Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Don't Anger the Orangutans



When we visited Borneo, seeing semi-wild orangutans at the Semenggoh Wildlife Centre was at the top of my list. My kids and hubby found this mighty peculiar since I have developed a love/hate relationship with the marauding monkeys at our local park in Penang. Imagine squirrels at any American park. Now, imagine that they have opposable thumbs and a yearning to steal your stuff. "So, you want to pay to see monkeys?" my kids asked. "Because, you know, you can see them for FREE at home." True, but these orangutans are definitely in a different league. For the record, they're also not monkeys since they don't have tails.

The Centre is a halfway house for orangutans. After a hard life of partying with humans or injuring themselves living it up in the jungle, the rescued apes end up in rehab at the Sarawak Forestry Corporation. After they've been nursed back to health and taught to fend for themselves, they're released into the surrounding rainforest preserve.  Twice a day, wardens leave out heaps of fruit on platforms to supplement whatever nourishment the orangutan have been able to forage for themselves in the jungle. As they become more self-sufficient, their visits to the Wildlife Centre start decreasing.


This guy stuffed the entire bunch of bananas in his mouth at one time.

When we arrived for feeding time, the staff told us a little bit about their rehabilitation program and orangutans in general. But much of their talk focused on warning us to keep our distance, a minimum of 6 yards, from the orangutans. This isn't one of those up-close interaction, hug and hold, petting zoo type of places. They are firmly committed to making these animals fully independent. Humans are the "intruders" in the jungle, and it's up to the humans to keep out of the way of the orangutans freely wandering around the centre.  Not destroying their habitat would also be a step in the right direction.


The sign with prohibited items gave some clues to how previous human interaction had gone. No tripods are allowed because the orangutans may mistake them for blowguns. Bringing food and drinks is prohibited so that the orangutans won't be tempted to come and grab them from you, whether you invite it or not. I know how I feel when a little macaque monkey comes after my snack, and I certainly didn't want to bait an ape that outweighed me. The lack of primate toilet training is the reason why you don't want to stand underneath a tree with an orangutan. Luckily, we escaped being used as target practice.





As the crowd stood around listening to the wardens, the outlying trees began to shake. You could hear the rustling in the branches get louder and louder as the orangutan approached the feeding platforms. Suddenly, there they were swinging through the trees. From high up in the canopy, they gradually made their way down to the bounteous feast. The orangutans delved into the fruit laid out on the platform. I think that my kids may have been a little jealous that the apes could stuff huge amounts of food into their mouths and use their hands without being reprimanded by the Table Manners Squad (a.k.a. Mom). Some of them just sat on the platform to eat while others took their food up into the trees. That's when the biggest orangutan of them all appeared, and the others cleared out so he could have the platform to himself.

Ritchie the Alpha Male


Ritchie is clearly the Alpha Male in this group. Weighing close to 300 pounds with large cheek pads, he easily smashed coconuts against the tree trunk to get at the meat. The wardens warned us the he may look slow but could easily reach us in two leaps. So don't anger him! Don't make sudden movements or talk too loudly.

Hot Mama and her little one

Also watch out for Hot Mama. Her much deserved nickname comes from her quick temper. Apparently, she has no qualms about defending her kids from humans or other orangutans. Come to think of it, I totally get where she's coming from. I think I might be this way, too. No one messes with my kids.  At one point, she started walking along the path straight towards me. One part of me wanted to get a really great closeup shot of Hot Mama, but the other part of me had scenes from Rise of the Planet of the Apes running through my mind. Did I want my last picture to be of a great big orangutan mouth opening wide to chomp on me? No, so I backed away.

The crowds keep their distance from Hot Mama while she gives a piggy back ride.

In reality, it was all a very calm experience. People murmured to each other as the orangutans made their way around in the trees. If they were down on the ground, we made sure to give them plenty of clearance. Some of the orangutans ambled along the trail to the next feeding station while the others took to the trees to get there. The wardens made sure that everyone kept a safe distance away.



After about an hour, it was time for us to leave. We stopped at the small gift shop and snack bar to make a donation to the Wildlife Centre and buy a few drinks. Seeing animals held captive in a zoo is one thing. Seeing them in their natural habitat and being reminded that we humans are both the outsiders and the ones who can either practice conservation or selfishness was something else.



This post is part of Friday Daydreamin' at R We There Yet Mom? and part of Photo Friday at Delicious Baby.

16 comments:

  1. What a great experience to see these orangutans in their natural habitat and to see them up close especially for your kids. My kids can stay for hours watching the orangutans at the zoo. Such amazing creatures! That sure is a lot of rules to remember =)

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    1. If you ever make it to Kuching (Malaysia) on Borneo, I highly recommend this place.

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  2. These are such amazing creatures. I could spend hours watching them.

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    1. Yes, I thought it was pretty cool. You only get to stay one hour, though.

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  3. That looms like such an amazing experience! The fact that there are no fences makes it scarier because they are so big, but it also makes it so much more real. also... note to self... do not stand under a tree with ape in it...

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    1. I'm sure my kids would have been delighted if they got to witness a little orangutan bathroom action from a safe distance.

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  4. What an incredible experience! My 8 year old loves orangutans and would love to visit this Wildlife Centre (although the warnings might freak her out a bit)!

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    1. There were plenty of kids there. Yes, it definitely was incredible.

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  5. What an amazing experience! Maybe a little scary, too.

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    1. Despite all the warnings, it ended up being rather calm.

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  6. That is so cool - how neat to see them so up close and personal! Thanks for sharing it with us.

    Thanks for the link up - wanted to answer your question about Schlitterbahn but I didn't know how other than here - this summer, I let my 11 yo & 9 yo run around together - they had to check in with us after each big ride they went on, but I felt pretty safe and we all stayed in teh same park together. If you go, make sure it's a week-day!

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    1. Thanks for the Schlitterbahn advice.

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  7. I pulled up your post when my monkey-loving daughter was nearby and she was so excited to see the orangutans. She would be absolutely giddy if our public park had monkeys, at least until she got used to them.

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    1. My daughter LOVES the monkeys at the park. We do have to make sure we don't leave anything lying about (like shoes or open bags) because the monkey will just help themselves to our stuff.

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  8. Hi Michelle! It looks like a fabulous place to visit. I know my boys would absolutely love that. Another place to add to the long list of places we must go.

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  9. Well adding this to the must do list for sure:) Thanks!

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