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Borneo Orangutans: A Day Of Thrilling Discoveries

Unbelievable encounters with Borneo orangutans in the jungle.

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When I heard about an adventure that involved staying in the jungle and trying to find endangered Borneo orangutans, I thought to myself, “Where do I sign up?”. When I found the 4 day itinerary offered by Rimba Orangutan Ecolodge in Tanjung Punting National Park, I couldn’t believe my luck. My family of six (four children ages 13 – 20 years old) would spend four days and three nights exploring the jungle by boat and on foot. We would have a naturalist guide who would help us discover orangutans and other incredible wildlife in this untouched and remarkable part of the world. In addition, we would visit remote villages, discover plants important for modern medicine and plant trees in an area devastated by fire. Over four days, we would go, see and discover things that few others have done before. I couldn’t wait.

 

Details About Our Time in Tanjung Punting National Park

In my previous blog Tanjung Punting National Park: A Superb Planning Guide, I describe our first day in Borneo in a comprehensive planning guide. How we travelled to the remote Rimba Orangutan Ecolodge on the edge of Tanjung Punting National Park; what the accommodation looked like; the services offered; and what kind of meals that we had. I also go into detail about our Klotok, the private boat and staff that we had every day to explore the jungle, discover orangutans and other kinds of wildlife. Finally, I offer tips and recommendations to help plan your trip. Is it safe for children? What should you wear? Whether you need to be concerned about mosquitos or other bugs? If you have a moment, I would recommend reviewing this article so that you fully understand what it means to visit Borneo, its jungles and its orangutans.

 

Discovering Borneo Orangutans

In this blog, I am going to write about our second day in Tanjung Punting National Park. Quite simply, it was one of the most amazing days that I have ever had. We spent hours on our boat floating down rivers surrounded by monkeys, crocodiles and spectacular birds, many endangered. We visited Camp Leaky, a special spot deep within the jungle, where researchers study Borneo orangutans and continue efforts to protect them. Incredibly, we watched a handful of orangutans, one with a baby, interact, eat and play, mere feet from where we stood, with nothing between us. We even had a very startling encounter with an alpha male…something that I am glad we experienced but not sure that I would recommend (…like we had any say in the matter!)!! It was all a magical experience.

 

Our First Encounter With Borneo 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. I couldn’t believe my eyes – monkeys were everywhere! Our guide pointed out silver langur, Proboscis, and long tail macaque, just to name a few. I have to admit, I couldn’t stop looking at the Proboscis monkeys and their amazing faces. In addition, our naturalist guide spotted dozens of birds, including Storm’s Storks, one of the rarest birds in the world, and Tomistominae, a fresh water crocodile.

 

Tanjung Punting National Park
Proboscis monkey and her baby

 

Tanjung Punting National Park
A proboscis monkey flying through the air.

 

Tanjung Punting National Park
The only homes we passed on our way to Camp Leakey

 

After 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.

 

Tanjung Punting National Park
The front of our boat on the narrow river to Camp Leakey.

 

Camp Leakey And Borneo Orangutans

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 Borneo 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.

After our boat docked, we walked into the jungle for approximately 45 minutes to Camp Leakey. 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 come to conduct research of various kinds. This still includes the study of orangutans, but now also includes Proboscis monkeys and Gibbons, as well as leech behavior, and river system ecology.

 

Borneo orangutans
The walkway from the boat to Camp Leakey.

 

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

 

Camp Leakey also offers an Education Centre for tourists. We spent about 45 minutes there and learnt about the lives of some of the Borneo orangutans that  have been the focus of its scientific studies since 1971. It was fascinating.

 

The Feeding Centre At Camp Leakey

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 Borneo orangutans. Visitors stand or sit in simple benches about 50 ft or 15m away behind two thin ropes, wait and watch.

Borneo orangutans
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. There isn’t any fencing around Camp Leakey or around Tanjung Punting National Park. The Borneo orangutans are free to come and go as they please. In our case, we visited in late March when fruit had already 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!

 

Watching the Borneo Orangutans At Camp Leakey

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, threw the peels to the ground, smushed them all together and finally, shoved them all into her mouth. It was hilarious.

 

Borneo orangutans
An orangutan coming to feed on the bananas.

 

Borneo orangutans
A baby orangutan on the back of her mother.

 

Borneo orangutans
Enjoying the Feeding Centre at Camp Leakey

 

Borneo orangutans
An orangutan surrounded by bananas.

 

Borneo orangutans
A happy orangutan.

 

Borneo orangutans
Too many bananas and not enough hands!

 

Borneo orangutans
An ingenuous solution – Keeping her hands free to climb.

 

Download my personally crafted 17 day Indonesia travel guide with my hotel and restaurant recommendations, tours and activities that I enjoyed.

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 were 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.

 

Borneo orangutans
The Alpha male who crept up behind us.

 

He stood motionless barely looking at us for about 5 minutes. Eventually, seemingly when he was satisfied that we had given him the respect and space that he deserved, he very leisurely walked to the platform. From then on, he kept his back to us 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.

 

Borneo orangutans
The alpha male with his back to us.

 

Borneo orangutans
The spectacular face of the alpha male.

 

Return to the Rimba Orangutan EcoLodge

On our return back to Rimba Orangutan Ecolodge, we spotted two “wild” Borneo 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. However, we were confused. If these orangutans were considered wild, what did we just experience at Camp Leakey?

 

Wild vs. semi-wild Borneo orangutans

Apparently, the Borneo orangutans that go to the Feeding Centre at Camp Leaky (and other feeding stations in Tanjung Punting National Park) are considered “semi-wild”, not “wild” because they have come into contact with humans at some point in their lives. Although they are not friendly with humans, they are also not scared of them like completely wild Borneo orangutans.

Many of the “semi-wild” Borneo orangutans were rescued as babies from people’s homes where they were 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 Tanjung Punting National Park. They were wild, very shy, and tried to hide in the jungle as we passed. It was amazing to watch these wild creatures that are not normally visible. In addition, it was incredible to see orangutans, who are very much endangered, still surviving outside Tanjung Punting.

 

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 and 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

Indonesia: The Magic of Lightning Bugs In the Rainforest

Indonesia: The Phoenix Hotel Yogyakarta, Food and Fashion

A Mind Blowing 17 Day Indonesian Adventure With Teens

 

Download my personally crafted 17 day Indonesia travel guide with my hotel and restaurant recommendations, tours and activities that I enjoyed.

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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

 

46 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!

  • Thanks for sharing so much information. Ideas like these are so useful for a trekking freak like me! Looking forward to going for this trek real soon! 🙂

  • That was an incredible day when you got to meet the endangered orangutans. I am usually so scared for these tours. Not sure if it benefits the animals or just disturbs them. Rimba Orangatun Lodge tour seems fine.

    • You are completely right. I am always worried that we are about to embark on an experience that is actually about abusing animals or their habitat. However this was very well done. In fact, the orangutans and their jungle are very endangered and the more tourists that come and support this type of experience will ensure they survive.

  • Hey Dear,

    Great Job here on GOFARGROWCLOSE Website. You know what?

    I read a lot blog post and I never heard of a topic like this. I love this topic about Trekking Orangutans Indonesia. Your exuberance is refreshing.

  • This must have been such a great trip! Trekking in the jungle, riding a klotok and seeing the orangutans. Buuut… when you say with kids on your pin, do you mean you traveled with kids or that the orangutans had babies? 🙂

  • I love seeing animals out in the wild. I’ve never seen Orangutans but this seems like such a special encounter. Thank you for sharing!

  • This looks like a full on amazing adventure! Thank you for providing the link. What an awe-inspiring journey to see orangutans in their natural habitat.

    • You are welcome. It was an incredible few days that I would highly recommend trying to do before the orangutans become even more endangered.

  • What a fun adventure! Would love to visit Tanjung Punting one day. The Organgutans look so peaceful and happy. Thanks for taking us to a virtual tour of Camp Leakey also! Looking forward to visiting one day 🙂

  • What a beautiful tour it must’ve been! I love how you’ve captured some action pics – the flying Proboscis monkey, the orangutan stuffing 10 bananas in her mouth and finally, the alpha male. Good that you researched the impact of human presence in the area before you decided to go on this tour. And thank you for the recommendation on the company to use to book the tour for someone who wants to go one day. I would love to experience this!

  • This little orangutan in the picture is so cute! It must have been a fascinating experience to see these animals and be so close to them. I have never been to Indonesia and would love to go there one day.

    • The baby organutan was very cute. He actually got distracted and didn’t see his mom jump off the platform and start walking away. Once he realized she was going and he was left behind, he immediately tried to follow her but ended up falling off the platform and rolling around on the ground. It was wonderful to watch all this.

  • wow amazing post
    I like trekking to see live orangutan save into my camera. mostly I am going on trekking to k2 base camp but, this year I will make a plan to live photography cute orangutan Indonesia. thanks for sharing this pictures it’s awesome.

    • I’d love to see some of your photos and hear about your adventures. It sounds like you like the road less travelled and adventure. I love it! good luck trekking to k2 and on your orangutan adventure.

  • It seems you had an amazing time in Indonesia. Watching rare animal and spending such a beautiful time around them is beyond the awesome moment. As a travel enthusiast, i love to explore such things. Thank You for sharing this with us. Great Blog.
    You should check out this https://www.nepalcallsyou.com/ this and explore many species of rare animals in Nepal such as one-horned rhino, Tigers and others

  • Orangutans are some of the loveliest animals in the world, in my opinion. They seem so gentle and kind, and I would love to see them in their natural habitat.

    • I agree with you. Orangutans seem gentle and kind. It kills me that their habitat is being destroyed. The Alpha male is definitely an aggressive creature. He is the head of his clan and has to defend against other males who wish to mate with the females of his group.

  • Such an intense experience! I loved reading about this, you can see from the pictures that you had an incredible time in Borneo! Loved this post!

  • What an amazing experience with the Orangutans in Borneo. Loved reading this article. A visit to Borneo is on my bucketlist.

  • It is awesome that you managed to see the whole family like this. I don’t know how often you can do that, but it is really cool! I wish to go and see them in Borneo too.

  • You’re so very lucky to be able to see those animals out in the wild! They’re incredible and intelligent and it’s definitely on my bucket list to go and see them one day, and I’ll be sure to check out your itinerary

  • This looks like an incredible adventure and how cool that you went there with your family, especially the 4 children because such amazing adventures and experiences at such an impressionable age can actually teach you a lot! The orangutans look superb and seeing them in their natural habitat sure sounds like a fantastic idea. Gotta get myself to Borneo someday!

    • Thank you Medha. I love travelling with my kids and my favourite destinations are when we get to see wildlife in their natural surroundings. Seeing the orangutans was an amazing experience.

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