A journey on the Rungan River, Central Kalimantan allows you to explore primate country, experience traditional village life on the river and have contact with the local Dayak culture in a pristine jungle environment, with no other tourists around.
Gaye and Lorna, the Australian and English owners of the Rahai’i Pangun cruise boat, are the only tourist boat operators on the river. The orangutans live on two different islands in the river. These islands are actually orangutan schools. The orangutans have to pass each level with competence before they are released into the wilds of the conservation reserve in the Northern part of Central Kalimantan. The dense primary forests in the Schwaner and Muller Mountain ranges are perfect for the new graduates. The mountains offer good canopy, it’s safe from poachers (as it is virtually impenetrable) and natural food abounds. These three elements are essential if the orangutan is to survive and multiply in the wild. The conservation area is protected from logging and other interests.
Before an orangutan can graduate for release into the wild they have to pass several exams in the forest school —tree climbing, food hunting and life skills. Once these skills are mastered, their reward is freedom, back into the wild.
Bobo, however, will never graduate from orangutan school. He is twenty years old now, and just does not get it. We met the large-cheeked adult male on his tropical island home. He hangs around a lot, is pretty lazy and doesn’t want to learn about independence at his late stage in life. He is not unlike that adult child that refuses to leave home! The rangers have been observing Bobo for several years now and unlike younger orphaned orangutans (many orphaned by poaching and land clearing activities where the babies survive after the mother dies) or confiscated domesticated illegal household pet orangutans, Bobo likes to be non-committal, showing no interest in anything other than the ranger-supplied free bananas and hanging out on his island.
We approached the second island in the afternoon, in a small dugout canoe. The orangutans outnumbered us! There were eleven of them—we were but six. We sat spellbound in our canoe observing these majestic creatures. We could easily have watched their antics all day. One was even using an old rice sack as a makeshift shower, whilst another more active one would keep climbing a coconut tree, only to drop down into a mud pool at its base, where he lay on his back, legs in the air. He did this over twenty two times! It was mesmerising to sit and watch and simply marvel at their activity. Two even climbed the tree and sat in a hollow, their giant hands holding the sides as they stared out at us intensely.
What was amazing was the familiarity of their gentle behaviour, gestures and demeanour. I was reminded of our genetic connection, which makes the need for their survival all the more critical.
It is moments like these, that make you feel alive, connected to the power of these extraordinary huge primates and makes for a unique experience in an exotic jungle setting.
Photos by David Metcalf
River Cruise – Wow Borneo
Adopt an orangutan www.savetheorangutan.com and provide support for the Orangutan project.