The forest is alive
of hectares of rainforest have been razed, simultaneously destroying the natural habitat of the endangered orangutan and many other species. Many orangutans also die in the deforestation process itself – either too slow to escape the manmade clearance fires, trapped in small clumps of isolated forest between vast, open plantations where they starve to death, or falling prey to palm oil farmers who shoot the ‘pests’ for eating their crops.
In Tanjung Puting National Park, many of the orangutans have been rescued and rehabilitated thanks to the dedication of charitable foundations, notably by the pioneering primatologist Dr Birutė Galdikas and her charity Orangutan Foundation International.
In 1971 under the auspices of famed palaeontologist Louis Leakey, scientist and conservationist Galdikas moved to Tanjung Puting to observe the species in their natural habitat and look after baby orangutans orphaned by illegal logging.
Thanks to Galdikas’ prolific studies, much is now understood about the orangutan; they laugh when tickled, complain when hungry and cry when hurt. One of the orangutans at Camp Leakey, Rinnie, was even able to learn sign language – although she promptly lost interest when she realised that her human teacher, a student named Gary Shapiro, was not interested in her advances. Camp Leakey is the world’s principle orangutan research centre, and trekking through the humid forest walkways with intertwining roots cutting across pathways, the sounds of crickets and cicadas heavy in the air, you stand a good chance of seeing well-nurtured orangutans swinging past you from the jungle vines or step on to the path simply to hang from a trunk, blinking, watching, scratching.
Mothers may clamber past, carrying a baby on their back and turning around curiously to watch you. Others walk past on their hind legs, baby by their side, arms around one another as they walk off into the forest to prepare their nightly nests way up in the top of forest trees.
Dusk is a exceptional time in the rainforests of Kalimantan, alive with the sounds of primates rustling through the trees, collecting leaves to make their beds, while those who cannot see in the night busy themselves as the sun goes down.
Tourists must leave the park before nightfall and the klotok journey back down the clear Black River (this is the only part of the Sekonyer that has not been muddied by years of gold mining) is a heart-wrenching moment of clarity for why this part of the world simply cannot be lost.
Slender macaque monkeys litter the tall, dense trees along the riverbed, while graceful hornbill birds fly past, their giant beaks silhouetted by the dying sun. Multicoloured butterflies flutter along the water, while the evening sky’s pink and golden hues reflect the forest on the widening waterway.
As our klotok chugs its way back to the basic but rustic Rimba Ecolodge, our tour guide scours the water’s edge for crocodiles, and as night falls the mangroves just beyond the hotel come to life, with fireflies twinkling against the backdrop of darkness, like