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The King and I

sunny 30 °C
View Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia 2008 on shinenyc's travel map.

15 hours, 150 small towns, 1500 villages and 15000 potholes later, I finally arrived at Pangkanlanbun at 3am. This is the gateway town for Tanjung Puting National Park where the famous Camp Leakey Orangutan Rehabitation Centre is located in south Kilimantan.


After all the sitting, I decided to find the police station in town for the letter I needed for the park permit, instead of hiring an ojec (motorbike taxi). I need to photocopy my visa but most of the fotocopy shops in town has no power at mid-day. I kept walking quite aimlessly on a large road until the large police station appeared on my right. A small fotocopy shops had a small line of people. I made my copy and was directed to a room where the park letter can be obtained. After 20 min, I obtained my letter from a friendly policeman.


My next stop is the park office. I kept walking in midday sun on the large road. 15...30...45 min... Finally after almost 5km, I reached the road lead off a traffic circle where the park office is supposed to locate. Once I walked inside the office and stated my purpose of coming, I saw surprising look on many faces. 'Why did you come by yourself?', Inten, a friendly officer asked me. Later, I realized that most tourists obtained their permits from their tour guide or agency. I ended up befriended and met up with Inten a few times.


After a few arrangements, I finally found a local guide from Kumai, Andy, who took me and two Holland couples in a Klotek into the park. I then find homestay at the village of Tanjung Harapin for less than what the Lonely Planet rate include three huge meals of mie goreng and nasi. We headed off the next day to visit the much anticipated Camp Leakey.


When my cek, motorized canoe, arrived at the pier, a mother orangutan with a baby and her young son was entertaining the tourists who were having lunch on their klotoks. I sat down with Andy with a glass of Nescafe in our hand. The mother orangutan wasted no time to come over and took Andy's glass, then finished mine tasty drink as well.


After registering with the camp officer, we started trekking in the forest behind the camp. I asked if Andy can locate Kusasi, the legendary orangutan king who ruled this area for over 10 years, the longest reign of any orangutan. Kusasi's mother was murdered when he was a baby. He was sold to someone in Kumai. Luckily, the new endangered specie was enacted in time and he was brought back to Camp Leakey when he was under 3.


While most orangutan babies seek human care at this age, Kusasi disappeared into the jungle and reappeared more than one and half year later at camp. No one knows how an orangutan at this young age can survive by himself in the dangerous jungle environment without any guidance. Once he returned to camp, Kusasi continued to refuse human contact but followed the dominant female orangutan as his adopted mom although she had never completely accepted him. He was expalled by her after her new baby was borned a few years later.

Alone again, Kusasi's strong determination to be on top enable him to climb up in rank and after increasing his hormone level and obtain his cheekpals, he began fighting off fellow males with brutal forces and ruled his territories with fear during the most devastating 10 years in Borneo current history. Behind his toughness, he also showed a tender side with his female and mated with all of them during his reign. Unfortunately, the great fire of Borneo in 1997 slowly forced male orangutans from other territories into the national park and this created great challenges Kusasi. Over 30, Kusasi braved his kingdom for as long as he could but was finally took over by Tom, the current ruler.


Andy, who is the oldest guides in the park, grew up watching Kusasi. He made the familiar call while we trekked. Fifteen minute later, I could not believe my eyes. The old king appeared in the trees only a few metres from us, almost oblivious to our presence, searching for termite nest in the ground. He continued while we watched patiently. After 15 minutes, I asked Andy if it is possible to give him the apple in my bag, a rather insignificant offering to the king. Andy agreed and gave my apple to Kusasi.


After finishing the apple, Kusasi slowly moved forward to closeby the trail where we are. Only a metre away from him, I can see that the once mighty king now has wounds on the lips, half-bitten ears, cut off finger and large incision on the forehead which he constantly touches, as if to ask us for help and welcome us to his home. Like an old man, Kusasi started yearning after playing host for another 10 minutes. Andy and I understandably said farewell and moved on. My brief encounter with Kusasi was a tremendously humbling experience.


Feeding time started around 2pm. Over 30 tourists crowded in front of the feeding table for the 'eating show' with cameras of all sorts. Numerous orangutans show up, mostly nursing mothers with babies. While I enjoyed watching their behavior interacting with each other, I could not help but felt uncomfortable with this setup. However, the fact is that these human care orangutans can never be completely wild because of the continue logging and destruction of their habitat.


Over a long conservation with a volunteer at the camp, I realized that there are currently over 300 orphans residing at a small and overcrowded centre in Pangkalanbun. Are we finally going to realize our selfishness and greed when this magnificent specie becomes extinct in 10 to 20 years?

Posted by shinenyc 02:44 Archived in Indonesia Tagged backpacking

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I thought I commented here. Maybe I sent you a message. Your photos are fantastic! An inspiration to anyone wanting to travel in this region!

One of the better blogs too. I like your style of travel, well done and keep it up!


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