A Magical Orangutan Encounter in Borneo

Written by: Anne Smellie

A Moment You’ll Always Remember

“There, look, an orangutan! At the top of that tree, look!”

Our guide shifted his weight to keep the boat steady as we all piled over to look. I was out on the Kinabatangan River in Malaysian Borneo. This area is known as the Corridor of Life, after the swathes of jungle and rainforest surrounding the river were designated as a conservation area for wildlife. No building, logging or any other form of industry can happen in the area.

The rainforest is currently being regenerated to create a corridor of wilderness for sun bears, pygmy elephants, macaques and more, including, most importantly to us at that moment, orangutans.

I lifted my binoculars in the direction our guide was pointing. Instead of spying an orangutan, I saw nothing but a massive tree.

Apparently spotting orangutans in the wild takes a keen eye. It’s no wonder that doing so is a rare treat, a once in a lifetime experience for most of us. These beautiful creatures are excellent escape artists and, as they were now proving, experts in camouflage.

My visit was as part of an orangutan conservation project with Oyster Worldwide. My group and I had been working in the conservation area to plant trees, monitor wildlife and work with locals to promote the survival of these endangered species.

Each day we were out on the boats, either heading to a tree planting site or spotting the wildlife that lives alongside the river banks. Birds I had never heard of before flew above us, and we would hear elephants calling to each other in the long grasses. Crocodiles basked eerily in the sunshine. We had been told that orangutans were a common sight, and it left us eager to see them.

And so here I was, gazing desperately at a tree, willing it to suddenly transform into an orangutan. Others in the boat had started to glimpse it and were shouting, “She has her baby with her!”

My heart started racing and my palms were sweating. What if everyone saw them apart from me? I could see the leaves swaying in the wind, the shadows they cast and… a hairy orangutan boob!

It wasn’t quite I pictured my first sighting, but at least I’d found her. I moved my binoculars slowly upward to see her face. Clutching her side was a tiny orangutan baby.

We sat and watched them, letting time slip by as they went about their business. We barely noticed as the light faded and the jungle around us fell asleep.

It was a moment I will always remember.

This product and story were supplied by Oyster Worldwide.

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