12 October 2007

Tanjung Puting National Park

Anchored at Kumai
Anchorage #71 in "101 Anchorages Within The Indonesian Archipelago" by Geoff Wilson

Kumai River
Tanjung Puting National Park
Central Kalimantan

Orangutan means "person of the forest" in the Malay language (orang meaning "person" and hutan meaning "forest"). They are the largest tree dwelling animals in the world, largely living on leaves, bark and flowers. They are the most intelligent beings to have evolved on land along with humans.
We just spent the last 36 hours on the southern end of Borneo participating in the most amazing experience that words can not even begin to describe. Our trip took us through Tanjung Puting National Park in Central Kalimantan, Borneo, the world's third largest island. The park has complex flora and fauna affected by the fact it lies just a few degrees south of the equator. We experienced everything from dry land, swampy forest and mangroves.

The park is also home to 38 mammals and 9 primates. Some primate that we saw were the Orang-utan, the Proboscis Monkey, the Long Tail Macaque, the Gibbon, and the Leaf Monkey. Along with all of this we also spotted an eagle, a few small crocodiles, snakes, and all of our favorite, the leech. The park is an important conservation area as it preserves the endangered species of Orang-utan, known to live on only two islands, Sumatra, and here on Borneo, both in Indonesia.

Thursday morning at 8:00 am we were picked up on Sandpiper by a Klotok named 'Sprit of the Forest'. A Klotok is a brightly colored, 50 foot, traditional river boat. It was our accommodation and home for the next two days along with our friends Betty, David, Walter, Joyce, Andrew and Cheryl from other boats. It was our transportation when we explored miles of the Sekonyer River.

The Spirit of the Forest had a crew of five. There was our guide, Janie, who was in charge of the boat. Then there was the boat driver, the full time cook, and two boat boys who ran errands all the time. This boat was really cool and had 2 levels. We all sat up top since below was for stowage and the galley. On the stern of the boat was the toilet, that dumped straight into the river. The boat was powered by a very loud, one-cylinder, Chinese diesel engine that was started by a hand crank.

After everyone was on board and settled in we made a four hour trip up the muddy river to our first Orang-utan area, Camp Leakey. Camp Leakey was established in 1971 when Canadian researcher Dr. Birute Galdikas began taking in rescued Orang-utans. The Orang-utans in Borneo and Sumatra are the only great apes outside Africa, and the Doctor knows more about them than anyone. She spent years tracking the wild orang-utans and was the first to document that the birth interval was about once every 8 years, making them vulnerable to extinction.

These camps were established to study and reintroduce orphaned or rescued orang-utans into the wild. Under the supervision of researchers, juvenile orang-utans learn to live in the forest by spending less time away from the camps. However, they got accustomed to human contact and continue to return for afternoon feedings, which we were able to witness.

Before I get ahead of myself, along the way up the river to the camp is where we spotted several different species of monkeys and a few crocs too. Once we entered the camp, just after a short walk, we were greeted by a few friendly orang-utans named Chris and Sampson, whom both walked with us down to the feeding platform. Here at the platform we witnessed several orang-utans enjoying a large quantity of bananas.

Most of these orang-utans were easy going and used to being around people. But there was one female who came to the platform who was not pleasant. She actually got in a fight with a ranger not to long ago, which is not cool, especially since orang-utans are 8 times stronger than us. She kept walking all around the feeding area and we were advised to get out of her way. So when she was on one side, we would all quickly move to the other side while trying not to make her upset or get in her way.

It was just amazing to watch such a thing so close and in their natural jungle setting. I'll never be able to go to a zoo again!

After leaving Camp Leakey we headed downriver to the Rimba Eco Lodge where two of our group had booked a room for the night (since our boat could only sleep 6). They had a nice room with air conditioning and hot showers.

We all had dinner on the boat that night. It was quite a feast that our cook had been sweating over a hot stove over all afternoon to prepare.

The boat stayed tied up to the dock at Rimba Lodge. The boat's crew turned the whole upper deck into one large sleeping area with double mattresses covered with a large mosquito net where we slept peacefully on the river, deep in the jungle.

At sunrise the next morning the crew stowed all the sleeping gear and prepared a tasty breakfast for us before we departed on our next adventure. Our Indonesian crew is Muslim, and since it is Ramadan were fasting between sunrise and sunset. So it was kind of weird as we were feasting on all kinds of great meals while the crew could not eat until after sunset.

They were all super friendly. Our guide Janie had been running boats up this river for the last 6 years and was very knowledgeable about any questions we had. She was able to tell us the names and sexes of all the orang-utans that we saw.

On our second day we visited two more platforms and watched two more feedings. At the morning feeding we saw a big male orang-utan. You can tell how old the males are by their faces. The older they get, the more they develop flatter cheeks and a pouch underneath their chin. We were so close to this big guy. I could stare into his eyes for hours. We also saw a few moms with their baby's tightly clinging to their sides.

Our last feeding platform was very much deep in the jungle. Leeches attached themselves to several of our friends ,and the malaria carrying mosquitoes were out in full force. I've never used so much insect repellent in two days. This platform is were wild orang-utans feed, which was a bit more nerve racking. As soon as you hear the branches moving around you, you look up and see this incredible ape swinging through the air with such grace. It is so surreal.

The reason for these feeding platforms is due to habitat loss, which equals loss of food for these great apes. Large scale mining, logging, and palm oil production pose considerable threat to the rainforests and all that live therein. Without these feeding platforms, the orang-utans of Borneo will be critically endangered.

Our trip home, back down the river, was complete with a fire fly and lighting extravaganza. With an arrival in town at 9:00pm we were greeted with fireworks and Mosque blaring the celebration to the end of Ramadan.

This trip has been a once in a lifetime experience that we will never forget. Just looking at the photos and short video clips we took I just asked Tom if we could go back again tomorrow. If you would like to help save these great apes or learn more about the trip we took you can do so at www.orangutan.org.

Tomorrow, Saturday, we leave for a 300 mile trip to Belitung, our last stop in Indonesia before heading off to Malaysia.

Love to all,

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