Paradise lost for forest dwellers
NORTH SYDNEY, NSW IN Kalimantan, Borneo, I saw a glimpse of paradise and of paradise lost.
I went to Kalimantan to learn about the orangutan, the ‘‘person of the forest’’, on a tour organised by Kobe Steele and Stephen Van Mil, from the Orangutan Foundation International’s new Australian arm.
When you see first-hand the destruction of a beautiful land, hear the sound of a chainsaw and witness the effect of all this on the creatures that once called the forest home, all your senses are touched.
We travelled in traditional klotok boats along the Sekonyer River to visit feeding stations and Camp Leakey in the Tanjung Puting National Park. The camp was established in 1971 by Birute Galdikas. Like Dian Fossey (murdered in the course of her work on gorillas, as dramatised in the 1988 movie Gorillas in the Mist), Galdikas and world-famous chimp researcher Jane Goodall were mentored and inspired by Louis Leakey.
The research station and orangutan refuge allows day visitors, so orangutans and humans can walk side by side. The creatures may take your hand or grab a leg; they are both wild and semi-wild at Camp Leakey and when you touch the palm of their hand it is as soft as a human’s. Watch them play or observe as they gaze at something of interest and you will realise you have seen that same intent way of looking in humans.
We spent a day at the care centre for orangutans that have lost their mothers — a bond that is as strong as that of human and child — and their home, the rainforest, through logging or palm oil plantations or poaching.
Each of the orphans is assigned a human mother, usually from the local village, who cares for them until they are able to be released back into the forest — if that’s feasible, as some are so traumatised or injured that to release them would mean certain death.
There’s so little space between survival and death for these orangutans. I want them to enjoy what paradise should be: a place where every inhabitant is allowed to live without interference, from the monkeys we saw negotiating a flying leap across the river to the butterflies with vivid blue wings that followed us along a rainforest track bathed in gentle light. Send your 400-word contribution to Follow the Reader: travel@ theaustralian.com.au. Published columnists receive a 35cm x 27cm x 4cm Catherine Manuell Laptop Compendium ($79), which also fits iPads and includes a notepad, storage pockets and pen holder. More: catherine manuelldesign.com.