Visiting the Orangutans at Tanjung Putting, Indonesia

If there’s one thing that Indonesia is extremely good at, it’s giving you unlimited options on what to see, do, feel and eat. I can swear by it. Bound in the west by Sumatra and Papua in the east, it is home to at least 255 million people speaking over 300 languages.

orangutan borneo

This country is the home of many customs, cultures, art and unique flora and fauna. I’ve always been intrigued by orangutans that’s why I put them on my priority list during my trip.

Taking the journey from New York to Jakarta is long and pricey, as is with all flights from the West to Southeast Asia. However, it wasn’t difficult for me to realize it was all worth it when I was greeted with the sights and sounds of something unfamiliar to me.

I booked a local flight from Soekarno Hatta International Airport in Jakarta to Pankalan Bun, Kilamtan, the nearest entry point of Tanjung Puting National Park. I was particularly interested in visiting orangutans in this area because it houses the Camp Leakey research facility and a neat ecotour advocacy. Part of the money the Park earns from tours is used to buy back areas of the forest in order to protect them from illegal palm oil farmers and wildlife poachers.

Arranging my tour booking and all, I took a river houseboat locally called a “klotok”. I did my reseach of the details and facilities about Tanjung Puting National Park at the Orangutan Foundation International. In the area, both humans and orangutans make use of a 200-meter boardwalk made of ironwood. The provincial government made this path going to Camp Leakey to bypass seasonal swamps.

At Tanjung Puting, I saw a number of the resident, ex-captive (orangutans) (www.worldwildlife.org/species/orangutan). Most of them were females and their young. I had the chance to view them up-close roaming around the park and they seemed to be fairly sociable. The guide who was with me told me that the bond between a mother orangutan and her offspring lasts for many years.

They are known to be mammals with the slowest life histories and take the longest time to grow up and reproduce. A century ago, these mighty creatures were plentiful in the island of Borneo and Sumatra. It’s just sad to know that deforestation, illegal trade and hunting continue to hurt their population.

I decided to stay at one of the lodges near the boundaries of the Park. I went to their bird watching tower and explored the jungle during daytime. Wild male orangutans beyond the rehabilitation facility are particularly exciting to observe with their long calls.

They give out a roaring, rumbling sound that could be heard from almost a mile away. Orangutan males use it to repel rivals and advertise availability to sexually receptive females.

I learned from my visit that orphans that taken to Tanjung Puting often arrive in bad shape. Depending on their health status and age, this can mean 24-hour care through hand rearing and nursing. Once their condition gets better, they are taught how to survive in the wild. Caretakers introduce them to wild fruit, take them to practice climbing and basically expose them to experiences in their natural habitat.

If their climbing and survival skills improve, they are moved to protected release sites.