By Marisa and Tim Notier
We arrived by ferry to Kumai, Indonesia, known as the springboard to the dense jungles of this wild island of Borneo. And we soon learned that the only way to really access the jungle is to take a boat into it via a system of rivers. There are no roads through the jungle, because this is one of the last, pure, untouched wildernesses of the world.
And so that is what we decided to do, hire a boat that would take us into the heart of the forest. Because apparently, there is a mysterious creature that lives in this intense wilderness and nowhere else on earth. Larger and stronger than a man, some say they are just as wise as humans, with eyes that see straight to the soul. They are orang-utans, and we were on the path to finding them in the wild.
Our boat arrived at our first stop on our voyage, and that was the Tanjung Harapan research station where a feeding was going to take place.
There is never any guarantee of seeing a wild orangutan, but in order to research them, these scientific stations had regular feeding schedules of orangutans, and so we were going to see if any showed up that day.
And then, just a few feet down the path to the feeding place, we saw one! It was a mother and her child, and she was making her way to the research station. As they started to move towards the feeding area, we did as well. And I was immediately consumed by the beauty and sounds of the jungle. And mosquitoes.
We arrived at a small clearing where there were crude benches for us to sit on placed at a distance from a wooden platform where they were to put the food for the orangutans. A bunch of tourists were already there waiting, but we got good spots, and then waited for the great apes to arrive.
And what do they feed orangutans? Bananas! Which makes sense since bananas are from this region.
Right when the workers put out the first bananas, a large male showed up, followed by a mother and her baby.
It was amazing to be able to watch them eat so closely. Their colors, the way they ate, the shyness that they had for being watched, the peacefulness of their demeanors, the way the babies clung onto the mothers, the fuzziness of them, it was all so amazing.
Orangutans have a lot of similarities to humans. They are part of the great ape family that includes gorillas, chimpanzees, and modern humans. They even share more then 97% of their DNA with humans. They grow to be between 4-5 feet tall, which is pretty tall for an ape that lives in the trees, and also weighs between 70-165 pounds. In fact, they are the largest tree-dwelling animal on earth.
Fun fact brought to our attention from one of our YouTube subscribers, @JagLite
DNA Genetic Similarities:
Humans and Humans 99.9%
Humans and Chimps 98.8%
Humans and Dogs 94%
Humans and Cats 90%
Humans and Cows 80%
Humans and Fruit Flies 60%
Humans and Bananas 60%
I am somehow comforted by the fact that I (Tim) am 90% cat...
Orangutans make beds in the trees to sleep in using leaves and twigs. Sometimes they'll also make a roof-like structure for when it rains.
They are mostly vegetarian, eating fruits and leaves, bark, nuts, bird eggs, and insects.
The males grow these large facial extrusions as they age. And the females will keep their baby with them for up to 8 years! That means they only give birth every 8 years as well, and this is the longest time between births of any land dwelling animal. That's a remarkably long time for the the mother to raise her baby, and shows how similar orangutans are to humans.
Orangutans are considered one of the most intelligent of primates. They have been known to use tools for food foraging, river crossings, and even will use leaves against their mouths to amplify their calls. They've also been shown to have self-awareness in a mirror test.
But as night descended on the forest, we began to prepare for our first night deep within one of the most remote and dangerous jungles on earth.
And to the gorgeous sounds of the forest, we went to sleep.
The next morning was pure magic!
The sounds of the morning were unbelievable. It was one of the most peaceful and incredible mornings of my life. If every morning was like that… wow. How perfect life would be.
Eventually, we got the engines going, and headed off to our next orangutan research station in the jungle - Pondok Tangui.
Rizal, our guide, told us the story of the elusive Jacob, the largest male orangutan of the region. He showed us pictures that he had taken of Jacob - King of the Jungle. But since Rizal had only seen him a few times on the many tours that he gave, he told us that we were probably not going to catch sight of Jacob.
But along the way, we did see more proboscis monkeys with their ultra large and incredible noses.
At the next research station, Pondok Tangui, we had a beautiful forest walk, and once we got to the feeding station, a new type of monkey showed up to get first dibs of the bananas - macaques.
They were everywhere!
But then the orangutans once again stole the show!
After another amazing showcase of nature, we headed back on the boat and followed the river down an even smaller tributary.
We were going as deep into the jungle as the boats can go, to the very beginning of the river's source at the last camp, called Camp Leakey.
Pulling into Camp Leakey was a traffic jam of boats. We had to wait a while before we could get off.
It's a popular site for tourists because this is the first orangutan research station built in 1971 when Dr. Galdikas and her former husband Rod Brindamour journeyed into one of the last truly wild and unexplored places on earth. They established Camp Leakey named after Dr. Galdikas's mentor. At the time, the nearest place with supplies was twelve hours away by paddling in a canoe. They lived in a bark walled hut and suffered from malaria, dengue, tropical ulcers on their legs, and leech bites. But they did some groundbreaking research on orangutans.
Today the site is still an active research station and is the site of the longest continuous study of orangutans in the world.
But as we were walking to Camp Leakey, we heard some rustling in the trees... And then…
High up in the branches we saw… Jacob!!! King of the Jungle!
He was HUGE!
There was also a gibbon, which we had not seen yet. So now we'd seen all the major types of monkeys in this forest and we were simply brimming over with happiness for the good luck that we'd had.
And just as the workers put out the bananas, Jacob arrived! HUGE! He had very large facial protrusions, distinguishing him from the other orangutans. But he was surprisingly shy for such a big guy. He seemed to be in harmony with the others, like any good king should be.
Soon there were orangutans everywhere. Looking up in the trees, you could definitely see why they were called "people of the forest."
But then as we were leaving, Jacob started heading down the same trail as us! And we got face to face with the King of the Jungle. It was breathtaking and bit scary to be honest.
Marisa and I felt so lucky that we were able to gain so many wonderful memories in those two days on our magical river tour. We had met the "people of the forest," and their king, we had seen the mischievous macaques, and the long armed gibbons. We truly felt satisfied and humbled.
As our river boat tour came to an end, we had to head back to the hotel. Though great voyage into the jungle of Borneo by boat was over, our great voyage into the jungle of Borneo by motorcycle was about to begin.
To dive further down the river into the jungle with us, check out our 3 YouTube episodes we made that cover all of the wonders we experienced!
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