The name Orangutan means ‘person of the forest’ in Malay. A fitting description since they’re one of humankind’s closest living relatives, sharing 98% of our DNA.
Orangutans once roamed throughout Southeast Asia, from southern China to the islands of Indonesia, where they lived for 50 years in the forest along river valleys and floodplains. It’s believed that only a century ago there used to be 230,000 orangutans, four times as many as there are today.
Logging and deforestation have harmed the natural habitat of orangutans. Now considered endangered, they occupy Borneo and Sumatra.
The Orangutan Project is a recipient of an Australian Ethical Community Grant. The not-for-profit organisation aims to protect endangered orangutans from extinction and helps the population thrive in their natural habitat.
Orangutan Odysseys run the orangutan expedition, who provide funding to The Orangutan Project. Travellers can help support the work, and have an upclose and personal experience with the orangutans.
Australian Ethical’s Jacqueline Lapensée, shared with us her recent experience of the tour. (Sounds amazing! Can we all go?)
Tell us a little about the tour.
To even get to the tour it’s an adventure. You have to take a small flight to reach Pangkalan Bun in Borneo. You then spend three full days on a comfortable river boat (klotok) where you coast up the small rivers of the jungle to see the wildlife in their natural habitat – a truly incredible experience. Seeing the jungle from this angle was amazing, as was sleeping on the klotok for one night on a mattress under the stars. Meeting the guides, seeing other wildlife, and learning about what’s happened to the jungles because of palm oil plantations was enlightening as it was heartbreaking.
As well as being on the boat, you also do small walks into the forest to see semi-wild orangutans at the feeding stations. On my tour, we had people between the ages of 13 and 65, and everyone loved it!
How many orangutans did you get to see?
Too many to count! We were lucky enough to see some wild orangutans from the boat on the first day. And then we saw at least five at each of the three feeding stations. There was only one feeding station we went to where we didn’t see any orangutans after waiting for an hour.
Were you able to observe work on the ground or see any of the direct outcomes of The Orangutan Project?
Absolutely! I got to go to the International Animal Rescue centre (IAR) on the west coast of Borneo to see their rehabilitation facility. They do incredible work there rescuing orangutans and rehabilitating them. They have land for the orangutans to live on before being released back into the wild. Although IAR is a separate organisation, The Orangutan Project helps fund certain aspects of their work and they all share information to help work towards their shared goal.
Did you witness any of the damage that palm oil plantations have inflicted on natural Orangutan habitats?
Yes, unfortunately, a lot. You can see the vast amount of land that has been cleared for plantations just from the plane flying over Borneo. It was so sad. In the area we went to plant trees, you can see the peat land that was cleared many years before and how long it takes to recover. You can also see the huge amount of damage done to their waterways from palm oil plantations and logging companies who allow chemicals to be dumped into the rivers.
Would you recommend this tour to others?
This adventure was the most inspiring experience of my life. Seeing orangutans in their natural environment and learning about how they live is something you can experience in no other place other than Borneo or Sumatra. Understanding what is threatening them is incredibly important. By taking this tour you support The Orangutan Project, and help them to continue to fight for the orangutan’s welfare. And being educated on the palm oil situation can help you to take actions in your daily life that can help.
You can read more about the problem of palm oil production here.