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The Orangutans of Borneo

Around the year 1520, the island of Borneo was discovered by Juan Sebastián Elcano and Magellan. It is the third-largest island in the world and is located in Southeast Asia; To its right is the Celebes Islands, to its left Malaysia and Sumatra, and to the south is the island of Java. The island is divided between Brunei, Malaysia, and Indonesia. In Indonesian, Kalimantan is the name given to the Island of Borneo.

The trip to Borneo did not leave me indifferent to the destruction that human beings inflict on nature. I can only hope that we are aware, but no, when it is too late. When I was approaching the Pangkalan Bun airport, I saw a grey sky. It was the smoke produced by the incessant fires to burn the forest and continue with their oil palm plantations, which is destroying the habitat of many species. About 20 minutes it took us to reach the jetty in Kumai town and catch our klotok, a boat where we would sleep two nights. The tour begins with the Kumai River, and then takes the tributary, the Sekonyer River, where right at the entrance you have a statue of an orangutan. It is the entrance to the Tanjung Puting National Park. While we were sailing and observing the wonderful landscape, they served us food.

Visit of Tanjung Puting National Park The park was created in the 1930s by the Dutch government to protect the orangutan, proboscis monkeys and the Sumatran rhinoceros (now extinct). It is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve since 1977. It is a rehabilitation and recovery center for orangutans. This park is located in the Indonesian part of Borneo called Kalimantan.


First day

We made the first stop in Tanjung Harapan. We disembark and walk through the jungle to arrive at this camp at 3:00 p.m. It is the time that the park rangers call and feed the orangutans on platforms. It was impressive to see how they were coming through the high treetops and more moving when a female orangutan appeared with her baby. In these centres, they are reeducated and rehabilitated to survive again in the jungle.

Many of them have been captured and exploited by poachers. It started to rain, which made our visit short, however we walked through the jungle to see carnivorous plants, tree roots that tangled in the trees themselves, lianas and especially beautifully coloured butterflies. We returned to the ship and continued our navigation until dusk began. The klotok docked on the banks of the river and afterwards we were offered a delicious dinner. We slept on the deck of the boat. The chairs and the tables were removed and mattresses were spread on the floor, protected by mosquito nets. Unfortunately, we were not lucky enough to observe the stars in that immense darkness or see the fireflies. The smoke that had been produced by the indiscriminate fires covered the sky.

Kumai River in Borneo

Second day

After showering in the boat’s tiny bathroom, while we were served a delicious breakfast, we continued sailing on the Sekonyer River. I didn’t know where to look. The vegetation had turned totally wild. People from nearby towns went fishing in small boats. We managed for a moment to see the amazing proboscis monkeys, another endangered primate. We sail about 10 km until we reach the Pondok Tanggui Camp.

From there, we walked about 1 km along a wooden walkway where the macaques were everywhere, until we reached the platform where the rangers deposited bananas and called the orangutans. Suddenly, we heard how the branches of the trees creaked and how the sound was approaching. They were the orangutans that were getting closer and closer until they descended from the treetops. But what impressed us the most was that some orangutans walked past us to get to the platform. It’s an incredible adrenaline rush. I was fascinated by her looks. I believed in a way that it was a sad look. However, I adored how the little babies clung to their mothers.

Orangutan statue

Camp Leakey

Back on our ship, we continued sailing while we were served lunch. We arrived at Camp Leakey, where we went to the information center. This was the first Tanjung Puting National Park research and rehabilitation center founded by Dr Birute Mary Galdikas. Another time we were taken to the platform to observe these wonderful animals, but this time we were lucky enough to see a white bearded gibbon steal a few bananas from the orangutans with astonishing agility. We have been lucky enough to see orangutans, which I cannot say, if future generations will have the same luck. I was happy that there were centres for the survival of orangutans, but deep down I was sad about the damage we have inflicted on these animals. We have confined them to live in confined spaces; we have hunted and killed them only for our economic interests.

 I hope that one day they can be the owners of the jungle again. We returned along a path to the jetty and we ran into a wild boar; we caught our breath; it looked at us defiantly. It was a female that had 3 or 4 young. When she realised that she was not in danger, she called her hatchlings and they followed her road. It was our last night in the klotok, we had a beautiful sunset, the reddish sun was reflecting on the water. The ship docked and dinner was served. We were not lucky to see the stars or fireflies last night either.

House on Kumai River in Borneo

Third day

The next day, very early, after breakfast, we returned to our starting point, the city of Kumai. The humidity was unbearable. In fact, I had to put the camera in a plastic bag and in the sun to remove all the steam it had. It was impossible to take pictures. During our tour, we could see crocodiles. It is also totally forbidden to bathe in the river and it is stated in many areas for the danger of these reptiles. Our trip to Borneo was short, our interest was focused on the Tanjung Puting National Park, but I do not rule out returning and seeing some of its remote places.

In short, if you want to know more about Borneo or adventures about some other Asian countries click on Viajando por Asia.

However, if you want to know more about the culture of the countries from all over the world click on our Blog. 

Author: Esther Guglietta (Viajando por Asia)

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