Orion's Faces in the Forest expedition doesn't leave a lot of time for blogging. We're up early and fall into bed fairly late. I've got a bit of time today though (I'm not doing the three-hour trek on Palau Lakei this morning) so I thought I'd catch up on explaining what else we've done on this Borneo expedition.
On Monday my group (half the ship) visited the Orangutan Care Center and Quarantine, which was established in 1998 by Orangutan Foundation International (Dr. Galdikas is the founder). The facility itself was built for a few hundred orangutans but its resources are being stretched due to the number of animals that are in need of rescue and rehabilitation. The staff is currently caring for 330 orangutans as well as a few sun bears, macaques, and some other animals. Each of these animals will be eventually released back to the wild to live a normal life.
How does an orangutan end up living at the care center? Some have been confiscated from individuals who kept them as pets (that's illegal in Indonesia), others are sick or injured and are being nursed back to health.
The center is located in the village of Pasir Panjang, near the town of Pangkalan Bun in Central Kalimatan. Orion arranged for air-conditioned buses to take us from Kumai to the center. We even had a police escort! (Everyone we go, the local people are happy to see us—the welcome has been wonderful.)
Dr. Galdikas gave us a tour of the 80 hectare facility, which includes an operating room, X-ray room, lab, library, and living quarters for the veterinary staff. There is also a quarantine area for animals suffering from various maladies.
The complex is located within a peat forest, which acts as a "halfway house." Orangutans are released during the day to learn how to forage and build nests and there are even a few wooden structures scattered throughout the forest so the apes and their caregivers can sleep in the forest.
Our tour included some time at the play area for juveniles between the ages of 4 and 7, the training area for older orangutans, and a stop at the nursery.
The Orangutan Care Center is not generally open to the public and so our visit was incredibly special. There is a no camera policy at OCCQ so I unfortunately can't share photographs. The photos accompanying this post are, instead, of the orangs at Camp Leakey in Tanjung National Park.
This was an incredible opportunity o get close to these animals who seem to have close relationships with their human caretakers. In the play area, a young female walked right to me, took my hand, and started to lead me to the forest! I think she wanted some time in the trees! Another orang climbed right into my arms. One bad boy did pull my hair and untie my shoes, but I do believe he was just playing.
I will caution that these are still wild animals and extreme care must be taken. A few people in the group did get bites and scratches… none were bad. The animals are babies and juveniles and, just as a human toddler might bite, so will an orangutan. Most everyone did their best to follow instructions and the experience was well worth it.
Traveling through Borneo and seeing these red apes brings up so many questions. Conservation is an incredibly tough business and a multi-prong approach is necessary in order to save the orangutan from extinction. Please visit the website for Dr. Galdikas' organization, Orangutan Foundation International, for more information on how you can help protect orangutans.
Photo © Leonard Hospidor