Still slightly tired from our jungle track, we are off to our next adventure. After one night in Medan we are finally heading East to go to Borneo. Six years ago we had spend one month in Samboja Lestari, an orangutan rescue centre, run by BOS (Borneo Orangutan Survival)-Foundation. We had a wonderful time there working as volunteers, helping to improve the well-being of the orangutans living in the station. We always said he would like to go back there and now, finally the time has come! When you go back to a place you only have very fond memories, there’s always a chance you might get disappointed, so I was a little bit nervous about what to expect coming back.
Obviously, with COVID-19 still being an issue worldwide, they need to to be extra careful with people coming here to work. After getting picked up from the airport in Balikpapan our first stop was a hospital to get our first Covid test done. After we got the „all clear“. We drove to the project site located ~50 km north-east of Balikpapan. Kate, the volunteer coordinator of the project run the „The Great Projects“, and Jess greeted the six new arrivals. We had met Kate six years ago and it was so good to see her again. We were shown to our rooms and got something to eat. Three other volunteers had already spent the last two weeks on the project. Tired of the long journey we all went to our rooms early eager to see the orangutans the next morning.
Finally the time had come for us to start our tour around the site and we would see the orangutans living on the islands. Our days is here always start early. At 7 am we all met up for breakfast and all the newbies are full of anticipation to meet our close “cousins” and get to see the place we will spend the next two weeks working. Samboja Lestari is situated in a re-planted rainforest. Compared it with the forest we saw 6 years ago, it has changed a lot. The trees are so much taller and the diversity of animals living here now has increased too. We saw a lot of monkeys during our tour (Long-tailed macaques as well as pig-tailed macaques) which I don’t recall seeing during our last visit. The sanctuary is currently the home of 125 orangutans. For some of them it will be their permanent home as they are either chronically ill or too old. Others will hopefully be released into the wild after they have learned all the required skills to survive in the jungle on their own.
Not just the state of the forest, but also a lot of other things have changed since our last visit. At the time there were only a few islands for the orangutans to live on but over the years the staff and volunteers managed to build a lot more. In total they now have 11 islands, six of them are the home for some of the „unreleasables“. Three are pre-release islands but they are currently empty and two new islands are in the process of being prepared for some of the orangutans which are currently still living in cages. We hopefully might get to work on them to help getting them ready. For the first five days we won’t be able to work in close proximity of the orangutans, but with a negative Covid PCR test carried out on day 5 we will be able to do all the required work.
This does not mean that we will not do anything during the first five days. Samboja is not only home for orangutans but also for 72 sun bears as described in our blog post from the previous visit. And during the first few days they will get most of our attention.