Finding Orangutans in Malaysia

Several months before we arrived in Malaysia we watched a documentary about the studies that were being done with the Orangutans at Camp Leakey in Malaysia. We were so impressed by their studies and the work the organization was doing to save and protect these amazing animals. We then realized that we would be in that area and started looking for a tour company that would assist us in our quest to visit Camp Leakey. We came across the website for Orangutan Days travel company and it looked perfect. They offered 3, 5, and 7 day trips along the Kumai River to visit the orangutans at the feeding stations and to trek along the jungle trails to see the them in the wild.

Getting to Pangkalan Bun, Indonesia

From Thailand, the trip was relatively easy but still took 24 hours to get to our orangutan adventure starting point. We flew from Bangkok to Jakarta (not my favorite city) where we had to spend the night. The next morning we flew from Jakarta, Indonesia to Pangkalan Bun, Malaysia and arrived at the Iskandar Airport. We were promptly picked up by our guide who took us to Kumai Harbour to journey to Tanjung Puting National Park.

Tanjung Puting National Park is located in the SW corner of Borneo.

Our home for the week was a two story wooden boat complete with a guide, cook and boatman. We slept, lived and ate on the top floor, the staff on the bottom floor. The shared shower and bathroom were on the main floor and the kitchen was at the back of the boat. Frequently, we would see the cook fishing off the back of the boat for our dinner. Being on the top of the boat gave us great views of the jungle around us.

Our home on the Brown River for the week.

Floating down the Kumai River, we came across a wide variety of plants and animals. The first group of monkeys we spotted were the proboscis monkeys. They hang out in large family groups and watching them “fly” from one tree to another was unbelievable. They are also very loud and frequently fight amongst themselves.

Proboscis monkeys were everywhere.
Young male without his fully developed nose.
Juvenile
Don’t let their cute features fool you, these Macaque Monkeys are lightening fast when there is food on the table.

Tanjung Puting National Park is home to Camp Leakey where their studies range from orangutan, proboscis monkey, gibbon and leaf-eating monkey behavior. You might have seen the video of their studies with the orangutan and their ability to learn and use sign language.

Each day we would arrive at a different dock to begin our walk thru the forest. In this National Park you must have a guide and you cannot touch the animals. Many of the orangutans in the park were once owned by humans who thought they could provide a “home” in their home for these animals. Sadly, this doesn’t work out and Malaysia has provided this National Park to take in orangutans that were once held captive. Therefore, the Rangers feed the Orangutans several times a week on special feeding platforms. As we walked through the jungle to see them feeding at special allotted times, you see the orangutans in the trees and walking along the paths that we are walking. There is a mix of previously captive, semi-wild and wild. The guides keep you a safe distance away – remember, their strength is very different than ours.

Mother and baby at one of the feeding platforms.
When the Alpha Males are on the feeding platform, the juvenile males are cautious.
Baby hanging out.
This young male was waiting for the Rangers to get to the platform.
Just hanging around the forest watching.

On our treks to the feeding stations, the Rangers would be in front of us with their large bags of corn or bananas on their backs. Each Ranger had a specific song or call and they would start these calls as they headed down the trails to the platforms – generally a 1 – 2 mile walk. As they would call, the forest would come alive as the orangutans would start moving through the canopy of the jungle to get to the feeding stations. They would follow and watch as we would make our journey to the feeding platform.

Ranger with bananas heading to the feeding station.
Alpha male on the feeding platform. They stuff their cheeks with bananas and then start to eat. All other Orangutans are cautious until the Alpha eats.
Babies rarely leave the sides of their mothers for five years.
Another boat on the River journey to see the Orangutans.
Different types of pitcher plants are easily found in the forrest.
A local small village house along the river.
These large building are actually swift houses used to collect their birds nests for bird nest soups. A lucrative business in this area.
Planting trees to help keep the forest growing,

We had a great experience with Orangutan Days. Due to covid, I am not sure that they are still having tours but Yommie (company owner) is very quick to respond and will set you up on a trip when they become available.

Details:

Orangutan Days: https://orangutandays.id/home/ Email: KAMALE83@GMAIL.COM

We worked with the owner Yommie Kamale to plan our customized trip and he was quick and responsive. Remember, they are a 12 hours ahead of the US. We had to wire all of the funds before the trip, but we had no worries that everything was going to work out great. Our week long trip in 2018 was $300 pp and it included the boat, guide, cook, pickup and drop off at the Pangkalan Bun airport.

Camp Leakey Information: https://orangutan.org/our-projects/research/camp-leakey/

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