Par­adise lost for for­est dwellers

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - SHEL­LEY KIRK­WOOD

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.

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