Many of us are likely to have seen Orangutans in zoos across the world, but very unlikely to have seen them in their natural habitat. Luisetti Seeds Branch Manager Mark McNicholl and his wife Rita went on the trip of a lifetime mid-August to Indonesia, to see critically endangered Orangutans in the wild.
In 2004, Rita was given a lonely planet day planner that had a picture of a rescued orangutan inside it. Ever since receiving that planner, travelling to Indonesia had been a dream of Rita’s, and this year they decided to go as they knew that time was of the essence and soon there will be a possibility that no orangutans will be left in the wild for them to see.
Mark and Rita visited two places on their trip, Way Kambas national park in Sumatra and Tanjung Putting National Park in Borneo. Wanting to see and do as much as they could, they went for a night safari in Sumutra, trekked 16km with a tiger conservation unit, visited an elephant conservation centre which is home to 66 Sumatran elephants and went on an early morning walk to see Gibbons and hear their morning call. In Borneo, they travelled on a klotok boat for 3 days up the Sekonyer river, went to three Orangutan feeding stations and visited Camp Leakey, which is the oldest camp set up for orphaned orangutans. They were also fortunate enough to visit Pondok Tanggui, which is the location of the photo in the lonely planet planner that sparked the desire to visit back in 2004.
A particular highlight for Mark and Rita was the sighting of a wild orangutan on the edge of the Sekonyer river. They knew it was wild because as soon as it saw them, it disappeared back into the forest. They also were blown away by the love and care the local people had for their animals and the rainforests that was home to so many species. To support the local sites, Mark and Rita planted a tree in the reforestation area at both Sumatra and Borneo and gave donations, as both places receive no government funding and rely on tourist donations and volunteers.
The threat to Orangutans is the rapid deforestation and devastation of their habitat mainly due to palm and other agricultural plantations. Over the past 40 years, it is estimated that over 150,000 Orangutans have been killed due to palm oil expansion and are now considered to be critically endangered. The palm oil companies will pay people (not locals) to go into the rainforests during the dry season and light fires, that they blame on lightning. These companies will then go to the government and offer to buy the destroyed area and plant their plantations. This technique has also been used in national parks and sadly, the reforestation area that Mark and Rita visited, had been inflicted with 6 fires in the last 20 years.
For many of us, we will only be able to see Orangutans in captivity. For Mark and Rita, they have fulfilled their desire to see these beautiful creatures in their home, the wild rainforests of Indonesia.