Looking into the eyes of an Orangutan
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Sunday, December 29, 2013
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It only took one gaze from him, to dispel the unbearable discomfort from my sweat drenched shirt and throbbing mosquito bites. In the eyes of one of the last remanding great ancestors of our species, I saw a reflection of  intelligence, vitality, and existence.

It took us 4 hours puttering up the Sekonyer river on our Klotok, a traditional Indonesian river boat to get us to our first orangutan viewing spot . We docked our temporary floating home at Tanjung Harapan, one of three orangutan rehabilitation camps in Tanjung Puting National Park. Feeding time for the furry residents at this camp was at 14:00 . I waited impatiently.

Eager to catch our first glimpse of our first Orangutan we urged our reluctant guide “Ozie” to hike into the feeding area early. Despite the well natured appearance and cuteness of our fuzzy ape cousins, Ozie knew that the strength of an adult Orangutan male is 8 times that of a human and could easily break our bones with the grip of his hands. Our naive enthusiasm got the best of him and we were soon hiking happily into the lush rainforest.

Just as Ozie began to give us safety pointers about interacting with the Orangutans he stopped mid sentence… Frozen for a second he told us pressingly to go back. Through the seriousness of his voice we quickly obliged. I glanced down the narrow trail ahead and I understood the severity of the situation. The only thing between an enormous  250 lb. male orangutan and his afternoon banana feast were 2 very excited tourists and a skinny Indonesian guide. We backed up until we could step off the trail to allow him to pass. Breathless and in awe I was relieved that I left my backpack on the boat as advised by Ozie, because they are often mistaken for bags full of bananas. Nothing could have prepared me for this humbling encounter with such a beautiful animal with such astonishing resemblance to our own human species.

This first encounter was the beginning of an eye opening 4 day journey into Tanjung Puting national park where we encountered rehabilitated and wild Orangutans, wild Proboscis monkeys, macaques, crocodiles, snakes, exotic birds including hornbills, exotic carnivorous plants, and a plethora of beautiful insects. The concentration of such wildlife and beauty also inspired a deep investigation on the rapid industrialization of the Bornean Rainforest. The Orangutans along with all Rainforest wildlife are endangered. More than 60% of their habitat has been ravaged by palm plantations, mining, logging and forest fires caused by illegal clearing.

My Tanjung Puting experience left me with a bittersweet impression of this beautiful land. However despite the discouraging facts, this eco-tourism experience inflicted its important influence on us. Even though the environmental impact from its growing attraction of over 8000 tourists a year is debatable; it has inspired myself and hopefully many others to look at the dire situation of the great Bornean rainforest and perhaps we all can make a positive change.

Please join me as I discuss the issue in my article "PARADISE UNDER SIEGE"

Want to take better wildlife photographs? Learn how in my tutorial "The Wildlife down under"

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