We were staying in Bukit Lawang, Northern Sumatra to see Orangutans. We were confident in sighting them as we were due to trek to a feeding station which provides food twice a day.
The night before, our guide Hans, joined us for a pre-dinner Bintang beer and told us all about the orangutan: orang meaning people and utan meaning the jungle. This was his story.
In Bukit Lawang some people make the orangutan in to a family pet and they can get sick with hepatitis and TB but the people don’t know how to care for them. Then a lady from Switzerland did research over twenty years ago about the Sumatran orangutan and said that people should give them back to the jungle. They collect the sick orangutan and give them medicine to make them better. Then they are let into the jungle and they become wild. At the feeding centre they feed them two times a day with banana, papaya and milk, inject them and free them into the jungle. The orangutan then understands how to get food and they become wild but if they don’t know how, they come back to the feeding platform, but eventually they become self-sufficient. Eventually they have children and these become wild and the population grows. The mother will take care of the baby for 6 or 7 years and then they turn it out. At night they make their nest high up in the tree to avoid predators of leopard but during the day, they make them lower. They stay for an hour or so and then move on. In Bukit Lawang we are in a national park and a protected one.
After dinner, we were joined by our trekking guide, Lex, who told us we needed to wear long trousers, shoes not flip flops and cover ourselves in insect repellent. Our itinerary had a 3 hour trek, but we were given the option of extending it to 6 hours (no thank you) or walking part way and tubing back (definitely no thank you). He warned us that orangutans hadn’t been seen at the feeding station for around a month and he gently warned us we may not be lucky enough to see one in the wild.
We met Lex and Hans at 8am and set off. It took us 30 minutes up steep steps to get to the entrance of the Gunung Leuser National Park. After a while we spotted the Thomas Leaf monkey (also known as Punky Monkey because it looks as though it has a Mohican). These are very friendly and Lex produced bananas from his rucksack which they grabbed from our hands.
We trekked on through the dense jungle on rutted, muddy paths until we were rewarded with the sight of a mother and one year old baby orangutan building a nest in the trees. There were lots of people, but our eyes were transfixed upwards and we were so engrossed in watching, we didn’t notice what was next to us.
After another fruitless hour, apart from an energy banana, we returned to the lodge, thankful our trek had not being in vain.