Tanjung Puting is a small peninsula that extends in to the Java Sea from South Borneo. It is a beautiful but in some ways rather sad area of 3000 square km where wildlife gathers in a National Park constantly under threat from the encroachment of palm oil plantations.
In this oasis of remaining natural habitat, we charter a small riverboat for a few days with the aim of encountering as much of the local fauna as possible along the way. We travel by day between each attraction along the riverside. We develop a routine of watching the trees slide by interspersed with jungle hikes, our eyes constantly on the look out for wildlife.
The residents of Tanjung Puting include all manner of jungle creatures. There are many reptile species including snakes and crocodiles, prolific bird life and several species of mammal, most of them understandably shy and hard to spot.
Monkeys and apes are often among the easiest to observe and we have a particularly memorable encounter with the disturbingly human-like Proboscis Monkey. The troop uses our passing boat as an indicator that the crocodiles are in hiding and so make their daily river crossing. For a Proboscis Monkey this means finding a tall tree close to the river’s edge and launching itself towards the opposite bank. The adults take the lead then sit in the bushes, calling to their youngsters to follow suit. Some make it and some do not, falling with howls of dismay in to the water from which they quickly scramble sopping wet, chattering and complaining loudly all the while.
Of course the real attraction of this area, and the reason for our journey, are the Orangutans.
Rather hairy and very entertaining there are many hundreds here and most of the population have been moved to the area and rehabilitated through the work of Orangutan Conservancy. They now enjoy a life of relative safety from humans, although many will never be truly wild again. This old male sits patiently outside the banana store.
The feeding of “wild” animals can be a difficult issue, often debated by those interested in animal welfare. Here some of the animals clearly depend upon the feeding stations set up throughout the park for most of their food but the intention is that this should be a helping hand towards independence.
As well as supporting the Orangutans in their efforts to reintegrate into the wild, feeding allows the human apes to get close enough to enjoy the full character of their beautiful cousins, providing the area with much needed eco-tourism.
At the appointed time both species appear close to the feeding areas, gazing at each other on the path through the jungle so that one often wonders exactly who is more interested in whom. The Orangutans, in ones and twos, slide down trees or simply walk to the raised platforms and take their fill of bananas, rambutan and other fruit on offer before disappearing quietly.
Of course the Great Apes are not the only ones to take advantage of the free food and the Long Tail Macaques and even a Baboon sneak off with bananas whilst hairy, orange backs are turned.
Later, as we prepare for another night sleeping on the deck of our river boat there is time to discuss the bitter sweet experiences of the day. Reflecting on the marvelous opportunity we have had to interact with the animals of Kalimantan while cash driven humans continue to slash and burn the natural environment they all depend upon.
It is sad to note that, even though this area has been a game reserve since 1935, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve since 1977 and a national park since 1982, the palm oil plantations continue to nibble away at the fringes. Corruption and greed leading those in power to turn a blind eye to illegal slash and burn and murder of the forest creatures.
This constant pressure is ever reducing the available space for Orangutans in the reserves of Kalimantan and Sumatra. When an average male orangutan needs up to 15 square km for its territory such reserves will ultimately never provide the space for the species to thrive.
Following our visit to this area we were determined to eliminate Palm Oil and its derivative products from our lives. We would encourage you to find out more about the subject. Making informed choices in your spending can positively impact the lives of species such as the Orangutan.