Photo Friday: The Endangered Orangutans of Borneo

Indonesia's orangutans are endangered because their habitat is being destroyed


Becky is a young orangutan mother who is very skilled at teaching her baby to live in the wilds of the Borneo jungle in Indonesia. Under her silent but perfectly calibrated watchful gaze he climbs up and down the tree trunk and right to the edge of the branch she is sitting on. Becky is displaying the sort of initiative and teaching skills that are hallmarks of orangutans’ superior intelligence

Sadly, orangutans such as Becky are under serious threat due to the fact that almost 80% of Indonesia’s rainforest has been lost in the past 50 years. Australia’s neighbor is the world’s third largest emitter of greenhouse gases, due almost solely to the destruction of its rainforests and carbon-rich peat lands for palm oil production.

Orangutan Odysseys

I visit Central Kalimantan or Indonesian Borneo with Australian-owned Orangutan Odysseys, the only orangutan tour company that visits all the orangutan quarantine stations in both Borneo and Sumatra. Joint owners Peter Miller and Garry Sundin created the company in 2009 because they were passionate about protecting orangutans and their rainforest environment. By offering tours with knowledgeable local guides they create sustainable alternative incomes for communities living near the rainforest. Orangutan Odysseys offers an extensive array of orangutan tours every year, many inspired fundraising initiatives including the Trans Borneo Challenge as well as orangutan adoptions, and special trips with major orangutan researchers such as Australian Leif Cocks and American Gary Shapiro who famously taught the orang-utan Princess sign language.

River Boat trip in Tanjung Puting National Park

I am on Orangutan Odysseys’ most popular trip, a river boat excursion up the Crocodile River where you make multiple visits to three feeding stations in Tanjung Puting National Park, the most famous of which is Camp Leakey established as the first orangutan research station in 1971 by Dr. Galidikas Birute.

The world’s longest research on a single species

Alongside Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey, Galdikas forms the triumvirate of world-renowned primate researchers dubbed Leakey’s Angels after Cambridge paleoanthropologist Louis Leakey who mentored them all. Pioneering the study of orangutans as intelligent great apes, Galdikas and her team at Orangutan Foundation International have undertaken the world’s longest continual research on a single species. For forty years she’s worked with orphaned and injured orangutans to rehabilitate them back to the rainforest.



Sue Gough Henly

Sue Gough Henly is award-winning travel writer and photographer whose bi-line has appeared in The New York Times, Travel & Leisure, The Guardian, The Toronto Star and all the major Australian publications. Her travel blog, Genuine Journeys, is full of insider tips on the best places for authentic experiences and luxury splurges. She is also the author of Australia’s Best Places travel app. When she doesn’t have sand between her toes or a pack on her back, she writes about food, wine and culture.

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