Saturday, 7 September 2013

Meeting the man of the wild

The storm is following us everywhere we go, it seems. In Langkawi, it's early monsoon season so it made sense for the night to be filled with heavy rain and the mornings to be beautifully dewy. However in the Perhentians, when we saw the dark stormy clouds lighting up the night sky every minute in the west, we thought we were in the comfort of the high season and that the storm would stay over mainland. Within a few hours, we felt the cool wind and the waves get louder and within a few minutes of that, we were all running indoors and barricading our doors with towels. It wasn't until this Saturday in the early hours that I was convinced the storm was stalking us as it refused to let me sleep in Borneo with its thunderous banging.

Of all days, it was probably one of the worst to keep us awake. I had to be up early, at 6am at least because we had to catch a 7.15 am bus. We were on our way to Semenggoh to see the orangutans! Definitely had a big day ahead of us and we needed to wake up early because the next bus would have been too late. The continuing rain and the gloomy skies didn't help us keep up with the day either, but something did brighten our mood: it was the day before independence day and schools were blasting our national songs as children came in their traditional clothes. They were in a cheerful mood and they put us in a cheerful mood too as they waved and said hello to us. Patriotism looks good on Malaysia.

Semenggoh is one of Borneo's orangutan sanctuaries, though not as famous as Sepilok. It is home to 27 semi wild orangutans, all of which have been rescued, named and let to roam as freely as they can be under human care. The reserve is huge and hence it's hard to spot the orangutans unless you come during the feeding times where the orangutans come for their twice-daily dose of bananas.

It was an hour journey to the reserve the the rain only seemed to get heavier. I tried not to think of the implications, "I will see an orangutan today!" I thought. There was a quick talk before the feeding, telling us a little about the orangutans and how to behave. Surprisingly, the rain didn't put off the tourists and there was a big group of us even though we were only likely to see a few orangutans (they don't like to move when they are wet because their fur is heavier). We walked to the main feeding station and it didn't take long before we saw trees swaying in the distance. Only minutes later did we spot a bundle of orange fur jumping across the trees. It was a young orangutan but in the eyes of the tourists, he was a rock star, a celebrity and us tourists were comparable to the paparazzi as we shamelessly snapped away. He approached our guide and accepted a banana before climbing back up to eat from a distance. I was happy to see one orangutan, I was already in awe of how they move when we saw a mother orangutan arrive with her baby. Then another mother & baby came and another! I can't describe how taken I was with the sight, watching them move and interact. I moved closer to the front. I was soaking in the the rain but I didn't care. The highlight of the experience was watching an orangutan approach the platform of bananas as the guide turned away, put one huge bunch in her mouth, grab another bunch and run (climb) off before the guide could see her. They are so sneaky!! That's what makes them even more adorable.

10 minutes before the feeding session was suppose to end, we had an announcement that the alpha male, 'Ritchie' (I initially heard Rishi and couldn't help but laugh), was in the other feeding station. The whole crowd started to migrate to the other end of the trail but they weren't moving fast enough. I snaked my way through, it wasn't hard to spot the huge intimidating mass sitting on the platform and munching away. He moved very little and kept his face straight ahead like he was contemplating. Even as other orangutans tried to climb down near him, he wouldn't let go of the rope. The others kept their distance from him and we could see the power he held over the others. Sitting still but nevertheless, very feared. The orangutans here liked the attention of the crowd and some came close... One was just over my head, dangling upside down. Day made!

The sanctuary also has trails but two of the orangutans (Delima and Ritchie) had attacked people recently, supposedly because they were mistreated in captivity, so we couldn't walk about. Pity, but I will get the chance to see these amazing creatures again soon, I hope.

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