On Saturday we went to the Semenggoh Orang-utan rehabilitation centre. I was so excited to see an endangered species that I almost exploded in a fountain of glitter! There are only 20-27,000 orang-utan left in the wild and 18 of them live here; one big male (you'd think he was the boss but his wife, Delima, definitely wears the trousers in that household!) another younger male, six females and ten youngsters.
The great thing about the centre is that it is enclosed to keep poachers out but the orang-utan are free to come and go as they please so a lot of their time is spent out in the wild. They just come in for feeding times at 9am and 3pm and visitors are allowed in for two hours around both feeding times - the gates are closed the rest of the time. It only costs 3 ringgit to get in (about 60p) - I would have happily paid more for what was one of the most memorable experiences of my life.
We got there in time for their afternoon feed and after waiting for what seemed like forever, there was a sudden rustle in the tree tops as a mum and her baby started to scope out what was on offer. Not long after, another lone orang-utan started to make his way down - swinging through vines and hanging upside down to get a good look at us all. Soon there was another mum and baby and two more juveniles.
The rangers warned us all to be very careful - although they look very docile mums can be very protective when there are children around, and have been known to attack humans for getting too close. They will even attack you for a bottle of water so you have to keep everything out of their sight in your bag. Delima is the most dangerous - far worse than the big male. Her nickname is Hot Momma because of her fiery temper. I got to talk to one of the rangers and he showed me his hands - only nine and a half fingers, others had whole fingers bitten off!
I was surprised how much like human mums they were - giving kisses and cuddles, holding out coconuts for the babies to drink from, teaching them to climb and even telling them off when they got out of hand. One of the babies was getting a bit giddy and showing off to his audience by sitting on a bendy tree branch and catapulting himself on to his mum's head - she let him get away with it a couple of times but then gave him a clip round the ear when she got fed up!
The ranger explained that the babies will stay with their mums until they are about four years old, sometimes eight (depending how much the mum loves them) and will be full grown by 15 years old when they will start to have babies of their own. Delima is an experienced 27 year old mum.
As I was leaving the centre, I couldn't quite believe what I had just seen. I feel so privileged to have seen these beautiful, sensitive creatures in their own habitat instead of behind bars in a zoo. Not many people will get that opportunity, I can only hope that the work of centres like this one will continue to help increase the numbers and the orang-utan manage to fight their way off the endangered list.
Yesterday we went by boat to Bako National Park to see another endangered species - the proboscis (or big nosed) monkey. They are only able to survive in Borneo in what is an ever shrinking environment due to deforestation. There are only 3000 left in the wild and I was lucky enough to see five of them.
They often come down to the beach and forage in the mangrove swamps but we only managed to see them high up in the trees.
They are a truly strange creature - their big floppy nose is not used for smelling, but for amplifying their call to attract a mate. They have developed webbed hands and feet to become the worlds best primate swimmer, allowing them to make a speedy getaway when they see a crocodile - they often dive out of the trees and belly flop strait into the water.
I desperately wanted to get a good look at one and to have seen one on the beach but just seeing them swinging through the canopy and dozing in the trees was an experience in itself.
The island is also home to lots of wild boar, silver monkeys and various rare birds and flowers. There are a number of different treks of varying lengths but walking through the jungle is like doing star jumps in a sauna - pretty horrible!
As we were about to board the return boat, thunder started to rumble in the distance. Half way back, they sky turned black, lit only by flashes of lightning. The rain was so heavy that you couldn't see your hand in front of your face, waves were crashing high around us and coming right over the front of the boat, the driver made us come and hide in the back. By the time we got back to the port,we looked like we'd swum back - my boots were full of water and were still wet this morning!
Location:Kuching, Borneo, Malaysia