping experience with the orangutans, specifically the alpha male, was extraordinary and unforgettable. Our time in the Borneo jungle was barely half over. I couldn’t wait to see what would happen tomorrow.

If you are interested in reading more about our adventures during our three week trip to Indonesia, here is a list of all the articles that I have written:

The Unbelievable Wonders of Komodo National Park In Indonesia;

Komodo Dragons and Pink Beaches: Just Another Day in Indonesia;

Kelimutu: A Breathtaking Indonesia Volcano and Its People;

Exploring the Untouched Beauty of Kelimutu Indonesia;

A Stunning Borneo Ecotour With Teens

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Exploring the jungles of Borneo for orangutans with my family was a magical experience. Here's why. #Indonesia #Borneo #Asia #travel #familytravel #travelwithkids | bananas, Camp Leakey, crocodile, feeding centre, Kalimantan, long tail macaque, monkeys, orangutans, organutan rehabilitation centre, park rangers, proboscis, Rimba, Sekonyer River, silver langur, Storm’s Storks, Tanjung Puting, Tomistominae

8 Comments

  • Such an incredible day! Your pictures are astounding and that portrait of the Alpha Male spectacular. So glad I read the story before seeing him – finally! I’d love to do this trip.

    • Thank you! If you do plan to go, make sure that you avoid it during “high season”. I don’t know exactly when that is, but the guides told us that the rivers and the feeding stations become very busy. I think that would really take away from the experience.

  • What an incredible trip and encounter with the orangutans! Those captures of the female with all the bananas stuffed in the mouth is funny and just makes one smile. I would probably have been a nervous with that alpha male fairly close but wow, what a face. I have never heard of this type of encounter in Indonesia and now, I’m adding this to my travel wish list when we make it back to SE Asia.

    • It is really a lovely adventure. I would only suggest making sure that you find out when it’s high season and to really avoid it then. It was pretty quiet when we were there, but I understand that in the summer, for example, the rivers are packed with boats. That would have really impacted our experiences. I would not have liked sharing our time with so many other tourists!

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