Rumah Orang(utan)

The journey started with 2 Germans, 1 American, 6 beers, and a 3AM wake-up call. Once we got on our boat, we received the news that the cruise had to divert to the dry season itinerary.

“The dry season was supposed to start in September – we’re still shocked at how it’s happening now.”

A three-night splendour at Central Kalimantan’s Rangun River seemed like a foreign idea to me, but with only 3 other people to share the boat with and a promise to be continuously spoiled, how could I say no?

Visiting an orangutan prerelease island was supposed to be our first stop on Day 1, but word got out that since the dry season came by earlier, hunters took advantage and an orangutan mother went missing.

So the island had to be secured to make sure her babies are alright. Killing off orangutan moms are unfortunately a common way to get their babies because that’s the only way to get them.

“Killing off an orangutan mother is like killing off 5 orangutans at once, as they can only give birth to 4 babies in a lifetime.”

Orangutan babies make it big in the wildlife trade, but the other huge cause for their population decline is habitat degradation. This is driven by the rise of the global palm oil demands.

With forest trouble becoming more common, the people at Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation is more than welcome to house troubled orangutans, but all that they dreamed of is to close down.

Left: Sanctuary at BOSF for orangutans trying to regain their social skills.
Right: Kessie, the one-handed badass living at Palas Island – an orangutan prerelease island. (Picture by Megan Herndon)

BOSF has been responsible for rehabilitating baby and adult orangutans since 1991 – a rehab you might consider harder than human rehab. It could take decades for orangutans to heal again, especially traumatised babies who saw the deaths of their mothers.

However, the hardest part is getting the government and people on board with the cause.

Borneo’s lush tropical rainforests have been a major focus point for many agro-industries like timber, palm, and paper, with many of their concessions flowing out to wildlife conservation areas.

So this is where the hot issue of palm oil gets controversial.

This is where protected wildlife, orangutans included, lose their habitats and food source due to illegal fires.
This is where protected wildlife wander off their conservation areas and end up killed due to human conflict.
This is where protected wildlife feel more vulnerable towards hunters and lose their advantage.

This is not only happening to orangutans but also to Indonesia’s most threatened endemic species like elephants, tigers and more.
This is not only happening to Borneo but in Sumatra too.
And it’s nothing to be proud of.

With my four-day escapade from the city, I learned that I’m far more relaxed in a jungle environment than the megalopolitan affair. This made me realise my gratitude for nature, peace and most of all, I had my privilege checked.

We visited a village where out of 200 people, only one held a Bachelor’s degree, with pride I must add.
We visited a village where the teachers don’t bother showing up to teach their classes because roads were just too troublesome to travel.
We visited a village where bathrooms are merely wooden huts out in the river.

But really, there was something about the river.

After spending most of my post-beer nights staring at the stars, there was nothing more I could appreciate than the moonlit sky and nature-filled serenity.

It was only after a visit to Palangkaraya that I found out I shared the same birthday as World Orangutan Day.
All the more reason to fight for their habitat conservation.

If you would like to read more about my trip, here is my Inside Central Kalimantan series:
Pushing for tourism two degrees of the Equator
Petuk Katimpun village and the magic of Rumah Patahu
Bornean orangutans and their hardships of being


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