In search of Sumatra’s Orangutans

Orangutans. They’re well ginger, well smart and their babies are well cute.

There are without doubt many other animals which are equally as magnificent, some perhaps more so, which we would dearly love to see in the wild one day, but most of these – Lions, Tigers, Rhinos, African Mountain Gorillas – well, they’re all a bit dangerous.

Whilst you would never want to get too close to an Orangutan, at least you know it’s not ever going to eat you. So not only are they amazing, incredible, magnificent wild animals, but they’re also relatively friendly. Which is always a bonus.

We’ve loved them ever since we first set eyes on them three and a half years ago in Borneo. This summer it was time to go back and see them, this time in the “wilds” of the Sumatran rainforest.

The “wilds” of the Sumatran rainforest would perhaps be an over exaggeration on our part, for we stayed in a small backpacker village, well established on the tourist trail, called “Bukit Lawang”. This village, situated a two and a half hour drive outside of Medan, is the gateway to the Gunung Leusser National Park, which is over 100km long, and 150km wide. It is one of the last relative safe-havens for Orangutans in Indonesia.

Bukit Lawang had an extremely rustic feel to it, there was a lot of basic development geared towards western backpackers, but there were very few tourists it seemed. We couldn’t, and still can’t quite work out, if Bukit Lawang has had its heyday, or if it’s always been like that.

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Anyway, the main attraction here is a trip into the jungle to see the Orangutans and other wildlife. Having just completed a busy term at work, and having been stricken down by a cold on our first day in Indonesia, we didn’t fancy undertaking a two or three-day jungle trek, sleeping rough in the jungle. We’ve done that before, and whilst it was an amazing experience, we’re getting a little older now, and are starting to enjoy some of our creature comforts a little more.

In the end, we settled on a one day trek, with a local guide named Wisnu. Every guide we met was at pains to state that there was absolutely no guarantee we’d see any Orangutans, and warned us there was a decent chance we wouldn’t. Fortunately for us, two (plus one baby) came down for the morning feeding. We then trudged up and down hillsides and dense jungle for several hours, until we stumbled across Mina, the most famous, and apparently most aggressive of the local Orangutans. She was just hanging out in a tree with her teenage daughter. After thirty minutes or so of “Orangutan watching”, which consisted of us watch Orangutans sit on a branch, munching leaves, (it was far more exciting than that) we decided to head back to the village.

As we started to walk away, Mina climbed down to ground level, and started walking towards us. When Orangutans are high up in the trees, they don’t look so big. When they’re walking towards you on all fours, mere metres away, they’re bloody massive. I’d certainly never want to fight one (besides, why would anyone?!). Anyhow, Mina, her teenage daughter, and then some more of her friends came to join us, and we ended up spending close to an hour having this amazing Orangutan love-in; just Amelia, myself and Wisnu – all alone in the jungle, hanging out with the kings of the Sumatran jungle.

What a fabulous start to our five and a half weeks in Indonesia.

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