To see orangutans you don’t have too many options in this world. A visit to these endangered apes is something you cannot skip on a visit to Borneo. I got the chance to see these wonderful animals in Sarawak, Malaysia and it was an experience I won’t easily forget.
There is a lot of criticism about the rehabilitation centers for orangutans. Some say it doesn’t help, some say it’s even counterproductive, while others say it helps. I don’t know who’s right in this matter, but after seeing the orangutans in the forest, I know we have to do whatever we can to help these beautiful creatures survive.
I saw the orangutans in the Semmenggoh rehabilitation center in Kuching. The center is usually in the shadow of the more popular center in Sepilok and before I went there I’d heard it was not worth going there. Imagine my surprise when I came and admired some of the 27 semi-wild orangutans in their natural playground.
The orangutans are fed here, but other than that they are left alone. When a baby is born, the rangers don’t interfere and therefore they consider the apes wild. The forest they live in not enclosed and thus the orangutans are free to go wherever they wish. But, who would turn down a free, effortless meal?
Twice a day the rangers come out with food and how many animals will turn up is always a guess. I got lucky and saw about 10 different apes, of whom two were mothers with babies. One of them came on the ground and the little baby started to look around curiously, playing with some rope. I was so busy taking photos that I didn’t realize there was a big, wild, unpredictable animal at a 5 meter distance.
The cheeky little one explored the area in the vicinity of his mum and then quickly ran back into her arms. It’s amazing how much they are like us. It’s almost as if you can see emotions and their movements are so like ours. If only we were that agile and could move around as easily as them. High in the trees they swing from one branch to the next. They’re so skillful that they eat their bananas while hanging on one leg or balancing in a tree.
Sometimes I think we are the attraction here. The orangutans know we are here and watch us shamelessly, as we watch them. They are fascinating and seem so much more powerful than we are. I wonder what they think of us, when they are enjoying their breakfast in the trees, looking down at us with our fancy cameras.
Semmenggoh was an amazing experience for me. Of course I’d like to see them in the real wild some day, but this was close enough for now. You can go on a morning viewing from Kuching. There are several viewing areas and the rangers are very helpful. I’ve only got one advice: go!