Tanjung Puting is a small peninsula that extends in to the Java Sea from Kalimantan in the Indonesian part of Borneo. It is a beautiful but in some ways a rather sad area of some 3000 square km where wildlife, and in particular orangutans, gather together in a National Park that is constantly under threat from the encroachment of palm oil plantations.
We charter a small riverboat for two nights and three days in order to visit this remaining oasis of natural habitat with the aim of encountering as much of the local fauna as possible along the way. Travelling by day, moving between the attractions to be found along the riverside, our days are a routine of watching the trees slide by interspersed with jungle hikes, our eyes constantly on the look out for wildlife.
The resident animals 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 find.
Monkeys and apes are often among the easiest to spot 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 rivers 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 Conservation and Research Organisation. They now enjoy a life of relative safety from humans, although many will never be truly wild again.
Feedings 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 animals 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-tourist revenue.
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 the bananas and other fruit on offer before slipping quietly in to the jungle.
Of course the Great Apes are not the only ones to take advantage of the free food and the Long Tail Macqacs and even a Baboon sneak off with bananas whilst backs are turned.
Later, as we prepare for another night sleeping on the deck of our river boat there is time to reflect on the bitter sweet experiences of the day. Reflecting on the marvellous opportunity we have had to interact with the animals of Kalimantan whilst cash driven humans continue to slash and burn the natural environment they all depend upon.
For more information about the effects of the palm oil industry.