Land of the small hairy ones

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Hello! Chris and I are back from the Kinabatangan river jungle for one night only, madly catching up with all the internet stuff that we missed while we were communing with proboscis monkeys (more on that story later). We’re off on another jungle adventure tomorrow, before returning to civilisation in Kuala Lumpur some time next week. So I just have time to coerce this ropey internet connection into uploading some photographs.

Our adventure along the Kinabatagan river began with a trip to the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre. When we began planning our trip I was in two minds about whether to visit or not. I knew I wanted to see orangutans, but that we didn’t have enough time to commit to the kind of trekking needed to ensure seeing them in the wild. A rehabilitation project, where semi-wild animals are released from the centre but allowed to return for daily feedings if they want, seemed like a good second option. While I respect the work that organisations like Sepilok do in rescuing orphaned orangutans, often from the pet trade, and preparing them for life in the wild, I was deeply worried that the experience of tourists would be placed above the welfare of the animals.

Thankfully this didn’t seem to be the case. The orangutans were left to come or go as they pleased, without being encouraged or manipulated into coming close to visitors unless they were really curious or wanted to steal something (which does happen). The centre does not guarantee that any orangutans will appear at the daily feedings; indeed when they don’t show up this is a good thing, as it shows that the rehabilitation is working. We saw four young animals during our visit, and it was quite wonderful to watch them swinging their way in from the misty forest. The feeding platform was quite a long way back from the tourist walkway, so the animals weren’t too overlocked, and there were several members of staff on hand to make sure that visitors didn’t get too close to any animals that climbed up to get a better look at them.

I imagine that the number of visitors gets a bit manic during the height of the tourist season – it was lovely a quiet for us thanks to the rain – and there will always be unthinking idiots who mistake wild animals for teddy bears and who can’t show excitement without screaming. But the entire vibe of the park was that visitors are guests in the orangutans’ home, and are expected to behave with respect.

If you want to see some truly jaw-droppingly good photographs from our trip, check out Chris’s tumblr post here. He was wielding the uber long lens that day!

What do you think?