Us and the Apes

Our first nature destination was the wonderful Semenggoh Wildlife Center, well known for its orangutan program and easy striking distance from Kuching. After a 40 minute taxi ride we zoomed into the park and set off on the small hike up to the main interpretation centre and main orang viewing areas. The animals protected in the park are classified as semi wild meaning they had either been orphaned in the wild or rescued from captivity. The apes are offered a percentage of their daily requirements at feeding stations, especially in the dry season when wild foods are less abundant but it is entirely up to the individual animal if they wish to partake of the offerings. According to the staff, fewer than half of the park’s organs choose to swing down from the canopy to gather up the all-fruit meals and they report there are many days when no animals descend. The 6.8-sq-km reserve is not especially large by the standards of animals that range big distances and consume huge volumes of fruit daily. The reality of the situation is that these great apes will remain partially dependent on humans for their remaining years but so long as they keep within the sanctuary boundaries, foregoing the lure of nearby cultivated land, they will be protected and assured a good quality of life.

We arrived at a great time and were treated to the arrival of at least six individuals and were especially impressed with the one mature male in the reserve who was immediately recognizable from his huge size, face buttresses and self confident manner, which included crashing through the dense vegetation on his way to the food offered by the staff.  We and about 20 other visitors had assembled near a feeding station when the skies opened up with an intense downpour. Fortunately a nearby wooden shelter housed all of the homeo sapiens while the big ape made his approach. We could see upper sections of trees bending over as he made is his way hand over hand through the tall canopy, swinging and jumping his way toward the fruits left for his consumption, taking no notice whatever of the pounding rain. He was amazingly agile for a 160 pound fellow and being primarily arboreal, climbed effortlessly up into the tall, dense forest within a few moments of completing his meal, disappearing from view in an instant. Nearby, a few adolescent orangs invested much more time playing and nibbling in a small clearing. It was a delight watching their antics and downright tender interactions. Most notably, when a busy mother plucked a large banana leaf to act as an umbrella for her wee babe who clung to her with admirable determination despite her energetic climbing and swinging. We were charmed by their gentle behaviour but remained cognizant of how quickly they could move if alarmed. We never forgot these were very strong, self determined wild animals, who could inflict grave injury to the foolhardy. The strict rules about keeping a safe distance and not feeding the animals were wisely adhered to by visitors.


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