It still is a bit bizarre to think that we are finally here! – And it also is scary and a bit sad. For the last year we could get overly excited about the fact that we will be going to Borneo to volunteer in an Orangutan sanctuary for one month. Now we are here and you will possibly hear more than enough about it during the next month, but what happens than? Well, I guess we will see ?.
We and 7 other volunteers arrived in Balikpapan and made our way to Samboja Lestari. The sanctuary is run by the BOS foundation and the lodge also provides space for tourists. Since Balikpapan is not really a very touristy place and the sanctuary has a strict “no contact” rule numbers of tourists are rather small. Possibly tourists prefer to go to places, where they have tame orangutans that are happy to get a cuddle. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t mind a cuddle with the man of the forest, but fully support the rules here, since it’s all about releasing as many orangutans back into the wild as possible and preventing them to get sick. They are such close relatives, and can easily catch our diseases, but with possibly more severe outcomes. And you should never forget, they are wild and they are strong, so they can do some damage, if they get a chance.
Kate from “The Great Projects” is looking after us, explaining how this place works and how we will be helping during the next few weeks. Her enthusiasm is infectious and it all sounds pretty amazing. The jobs we are going to do are not glamorous and will possibly be quite hard in the heat, but knowing that it will help to improve the welfare of the apes is so worth it (I might have to reconsider this statement after our first day of work ?)
When we arrived at the lodge yesterday we were greeted by one big male orangutan, called Bujang, who lives on one of the islands created here. With his long arms, the massive amount of long copper fur and the large flanges, he looked impressive. What a great start! Kate told us some of the stories why the orangutans are there, and in most cases it’s a heartbreaking one. I sometimes wonder what gives us humans the right to treat animals like this?
They currently have about 200 orangutans in the sanctuary. Some will hopefully be released soon, while others will never be able to go back into the forest again. These ones either have TB or were so badly injured that they would not be able to survive with the resulting disability. A lot of the orangutans in the sanctuary are orphans. For them to be released, it is required that they learn all the important things their mothers would have told them, like what or what not to eat, how to climb a tree and how to make a nest for the night. They learn these things in forest school ? Some are still to little for school and they are in the nursery. We were fortunate enough to visit them today on our tour through the sanctuary, but we’re only allowed to watch them from a distance (no cuddles). It’s a rule that whenever we are getting close to any of the orangutans, we need to wear surgical masks, to make sure we don’t pass any bugs on. They must have thought that we are really strange creatures.
I personally could have stayed at the nursery forever. Some of the little ones are true characters and up for any kind of mischief. They need to be watched all the time.
Some other baby orangutan are more fortunate, they are at the sanctuary with their mother and if the mother came from the wild, she can teach them what they need to know. They live on one of the islands, where they can roam around the bushes and have a good time.
It’s a bit difficult to explain the whole set up of the sanctuary, but I guess more aspects can be explained over the next 4 weeks.
For now, I’m sitting here and listen to the long calls from the big males and try to get the stupid grin off my face.