Discovering Orangutans – Indonesia

October 18, 2016
orangutan, indonesia, kalimantan

orangutan, indonesia, kalimantan

A travel story by Stephanie Brookes about my favourite animal, the Orangutan ~ Min

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.

boat, kalimantan, indonesia, orangutans, rungan river, river,

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.

orangutan, indonesia, kalimantan

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 mesmerizing 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
Palangkaraya, Kalimantan

Adopt an orangutan and provide support for the Orangutan project.

UPDATE 20 October 2016:  FROM Wow Borneo Australian female boat operator, Gaye Thavisin:  Thanks Stephanie for your lovely story of our WOW Borneo Cruises! We are now offering a new destination – the Katingan River. Featuring direct access to the Sebangau National Park, which is home to the largest population of wild orangutans in Kalimantan, we will do a night walk into the forest. We will also see cultural villages, the local rattan growing and weaving industry, beautiful black water lakes and tributaries teeming with wildlife, proboscis and other monkey species, and birdlife. Join us for an adventure on our plucky little Ruhui Rahayu. A beautifully appointed comfortable boat. 


Travel Writer, Travel, Stephanie Brookes

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Linking up with Kylie Purtell for #IBOT

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  • Reply Ashlea | Glamour Coastal Living | October 18, 2016 at 9:11 am

    What beautiful photos – I am an orangutan fan too! Also sloths, there is just something about them i love. I would love to see both in the wild 🙂 x

    • Reply Min October 18, 2016 at 4:49 pm

      I do like sloths – they are fascinating! However, I am obsessed with orangutans. I love them! It is a dream of mine to spend some time working in the orangutan orphanages in Borneo (if I could cope with the heat LOL). I’d love to see them in the wild too! 🙂 xo

  • Reply Rachel October 18, 2016 at 4:09 pm

    Oh my goodness they are such beautiful creatures! Amazing photos too 🙂

    • Reply Min October 18, 2016 at 4:50 pm

      They sure are beautiful creatures. Fascinating to watch! 🙂 xo

  • Reply Sammie @ The Annoyed Thyroid October 18, 2016 at 4:12 pm

    What a wonderful adventure with such fascinating creatures! That Bobo looks like quite a character.

    • Reply Min October 18, 2016 at 4:50 pm

      Looks like an adventure I would like to have! Bobo does look quite the character doesn’t he?! 🙂 xo

  • Reply Nicole @ The Builders Wife October 19, 2016 at 4:34 am

    My son is absolutely obsessed with monkeys, he would love this so much!! I have promised to take him to see monkey’s this year, what I shame I cannot stretch to take him here. xx

    • Reply Min October 19, 2016 at 3:05 pm

      I am a huge fan of all monkey’s too but the Orangutans are my favourite, followed by Gorilla’s then chimps! I hope your son gets to see some monkeys soon! 🙂 xo

  • Reply Michele {Malaysian Meanders} November 3, 2016 at 2:44 pm

    I visited the Orangutan Sanctuary outside of Kuching, Malaysia, but we didn’t get to go out on a boat as you did. That would have made the excursion extra special. That baby orangutan is totally adorable.

    • Reply Min November 4, 2016 at 7:56 am

      Lucky you having visited an Orangutan Sanctuary! That is my dream to do that. Steph is actually doing this trip again very soon. If I wasn’t going to be on a short cruise at the same time, I would join her!

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