Sunday, November 9, 2008


It would seem so logical to me that people who come all the way to South-East Asia to see orangutans actually wish to see wild ones in their natural habitats like national parks and other reserves.
Actually there are more of these places than of "rehab centres", but since seeing the apes in the wild often involves more inconvenience like having to reach such reserves away from the cities, then having to walk in humid, muddy rainforest and actually spending time looking for the apes, most tourists seem to think it is too much trouble to bother. However, easy possiblities where you can count on seeing wild orangutans within a day or two without even having to walk also exist.
Some people also argue that wild orangutans should be left alone by tourists, though this is naively overlooking the fact the loggers destroying their habitat pose a far greater danger to wild orangutans than do tourists peeking at them from below. By visiting habitats of wild orangutans you will actually contribute to their continued preservation by demonstrating outside interest in them! This is especially true in East Kalimantan, where the lack of attention actually seems to have encouraged illegal logging in many reserves.
Well, your options include the following:

Kutai National Park (East Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo)
This park could be Indonesia's answer to the Kinabatangan, where wild orangutans (an estimated 700 live here) are very easy to see and access is also very easy - yet visitors are very rare. Proboscys monkeys and gibbons are also easy to see here.
Unfortunately the forest itself, particularly the easily accessible parts, is badly devastated in the park, which is partly the reason why the wildlife is so easy to see here.
The park is just a few hours up the coastal road from the East Kalimantan capital of Samarinda. First visit the park office (Jl. Awang Long) in the town of Bontang to pick up your permit and the latest info on prices.
The road north of Bontang to Sangatta provides access to 3-4 different places you could visit.
Your first stop in the park could be Teluk Kaba on the coast (an hour's walk off the road), which has great board-walks through beautiful mangroves where you might see otters or monitor lizards. There is basic accomodation here, but the forest is devastated.
The next possible stop is the Sangkimah ranger post just off the Bontang-Sangatta road. It is located in some of the least damaged forest in the park, and has short trails to explore.
Then go on to Sangatta, where there are several cheap hotels. Here a boat must be hired to see proboscys monkeys dowstream from town (50.000 Rp), or to go upstream to reach the orangutan research station at Mentoko (150.000 Rp), which has the best trail-system in the park, and offers the best chances to see orangutans, hornbills, pheasants, etc. You may see these from the boat itself! If you want guides (not compulsory here), they cost 50.000/day here, too. Bring your food to any of the above places except Sangatta.

Wanariset (East Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo)
Now, if you found my comments on the above places disheartening, here is something different!
Having learned from previous mistakes, this new centre was set up by The Orangutan Conservancy (known in the rest of the world by its original name, BOS) with a radically different approach. Here the well-being of the hundreds of orangutans cared for has the priority over their lucrative tourism potential.
Please note that to minimize exposure to human contact and possible infections, *Wanariset is off-limits to would-be visitors whether they wish to come as volunteers or as tourists*! Without a very convincing reason or some personal contacts, you can only see a visitor centre.
Another important difference is that the orangutans raised here are released into areas without existing wild populations, thus preventing any harmful impact.
Of course the exclusion of visitors means that this centre has a much lower profile among the public, but if a rehabilitation centre ever deserved support, this is the one!

By: Laszlo

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