Borneo, Kumai River Orangutang Tour

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Borneo; our visit with our hairy relatives

Don't you think I'm just wonderful? I'm all yours!

Our visit to Tanjung Putting National Park, in Kalimatan, Indonesia was certainly one of the most fantastic highlights of our travels.

We spent three days amongst our hairy relatives in Borneo. Camp Leakey, Pondok Tanggui Orang-utan Rehabilitation Centre.

For a change we sat back and enjoyed a leisurly motor up the river to the orangutang reserve. Somebody else was doing the navigating!

We booked a three day, two-night tour with Herry on the ‘big’ boat in the Kumai River. And we booked rooms in the Rimba Lodge – extra special rooms with air-conditioning and showers even! Wow! Most people stay on the boats for the one or two nights they are on the trip – mattresses on the floor and the forest to keep them company. Mike and I were in company with Audrey and Ken on Fast Forward and Juliet and David on Reflections of Hayling.

Hiking party - hot but happy in the rain forest.

Two hours or so was enough for us - but one could take a real forest trek for the whole day. It was extremely hot and humid and as cruisers we just don't get off the boat enough to stay fit.

Our tour boat came alongside Cheshire Cat to pick us up early in the morning and we chugged up the Sekonyer river for a couple of hours, finally turning off into a fresh water tributary and out of the mercury sludge of the main river.

A riverside residence

There are goldfields higher up and mercury is used to separate the gold from the earth, presumably using very antiquated and entirely unsafe procedures. (Although our guide was certain there were no dangers from the river water, we have since read that the mercury levels are way too high for anyone’s well being.)

Amazing event number one!

We unexpectedly acquired a hairy hitchhiker on our boat on the way to Camp Leaky!

A young orangutang was almost hidden, perched amongst the bushes in a tree near the river when we passed. This was our very first glimpse of an orangutang in the wild!

We waited for the other tourboats that had stopped to look at him to continue up the river and then Jeni our guide, encouraged him to hop on board our boat and to sit in the front of the boat!
We were very excited - this close to a real orangutang!

Obviously Jeni and Penn had done this before and the orangutang was quite happy to hitch a lift to dinner at his home base at Camp Leakey. Jeni did have a little bit of bother persuading him to get off near the reserve as he obviously really wanted to ride all the way!

Pen is a young adult son of Princess, whom we also met with her most recent offspring when we arrived at the dock.

Princess is the primate you may have read about many years back when she became world famous for learning sign language; she still remembers about 25 words and obviously enjoys the company of her more upright and less hirsute cousins. Here she is with her most recent baby.

We toured the Camp Leakey reserve over a couple of days - it is amazing how congenial most of the animals we saw were. There were probably lots more less friendly and more wild animals off 'out and about' as the rehabilitation centre covers several hundred acres.

These monkeys were also living at Camp Leakey

Female Orangutang become sexually mature when they are fully grown, but do not start breeding until at they are about 12 years old.

Apparently orang-utans have the longest "childhood" of the great apes. This baby is under a year old.

The female gestation period is approximately eight months and they only give birth about once in about 8 years. Normally a single baby is born, weighing about 3 ½ pounds. The young ones stay close to their mothers until they reach adolescence at six or seven years old.

Nearly all the females that we saw had a suckling

child hanging on for dear life, most had an energetic teenager (not necessarily their own child) in tow.

Young orang-utans mature at about 12 years, and tend to stay close to home until then; adolescent females of similar ages travel together, and the males go off on their own adventures.

Male orang-utans grow much larger - to approximately twice the size of females - weighing up to 300 pounds and maybe reaching 5 feet in height.

A male may stretch his arms 7 feet (2.1 meters) from fingertip to fingertip—a reach considerably longer than his standing height of about 5 feet (1.5 meters). When orang-utans do stand, their hands nearly touch the ground.

They have their own territories that they fight to protect and as they move through the forest they make plenty of rumbling, howling calls to ensure that they stay out of each other's way. The "long call" can be heard 1.2 miles (2 kilometres) away. When we went for our forest hike we heard the long call, and our guide identified the sound and identified the male calling.

The strongest male in the area becomes the alpha male - king of his territory - and has free range everywhere he can overcome his rivals.

We glimpsed Tom, the current alpha male; Uranus and one other alpha (numbers 4 and 3 respectively) were far more socialble and came to see us. Cassaria, the last ruler is now number 2 in the alpha hierarchy - he cannot fight so well these days as he is getting old and has only a few teeth left and so has lost some fighting advantages.

This youngster is just hanging out!.

Special event number two. Mike in hand to hand combat with an orangutang!

He was sitting on a bench, chatting away (as usual) and forgot to hide his bottle of water. Quite unexpectedly a female orangutang strolled across to him, sat down in front of him and proceeded to struggle with him for the water bottle. (Hand to hand combat!)

Of course - she being much stronger and absolutely determined - won the bottle and

immediately took the top off and scoffed the water. She even handed the top and the bottle back to Mike when she had finished!

We particularly liked to be near the feeding tables at the time when they were provided with great bags full of bananas, despite the fact that the orang-utans took almost no notice of us at all - some wandering through the crowd at will, others sitting and watching us with almost as much interest as we showed in them.

Mothers and babies climbed down from the treetops, youngsters scrambled and played amongst the branches and all provided us with the show of our lives! A few played or sat just a few feet away from us; others visited brief ly to pick up a few bananas before swinging up and away through the high foliage.

Things changed radiaclly when a grown male appeared. All the animals scattered away to a safe distance and left the food table vacant so that he could have the best choices for himself.

Most visitors to the feeding tables seemed to be suckling mothers with their babies

cassionaly we saw a young animal creep close to the alpha but he or she wasn’t allowed to share until the big boss had his fill!

Did you know when orangutang are roaming the forest they make a tree top nest for themselves every night? Obviously they don't trust themselves not to fall down! And when it rains they all make leafy umbrellas to cover their heads - they don't like to get wet! In fact - if there is a thunderstorm with rain and lightening - they stay well hidden and dry somewhere.

Uranus is an alpha male - nuber four in the heirachy. He dropped by for a snack.

The other reserves that we visited also had feeding tables but were less popular both with humans and our cousins.

There the primates there were less tame but we did see several groups including another alpha male and his current consort. He made a quick visit to the feeding table and enjoyed a drink of milk and also refused to allow any impertinent youngsters anywhere near the milk, despite the pleading whimpers and sneaky fingers trying to dip into the bowl.

Proboscis monkeys abounded in the
trees along the riverside.

By the end of the day when the sun had set we became quite chilly and sticky and uncomfortable. We were entertained on the downriver trip in the evenings by lots of groups of macaqa and proboscis monkeys who gathered in the nearby trees before sunset.

Our decision to stay at the lodge was a brilliant choice - it was so hot that our clothes were stuck to us as early in the morning as soon as the sun warmed up.

This was our room at the lodge - we were truly in the wilderness, with monkeys scampering everywhere.

Tour boats on the river at the entrance to Rimba Lodge

At the lodge we had fresh showers - lots of water - even if we ran out of hot it was wonderful. Our bedroom also had air-conditioning - what a treat! So we were able to rest, relax and enjoy dinner with friends, rather than rinse off with water bottles of water and not have the pleasure of space and cool air in which to recover. Everyone enjoyed his or her river nights though, so I guess it is all part of the adventure.

One of our stops along the river was at this village. Here the pace of life was unhurried and slow.
We were told that the village had sold their land to a conglomerate who are planting palm for palm oil. This is a lucrative business but devastating for the ecology. We passed many tankers loaded with plam oil bound for other ports when we were sailing.
Oddly, we also saw a lot of tugs towing huge barges that looked as though they were small islands. In reality they were barges filled with sand, usually bound for land reclamation projects in Singapore.

We spent a little time at the Pesalat Replantatio Conservation and Education site.

The tree planting as quite interesting – as there they are growing trees from seed almost and making a nursery so that they will thrive long enough to plant out. I think a great deal more has to be done before they can replace the forests that have been lost by logging.

The conservation centre has made up a small botanical garden - the trees and shrubs are labelled and some that are used for certian medicines are identified on the labels

Fire damage has also created much devastation in Borneo but the loggers are mostly to blame for the losses in the rain forest and orangutang habitat.

The small town of Kumai consisted of a few shops and a market. When we first anchored in the river we noticed a lot of bird noise, but couldn't pin down where it came from. We soon realized that there were a huge amount of small swifts flying around tall windowless buildings onshore.

These stark looking buildings turned out to be bird's nest factories. They are equipped with small entry holes for the birds and rumour has it - a freshwater pool for them to drink from. (Nobody we know has been allowed inside). The resultant bird's nests fetch a huge amount of money per kilo and are sold to Chinese merchants.

We also heard that some people spend a lot of time fishing for large jelly fish - I spotted one in the ocean that I wouldn't have been able to get my arms around it was so big - and these are said to be extremely popular in the Chinese market.
We took a car ride to the next town which was considerably larger to see where the beautiful wooden boats that ply the local water were made. These boats can be as big as 150 feet long with stylishly graceful lines and great curving bows – beautiful boats. Built from local hardwood they are tough and enduring and we saw them used as fishing boats as well as tour boats all through Indonesia.

This ia a public water taxi dock on the river. We had a quick trip on the river in one of these canoes.

We clambered carefully into a “long tail” – a narrow canoe like boat that was driven by a small but extremely noisy Chinese engine and steered with a long tiller handle (hence the name long tail).

Watching the ordinary daily life on the river in town was, once again, just like walking around in a National Geographic study.

Houses lined the riverbanks – some with steps leading down to platform on the water, others built on stilts.
Daily life was conducted in full view of everyone – clothes washing, bathing and toilets were interspersed with fish traps and ferry platforms, boat fixing shops and fuel platforms.

The roof on this little boat copies the roof shape we saw on many local buildings.

Motorbikes, babies, sacks of rice and every conceivable commodity were ferried from point to point.
Women in traditional Muslim dress protected themselves from spray behind umbrellas, babies were cradled and small children perched in the bows. Everyone waved and smiled at us, and most were happy to have their pictures taken.

Next adventure – Malaysia – after the notorious Singapore Straits!
See you soon.