We had booked a boat in Kalimantan to try to see orangutans in the wild. To get there from Tibet we had taken 5 flights from Lhasa and spent 2 nights in airport hotels en route. We were very happy to arrive on time at our destination. Ohan (our guide) picked us up from the airport and after trying in vain to get a local simcard we hopped on board Klotok, a small wooden vessel that would carry us and the crew of 3 for the next 4 days along the Sekoyner river in the Tanjun Puting NP. It was our own little private paradise, so cool.
We were still in the bay in front of the small town, Ohan had just spotted a kingfisher in the distance as his younger brother Kamaludin (our skipper) spotted a dugong. It was a great start to a fantastic trip, full of very memorable animal and bird sightings thanks to the eagle eyes of Ohan and Kamaludin as well as Jimmy’s (our chef).
During our time on board we visited three feeding stations where we saw lots of orangutans, but we were also very lucky to see some away from these platforms. Ohan spotted a wild orangutan on our first evening. He had already made his nest and was snoozing high up in the tree. Amazing to watch and we knew this was definitely a wild one as he was on the ‘wrong’ side of the river. The national park is on the other side where the ex-captive orangutans can be found. The other two orangutans we saw were both mums (so I guess we saw 5 away from the feeding stations in total). One was right next to the river with a youngster who was already exploring on his own, we watched them for a long time as she patiently let him play and learn.
Jude spotted the other mum. She was sitting in a tree when we saw her, but then she decided to come down. She was on a mission and chose to walk directly towards us. As she approached we moved out of the way, and she continued straight past us. Very special as we were the only ones in the forest with her and her baby.
At the feeding stations we were lucky too. There are still some trees bearing fruit in the forest so the orangutans don’t always come to the stations around this time of year. But we saw loads at every station. Watching these great apes felt like a huge privilege. They are so much like humans, their arms are just a bit longer (and they might be a bit hairier too). At every station we stayed the full 2 hours. Most people left after a while, so every time we ended up being the only ones there with the orangutans. At one station it rained for 10 minutes after about an hour, so we had the whole place to ourselves for another hour!
At one point Jude spotted something different approaching. These were not the slow and deliberate movements of an orangutan, it was moving fast, it was a gibbon! They have obviously learnt there is some good stuff to be found at these feeding stations, and this one decided he wanted some sweet potato too. But the rangers interfered. The orangutans on the platform were quickly given some bananas (a much more desirable treat), and also the black-handed gibbon was given a large bunch of bananas so he wouldn’t hop onto the platform (otherwise the orangutans would leave). He climbed back up the tree with his bananas and we enjoyed watching him too.
A young female orangutan was trying to steal the show. Not on the platform, but high up in the trees. She was very keen to come down but was very low down on the pecking order and didn’t dare to. Her frustrations were clearly on display, she was not happy. She cried a lot, broke off branches and threw them down, made a nest, pretended to go and rest in it, but didn’t even lay down for 10 seconds before she threw herself out of it, then destroyed it all whilst crying loudly. She didn’t achieve anything with all her crying and bravado high up in the trees through. She never made it down to the platform, it’s a tough life being an orangutan!
During the 4 days we spent our time slowly chugging up and down the river, looking for birds and other wildlife. We were incredibly lucky and spotted so many unique and wonderful things including silverlip monkeys as well as the harder to see redlip monkeys. There were many, many long-tailed macaques and an equally impressive number of probiscus monkeys, they really do have huge noses. We also saw some false garials, a freshwater crocodile and a large, bold saltie that came up and swam right next to us for a while. Earlier in the trip, we spotted a very large water python which was very patient with us and just sat there as we watched it.
We didn’t just laze about on deck, we also managed to go for a forest hike, ending up at a little creek where we found 2 canoes waiting for us. We hopped into one and our forest guide and Ohan in the other one. We picked up the single blades and paddled our way back to the main river through beautiful, tea-tree coloured creeks. Jude spotted some more little snakes fishing of the pandanus trees and we came across some more probiscus monkeys.
We also went for a short night walk which was quite fun. We found a tarantula in its hole, a pygmy squirrel, some funky bugs and several sleeping birds including the rufous-backed dwarf-kingfisher and the garnet pitta. It was quite an experience which we’d recommend if you get the chance. We’ll leave you with a few more animal and bird pictures from the trip. Which one is your favourite?