Thursday, July 11, 2013


We went to Kuching, Borneo, because we had two days left before we went to Singapore and we wanted to see the orang-utans. There are a number of primate rescue centers here, but Seminggoh was reported to be one of the better experiences, as the animals - most of whom had been caged by private collectors, or orphaned when their mothers were killed - roam free in the preserve. We took a car (with driver, nobody in their right mind would try to drive in this neck of the woods), and in forty five minutes were walking from the parking lot down the road to the feeding center. The animals are fed twice a day, and morning is supposed to be the better time. But what we saw exceeded even our non-stop imaginations.
MEET RITCHIE: one hundred kilos of attitude, this 32-year old bad boy is the undisputed leader here in the preserve, and comes down to feed only rarely. We got lucky; he showed up a half hour before the scheduled 9AM banana-fest. The caretakers were amazed as he hadn't come in for two weeks, plus they could see Ritchie wasn't a happy camper, and they kept telling us to step back.
Apparently, the Big Guy doesn't like visitors; he kept his back to us, and made no eye contact at all. We were all within thirty feet of him when he swung down off the feeding platform and headed right toward us. The guards were freaking out, pushing people (we are such silly creatures, wanting our photos at any price, not realizing this guy would happily and very easily tear off a hand or arm). I was less than ten feet when I took this photo, but at least I had a railing between us. Ritchie continued on down the path, then swung onto the road, projecting that menacing, I-can-tear-you-limb-from-limb attitude with every ponderous step.
This, it turns out, was not the 9AM feeding, this was a bonus. We had been among the first to enter the center, and had a front-line view. What happened next...

We took a trail into the jungle, trees over a hundred feet tall soaring up, a dense canopy far over hour heads. It was moist; roots twined under our feet; water gleamed and dripped. All was silent except for the quiet shuffle of visitors' feet, about a hundred of us, all of whom had been warned to be quiet and not to stand under any of the ropes strung from tree to tree unless we wanted a hot shower. It appears that several of the younger males were fond of pissing on guests, and of course Ritchie would not hesitate to do worse. About a dozen high ropes led toward the clearing where the feeding platform was, and the rangers packed in huge bags of bananas and coconuts, some of which they hand-fed to the animals.
For an hour, we had a glimpse into this wild world. The orang-utans are all being groomed to return to the wild, a long process for those who have spent many of their years in captivity (illegal, by the way, but that wouldn't stop some people). They have to learn to swing from the branches, to forage for themselves, and (as many had been caged in solitary) to be sociable with other orangs. There are new babies, one only 15 days old, its mother swinging down for her share of bananas as the infant clutched her belly fur. Orang babies stay with their mothers for over a decade, so a female can have two or even three offspring with her. Despite that, they seem to be placid, moving thoughtfully and with deliberation, never seeming to be in much of a hurry. I wouldn't want to be around them when they đid get in a hurry!
In all, I'd guess we saw a dozen or more of the 32 orangs living on the property; hard to say as they mostly look alike although their mannerisms can be quite different. Every one of them had a different style of swinging along the ropes, for example. Their ease and strength is, to use an overworked word, awesome. It was hard to believe these silent creatures are so strong, but watching them effortlessly swing along a rope or down a tree truck was very enlightening. The whole time was one of the high points of the trip.'s Ritchie! The face pads are the sign of a mature male.

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