Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Wild orangutans

We were on our way to see relatives. It would be the first day of our riverboat tour to see orangutans in the wild! They are our closest relative and their name, "Orang Utan", means "Man of the Forest". Interestingly, they build new nests every night in 5 to 6 minutes. At least we don't have to do that!

We were picked up early by Bain's Yacht Service. Mr. Bain had brought along a man to stay behind and guard Sea Turtle during our absence and had already picked up our friend Joel at the airport, so we were ready to go.

A "klotok", our wooden carriage

Crew included the Captain, a deckhand, our guide Hunsi, and a cook with her young child. We were immediately served tea or coffee, and a bit later, the first of many delicious and healthy meals. Lunch consisted of salad, rice, a tofu mixture, prawns, fish, green beans, corn, carrots, and yummy papaya for dessert.

Joel, Judy, and Jordan

We motored down the dirty brown, muddy river lined with a low large frond palms, reeds, and jungle foliage. At times, Hunsi would signal the boat to slow or stop so we could spot various jungle species. We noticed several reddish-brown proboscis monkeys. Their noses become larger with age and some hang over and below their mouth. They are sometimes called "Dutchman" as Indonesians remark that the Dutch colonizers had large noses and pot bellies just as the proboscis do!

The nose that grows

As well, we spotted a large lizard swimming across the bow, long-tail macque monkeys hanging out in the trees, and various other jungle inhabitants.

Bain's Yacht Service pulled up to a wooden pier, our first of 3 stations along the river. We disembarked and followed Hunsi, our guide, along the boardwalk and paths. Our first encounter was a very big alpha male (dominant male) lounging in a gazebo at the side of the path.

Lounging alpha with large cheek flaps

Hunsi instructed us to keep our distance as this guy could be aggressive and unpredictable. After observing him for a short period, he slowly slipped out onto the path and came towards us...

The guides have learned a trick for control. It was a simple slingshot that these people of the forest have come to respect. So when big Uncle Orangutan came towards us, all the guide had to do was gesture to his backpack and show only a glimpse of his mighty slingshot and it was "exit, stage left" - into the jungle went our closest relative.

Sometimes it can be easy to pick out an alpha male from the group as he usually develops large cheeks several years after maturity.

We continued down the path until we came upon a roped off area, behind which was a platform that served as a dinner table for the orangutans. This is where park staff would, at scheduled times, spread bananas onto the large platform and fill bowls with coconut milk to supplement the orangutans' natural foraging diet.

We as the spectators, on the safe side of the rope, watched in quiet amazement as the time for feeding approached. At first, we could see distant trees sway and hear branches rustle with the approaching dinner guests. At times, they would make the thinner tree trunks swing and bend with their weight and momentum to the next tree as they made their way forward.


Once on the feeding platform, the more cautious would quickly and greedily guzzle the coconut grog, losing much of it in their eagerness, and grabbing fistfuls of bananas before making haste.


Most of the group seemed scared of the dominant male when he appeared with the exception of a few that included a female or 2 or juveniles. The alpha male was amourously successful, as was evident by the females that had young ones clinging to them as they moved with fluid confidence through the trees (the young ones hang on for 4 or 5 years till mom has a new baby and then they are forced to let go).


An older youngster no longer hanging on to mom...


These majestic mammals spend most of their time eating, sleeping, or hopscotching from branch to branch to branch spending very little time on the forest floor.


When it was time to leave, we returned to the riverboat and chugged up the river for a spot to tie up for the night while we were served a delectable candlelit dinner. It had been a super day with a rainbow in the sky but no rain all day or night. Upon retiring for the evening, we listened to the sounds of the jungle lulling us to sleep.

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