Travel

Up close with orangutans
in Central Kalimantan jungles

What I love about traveling to the Rungan River, Central Kalimantan, is that you get to experience the river, Dayak culture and orangutans – and with no other tourists around.

The Raha’i Pangun cruise boat, owned by foreigners Gaye and Lorna, is the only tourist boat operator on the river. Smaller canoes will take you to sail near three islands dotted along the river, a must if you really want to get as close as possible to the primates.

These islands serve as their very own school of nature.

Conservationists use the islands to train orangutans before releasing them into the wild. The islands, with plenty of food and enormous trees for shelter, are considered the best place to prepare orangutans for their real life.

The islands are naturally isolated from the mainland, thanks to Rungan River, which also keeps unscrupulous people at bay.

Orangutans climb and swing through the trees, scavenge for food and practice other basic tasks on the islands. Most are orphans who did not learn how to live in nature from their mothers, the victims of land-clearing activities.

The forest rangers say orangutans are ready to return to the wild if they refuse to be seen by humans and are threatened by the presence of people.

On one afternoon, we approached the third island, Bapalas, in a small dugout canoe.  The orangutans, all 11 of them, outnumbered our party of six, who sat spellbound observing these majestic creatures.

We easily watched their antics that afternoon.  An orangutan kept climbing a coconut tree only to drop down into a mud pool at its base, where he laid on his back with his legs flailing in the air. I saw him do this over 22 times!

Two orangutans climbed the tree and sat in a hollow, staring at us intensely.

While others were so psyched, Bobo seemed to loose enthusiasm in doing anything in Hampapak Island. The 20-year-old male orangutan simply hangs around a lot but is pretty lazy and does not want to learn anything about independence at his late stage in life, the rangers said.

Bobo was like an adult kid who refuses to leave home. The rangers have been observing Bobo for several years and said that he might never “graduate” from the school. He shows no interest in anything other than the ranger-supplied free bananas and hanging out on his island.

As much as we took pity on Bobo, we had to say that sitting in a canoe, watching and marveling at orangutans’ activities was mesmerizing.

Their gentle behavior, gestures and demeanor reminded us about human-orangutan genetic connection. The need for their survival is critical.

The article was originally published at www.jakpost.travel on Jan. 7.

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