Scientifically speaking we humans and Orangutans (meaning Man of the Forest) share some 96.4% give or take of our respective DNA’s. Some say that in my case we share just a little bit more. Is it my covering of ginger fur, my monkey like behaviour at times or is it my long primate like limbs? Unable to answer these questions Kelly and I took off into the depths of Borneo to search out this majestic primate and see if in reality we are truly ginger relatives.
Our journey started with a 6 hour bus journey from Malaysian Borneo’s capital Kota Kinabalu to Sepilok, a tiny hamlet deep in palm oil plantation territory on the far eastern side of the country. We’d booked a 3 day tour with a company called Uncle Tan’s and Sepilok was there transfer point before heading to their jungle camp well along the Kinabatangan River.
Sepilok (blink and you’ll miss it) is known world over for its Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre and we spent the next morning at the centre itself. A couple of raised wooden walkways and a large viewing platform and a couple of short jungle paths (where you need special access) are the only accessible portions of the centre. Majority of it is hidden deep within its huge jungle expanse where rehabilitation of the Orangutans can carry on unspoilt by contact with the general public. The viewing platform overlooks a couple of feeding platforms where twice daily feedings take place allowing Orangutans to come and feed as they wish.
It was 10:30am and the keepers had put out some fruit and milk and we were eagerly awaiting some primates. Some rustling in the nearby bushes has us thinking that they were on their way but as with most noises this hot and sticky morning it was just a bunch of monkeys. A few minutes later a huge rustling went out and in came an Orangutan and its baby swinging seamlessly across ropes crisscrossing the feeding platforms. A minute later another Mother and its baby came swinging in to feed.
For the next 10 minutes we marvelled at them eating, holding their babies, chasing away monkeys, moving ever so smoothly across the platforms then disappearing as quickly as they had appeared. We waited around hoping that some more Orangutans would stop by but quickly realised that they were done for the morning so we started to wander along the walkway taking photos of the dozens of monkeys jumping around in the trees.
Up ahead of us a crowd had gathered to watch a Mother Orangutan and its baby (possibly the same ones we saw some 15 minutes earlier) wander along the walkway railings towards us. We grabbed the camera and snapped away while it came closer and closer then eventually passing right by us literally a metre away then finally swinging itself into some nearby trees. We stood watching it relax in a tree, eat some fruit and berries, hug and kiss its young baby as it hung off its Mother and then again disappear, seamlessly swinging off in to the canopy above. So we had seen Orangutans but not in the wild, our next hope was that we would catch a glimpse of them in the wild.
That afternoon we transferred by van then boat to Uncle Tan’s jungle camp. We’d been pre-warned that the camp was basic (and not to expect too much), mattresses on the floor with a mosquito net, bucket showers and bucket flushing toilets. Honestly though on arrival we were pleasantly surprised. Yes, there were only bucket showers, mattresses on the floor etc. but the camp was very well set up and maintained, even having its own football pitch (indoor pitch size), badminton court and stocked bar. The next 2 days were spent on boat tours up and down the river at night, morning and afternoon, walks through the surrounding jungle and just chilling out.
Our main aim was to see both Orangutans and proboscis monkeys in the wild. Whether we were going to see either of them or not was left to the nature gods. On a night tour that night we were able to spot some owls and sleeping bird life but not a great deal else. The following morning we rose early to a river shrouded in mist and unfortunately not a great deal else. It seems that even animals like their sleep in on misty mornings and we came away from that tour having spotted some Monitor Lizards, Kingfishers, Hornbills, Egrets and monkeys – always monkeys.
Our afternoon / dusk tour netted us some sightings of proboscis monkeys high up in trees along the river banks (and some more monkeys). It was quietly suggested by Kelly that perhaps the proboscis monkey is more similar to myself than the Orangutan with its large nose, ginger and grey colouring, fat belly and long limbs. I was quick to point out that whilst accurate on the looks front, the proboscis monkey was missing the human like behaviours.
So with only the boat ride back to town our last chance of spotting an Orangutan we were getting a little nervous. The next morning Kel’s luck changed with a spare spot on the morning tour opening up. She jumped on the chance whilst I nursed a slightly dodgy stomach back at camp and she proceeded to see Otters and Orangutans.
With wild animals you can’t guarantee anything so I was disappointed that I hadn’t yet seen an Orangutan in the wild. But then on our way back to town there up in the tree’s was an Orangutan, standing up in the trees, eating while looking over at us, not at all phased by our presence and eventually taking his fruit and heading to sit down a nearby tree. My goal had been attained, but could I say with conviction that we are ginger relatives? Well, have a look at the photo’s below and i’ll let you make up your own mind…