The for­est is alive

Friday - - Leisure Travel -

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

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