The trees are hardly big enough to hold them.
Borneo hosts one of the world’s orang species; the other is restricted to Sumatra. These incomparably impressive and sobering creatures travel through the canopy on an armspan of up to seven feet. They are in fact the largest tree-dwelling animal.
Semenggoh is a sanctuary for orangs which have come to harm through the erosion of Borneo’s wilderness by humanity. Some have been rescued from the pet trade, and others from the palm oil plantations that are blighting so much of south-east Asia.
They are not tame. They live wild in 700 hectares of their native forest, and if they do not wish to be seen, you will not find them. Food is provided on large platforms, but whether they come to collect it depends upon their success in foraging for fruit and vines in the trees.
A warden asks the crowd to remain quiet and respectful. He emphasises that this is the orangutans’ forest, a refreshing sentiment after what I’ve witnessed in certain other places over the years.
We don’t have to wait long.
The orangutans have started families of their own, raising young that are, for all intents and purposes, wild. The bond between mother and baby is beyond and above anything else in the mammal world – she may suckle her infant for seven years, and they are utterly inseparable.
It’s hard to look at this tiny bundle of orange fur and accept that three decades later it may look like this:
King of all wild things – at least in Borneo. This huge male orang is 35 years old and the undisputed ruler of Semenggoh. He does not visit the feeding platforms that often so we were very privileged to glimpse him. The other male orangs seemed less pleased; they kept a respectful distance.
It is unforgettable to see them in their native forest.
Long may Borneo retain enough wilderness to support them – and the bay cats and clouded leopards and proboscis monkeys that also roam the hills that sweat mist and grow durian trees.
As for me, I’ve got a flight to catch to Singapore. This was the briefest of safaris in Borneo yet it has fired my imagination…and I need to return.