Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Wonderfully Wild Adventures of Jungle Girl - Borneo, Part II

The Semenggoh Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre

As I grew up and begun to travel, I was told many stories about Asia, and in particular, stories of those who had braved Borneo. I thought that it was terribly adventurous and I wanted to do it.
I wanted to get into the jungle and see the wildlife and experience the magic of the untouched wilderness that has been lost in many other countries due to urban development.

A couple of months ago, I approached my mother about the prospect of living in Asia.
In the same breath, I informed my mother that this would mean that I could go and see Borneo and that I would finally be able to see the semi-wild Orangutans at the Semenggoh Rehabilitation Centre. Mum rolled her eyes, having long ago gotten used to my crazy and often dangerous adventures.

I woke up very excited about the prospect that I would finally tick another lifelong dream off my list. I was given a delicious cooked breakfast and I was hurried onto the local shuttle bus that would take me back into Kuching. When I arrived in Kuching, I met up with a travel friend, Ben from Germany (who had, strangely enough, arrived coincidently in Kuching a few days prior) and two of his travel companions, Karen (from England) and Aiden (from Canada) and the three of us jumped on the local bus out to the Semenggoh Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, which was forty five minutes from Kuching.

When we arrived at the entrance of Semenggoh, we were told to walk twenty minutes down a driveway which took us into the dense jungle to the feeding area.

The Semenggoh Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre is set in a 740 hectare forest reserve and there, Orangutans who have been illegally caputred, found wounded, or are abandoned by zoos are brought to the centre to be nurtured back to the wild. Orangutans are native to Indonesia and Malaysia and can only be found in rainforests on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra - and in zoos around the world.

Even before reaching the meeting area for feeding time, I could see the rustling of leaves up in the trees and a small number of people looking up. I looked closer and I could see three semi-wild Orangutans swinging from the branches. One large Orangutan had a tiny baby clinging on to her for dear life as she swung from branch to branch. When you first experience something as magical as being in the presence of wild animals, you become speechless. This was no zoo - this was a centre where Orangutans were roaming free in the wild, and only returned back to the centre when it was feeding time and I was honored to be in these wild beasts’ presence. No words best describe the experience because it is so rare but you just stand there, captivated by their every move. I asked the person next to me whether feeding had begun yet and she shook her head. She indicated that this was not the actual feeding area, and that Mum, baby and her another of her offspring had come early to say hello. As the young Orangutan remained up in the trees, mum and baby climbed down from the branches, down the tree trunk and went down to one of the rehabilitation workers, who was standing by the entrance to the feeding area. Suddenly, after studying mum and baby for a minute, he turned to the crowd that were standing, watching, and requested that we all move back ten metres, as mother and baby wanted to come through. We all hurried back as instructed, and after a moment, the large beast and her little baby lumbered down the jungle path and straight down the middle of the crowd, that had parted ways to allow her to come through. It was a phenomenal thing to witness. I had a massive semi-wild Orangutan come within a two or three metre distance with a little Orangutan baby clutched to her side. After coming through the crowd, she found a seat up on a bench and sat and watched us all as we furiously snapped as many photos as we could. She did not seem at all bothered by the attention and part of me suspected that she was amused by the attention she was being paid. She then wandered off into the distance.

The rehabilitation worker then caught our attention and gave us a briefing about the feeding, which was about to occur about two hundred metres down the track. He indicated that in recent days, Ritchie, their largest male Orangutan, had been in the area and today he had made the trek back down the
mountain to the feeding area. Accordingly, they warned us that as the dominant male, Ritchie was quite volatile, and at any point that the rehabilitation workers told us to move and move quickly, they meant it. They informed us that, while their other Orangutans were reasonably well-behaved, Ritchie liked to do what Ritchie wanted.

It was at that point that they remind you that these animals are wild and unlike a zoo, there is an element of risk with being in their presence. We walked down the track and into a viewing area. From there, we had an unencumbered view of the feeding platform that was about fifteen metres from us. There, a monolithic male Orangutan sat, oblivious to the crowd that was “ooohing” and “ahhhing” at him. He was massive and he was inhaling every last bit of fruit in sight. Around him hung around eight or nine other Orangutans, waiting for their turn.

To me, it will be a spectacle that will be hard to match in years to come. In a terribly cliché way, it was surreal.
We were only allowed thirty minutes in the area, but it was enough to witness a number of them coming down from the trees to get fruit from the workers. Bits of discarded fruit rained down on us as the Orangutans fed but it did not matter – it actually added to the experience.

Reluctantly, we then left the area and I suspect Ritchie and his friends did not even notice we were gone.


  1. What a great story, you must have wondered what was going to happen next. What a fabulous thrill that must have been.M