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Encounter with the Orangutangs in Borneo

THE MEN FROM THE FOREST – It can be somewhat frustrating to monkey around in Borneo’s humid, hot and dense rainforest to look for ‘The Men in The Forest’, as the Orangutangs are called in Borneo.
When humans are around, the Orangutangs tend to stay in their nests 8-10 meters above your heads, occasionally letting you see and arm or leg dangling up there.
Things get a lot easier, if you go to the famous Orangutang Rehabilitation Center in Sepilok, located at the edge of the forest outside Sadakan. Since 1964, the center has nursed orphaned Orangutangs and brought some other 700 ill Orangutangs back on their feet, often after potentially fatal bouts of pneumonia. 

Bor (22 of 42)BorUran (5 of 7)The idea of the center is to bring these marvelous primates back to their normal life in the forest, but as you can see from my shots the other day they do hang around in a very friendly manner, possibly because they can pick up free food twice a day from a platform a few hundred meters inside the forest.

It is certainly great fun to go there and see the Orangutangs in action in a semi-natural setting, and it might even inspire you to endure a few more hours in the ‘real forest’, looking for them in their truly natural environment. In the wild they can only be found in Malaysia and Indonesia. 

Orangutangs are considered very intelligent primates, displaying clear learning abilities and passing these off to their off-spring.  They typically construct three to four nests per day, sometimes supplying them with a roof in the rainy season.

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The Proboscis males are blessed with this magnificent nose, which serves as a megaphone for their calls to their harems of 5-7 females.


This week, I finally managed to realize a 15 year long dream to return to the weirdest creatures, I ever met.

This time, I brought the proper camera gear to capture them in their habitat: Borneo’s enigmatic Proboscis monkeys.

Take a look at the above pix of this marvelous male, waiting for his harem to show up for some good old love-making in a tree-top. His rather oversized nose serves as a megaphone, making sure that his wives can hear him more than a kilometer away. Then take a look at his wives, who seemed to be more interested in Mother Earth’s own snacks than him.

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Should a male  manage to call the females over, he can still not be certain of success.  The world’s no. 1 expert on Proboscis monkeys, Elizabeth L. Benneth observed:

“Even when he has secured his females from other males and one is presenting herself before him, a harem male faces problems. When mating starts, the young animals in the group become extremely upset and do everything they can to interfere.  They frequently pull hard on the male’s upper leg, screaming all the while, but a more succesful tactic is to lean over the amorous couple from the front and try to tweak the male’s nose.  Even if this does not stop mating immediately, it certainly curtails a male’s ardour.

He sometimes even has to stop what he is doing to chase away the youngsters before returning to his female. The ultimate frustration must be when he finds that, in the meantime, the female has lost interest and wandered away.”

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A female is too busy with her favorite snack to follow the amorous calls of her master.

The Proboscis can only be found alive in their own habitat. Due to a very complicated diet and their multi-belly set-up, they seldom, if ever survive in captivity.  There are an estimated 7.000 Proboscis left in Borneo and Sumatra. They are dependent on the riverine forest areas for their daylight intake of leaves, unripe fruit and insects.  Even though the total ban on hunting Proboscis monkeys might be effective, the ongoing destruction of the rainforest put them at serious risk. 

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The Proboscis are dependent on the riverine forest areas for their daylight intake of leaves, unripe fruit and insects.

As National Geographic notes:
“Unfortunately, Borneo’s most threatened landscapes are home to these highly specialized primates. The rampant clearing of the region’s rain forests for timber, settlement, and oil palm plantations has depleted huge tracts of their habitat. The fragmentation of the monkeys’ range means they are being forced to descend from the trees more frequently and often must travel perilously long distances to find food. Their land predators include jaguars and some native peoples who consider proboscis monkey a delicacy.

Here is how you manage to encounter the Proboscis monkeys: Catch a flight to Malaysia and then onwards with a local plane to Sadakan in northeast Borneo. Then 2.5 hours by speedboat up the Kinabatangan river. You transfer into a small boat, powered by a quiet electric motor and explore the myriad of smaller rivers, led by local spotter, who knows where the Proboscis creatures hang out. Let me tell you, it is worth the effort!

There are several lodges in the area. We had Borneo Eco Tours arrange our visit and had a really nice stay at their Sukau lodge.

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