Following in the footsteps of Alfred Russel Wallace
15 June 2023
Even before our group arrived at Camp Leakey, in Kalimantan, Borneo we’d seen several orangutans, including a couple of wild primates feeding among the thick foliage which lines the Sekonyer River. However, there was little to prepare us for the greeting we received as the wooden klotoks, moored at the quayside of the camp. A family of orangutans were there to welcome us, a mother, with her youngest and an adolescent still clinging to the ape(ron) strings of its mother.
They seemed happy to hang around, almost revelling in the limelight as our small group manoeuvred for the best position to photograph them, some attempting to manage a selfie with a charismatic ape. None of the trio seemed to mind, taking it all in their stride, meandering slowly along the path, almost dawdling as if enjoying the contact with their adoring fans.
Known as the ‘people of the forest’, each orange coloured ape had its own distinct character; unsurprisingly the youngest was the attention seeker, climbing over branches and its mother, ensuring it wasn’t overshadowed by its more subdued sibling. Mum, was patient, the perfect parent, watching her youngest charge through soulful, almost sad eyes, keeping him/her from any harm.
The rangers also did their bit, one was in constant and vigilant contact with the orangutans, ensuring the most exuberant, sometimes over eager selfie taking group members were respectful of the apes, and retaining a sufficient distance. If they felt we came close to interfering or weren’t heeding their warnings, they weren’t averse to issuing further, more abruptly phrased warnings. I appreciated witnessing this, gratified that the rangers did appear to have the best interests of the primates at heart.
Camp Leaky is in Tanjung Puting National Park, on the banks of the Sekonyer River, and is a research facility and rescue centre for ex-captive orang-utans. Founded by paleo-anthropologist Louis Leakey, who was a mentor to both Diane Fossey and Jane Goodall. During the day, the camp welcomes dozens of permit-holding visitors, enabling them to observe the apes from a safe distance.
Although the orangutans are the main attraction of Tanjung Puting, there is plenty more to see from the deck of a cruising klotok. The guides maintain a vigilant watch, allowing the guests to relax, but it still pays to remain observant. There is a certain kudos to being the first to spot a skulking creature or event of interest.
The best times for wildlife spotting are early morning or as dusk begins to set in. Proboscis monkeys can usually be seen in the highest branches of the riverside trees, and the eagle eyed may be fortunate enough to spot an impressive hornbill. Crocodiles lazily cruise among the roots of the trees growing along the river, waiting to ambush any prey unwise enough to stray too close.
The luckiest passengers may even see the gymnasts of the primate family, a gibbon, or possibly a wild orang-utan. The initial tell-tale sign is the rustling of huge palm-like leaves, sometimes the whole tree shaking, before the first glimpse of red-brown hair is seen. The orangutan, comes in to view, before usually swinging away, no doubt slightly indignant at being rudely interrupted during breakfast.
A steady stream of klotoks and smaller powered boats plough through the deep waters of the Sekonyer, the Dayak people eking a living from the arterial river system. The boats ferry and taxi visitors or transport goods to and from the camps, while other small boats can be seen parked, their occupants fishing or mining for gold.
Sleeping on a klotok under a star filled sky and waking up to an impressive Indonesian sunrise are two of life’s highlights. Further reasons why visiting the orangutans of Camp Leakey is a bucket-list trip for most travellers. Spending time in the presence of these endangered, charismatic and often magnificent apes should be a must for any nature loving traveller.
We would like to thank Iain Mallory for providing this guest post, his website has tonnes of great blog posts, travel ideas and photography tips. You can visit his website by clicking here! If you would like to share a moment with this beautiful and gentle apes, why not submit an enquiry to our local experts in Borneo? To talk to someone in the TravelLocal office, call 0117 342 7898.