Orangutans are primates, with whom we share 97% of our DNA. The term comes from the Indonesian words “orang” – “human” and “hutan” – “forest”. And now, the forest people need us to care.

If you observe how our ginger cousins communicate, raise their young, and build their communities, you are bound to find many similarities between us. However, it’s important to see them in their natural environment. After all, nobody is themselves behind bars. Orangutans live in just two places – the Borneo jungle (Indonesia, Malaysia), and Sumatra (Indonesia).

Where to See Orangutans

Despite the scarcity of wild orangutans, figuring out the best place to see them was challenging. As a result of extensive research and sheer luck, I finally scored two of the most wonderful places, where you can meet these fascinating human-like creatures.

I chose the Borneo jungle in Indonesia and received an exciting experience, as a reward. Compared to other parts of Indonesia, such as Bali, Borneo is not a popular tourist destination. However, just by going there, even if you do nothing else, you are helping the orangutans.  The more tourists show interest in the orangutans of Borneo, the more local efforts go into preserving our cousins.

Pematang Gadung, Ketapang province, Kalimantan island, Indonesia

If you see a huge difference between appreciating wildlife and going to the zoo, then this is the right place for you. It’s not even in guidebooks yet! What this spot lacks in rich grandmas, on board of luxury yachts, it more than makes up in other species. Here is one the best places to observe the ginger great apes, as well as find proboscis monkeys (they live only in Borneo), hundreds of birds and reptiles. During the dry season, you may even rub shoulders with the occasional alligator.

This place is not just some random monkey forest. Pematang Gadung is the face of hope. Here, humans and nature have returned to a harmonious coexistence. Thanks to an NGO, called International Animal Rescue, a fragile balance has been achieved. It is a positive model that the rest of Indonesia desperately needs.

Why Is Borneo Important?

The rainforests of Borneo, also known as the Earth’s lungs, are absolutely essential and irreplaceable. Because they act as air purifiers, these ancient trees have trapped an enormous amount of carbon dioxide in their trunks. When the trees are cut down, or even worse – burned, the toxic gasses they’ve been protecting us from, are released into the atmosphere. This leads to unfortunate events for us, humans, and all other beings. Or at least those beings who enjoy breathing. 

What’s Going on With the Rainforest?

Although it may seem logical and obvious that we should protect our rainforests, in reality, the exact opposite happens. In this region, palm plantations are popping up everywhere. Naturally, to make room for them and the buckets of money their owners get, something’s gotta give. And what might that be? Simple enough – the rainforest, the locals’ land and livelihood, our collective clean air, the freedom and lives of our orangutan cousins.

The People of Borneo

Because of the staggering corruption rates in Indonesia, in combination with a lack of education, many village communities fall prey to extortion and the large palm plantation companies get what they want. In exchange, the locals are left empty handed. Most people here survive primarily through farming and collecting the gifts of nature. If they are left with no land, they are livelihood is gone as well.

Palm Oil vs. Orangutans

On the other hand, orangutans are fragile creatures. Most of their lives are spent high up in the trees, and they give birth just once, every 7-8 years. When the jungle burns, to make room for palm plantations, orangutans not only lose their habitat but also literally burn alive. Their hair (great apes have hair, not fur) is coated in oil, which makes it extremely flammable. And so, orangutans get fatally trapped in the flames.

To end this viciousness, International Animal Rescue lent a helping hand to the people of Pematang Gadung, by teaching them how to keep their land and live better, through a long-term preservation plan, rather than instant destruction of the natural environment.

Because of the NGO’s social and sustainable campaigns, you can now visit the village, become a part of the locals’ daily life, share their food, and set off on an epic journey down the Great River.

An Indiana Jones Adventure

My inner Indiana Jones did the happy dance, as I sat at the edge of our wooden boat, my feet hung over the rail, and soaked up the jungle around us. When the river became too narrow for the boat, we continued our journey on a tiny canoe that licked the red waters, as we struggled to balance inside its shell. Our destination was the International Animal Rescue jungle camp – a house on stills, in the middle of the river, surrounded by tropical rainforest.

It feels like my memories will forever keep a snapshot of this wooden barrack that emerged before us. Despite being a simple structure, built by 5 guys in 10 days, to me, it was the most perfect place to have ever existed. So what if the only comforts are wooden planks when your heart opens up to all this beauty!

From this spot, we made a few trips into the jungle. We toppled through the muddy river, as the imminent rain season laid its first tantrums on us.

The Moment You See Orangutans

If you’d like to see free orangutans and other wild animals in their natural environment, you should be prepared that there are no guarantees. Neither for your comfort nor for what you’ll find. Wild orangutans fear humans and so catching a glimpse of them is challenging. But what makes those sightings so special, is precisely how heard you have to work for them and how excitedly you expect them. It seemed like my exhilarated heart would tear out of my chest and all I felt was joy. I was grateful that nature has granted us these beautiful cousins, and that there are still a few places left on Earth, where they can live in peace.

Apart from orangutans, the jungle and mangrove revealed many other wonders to us, including a few families of silly proboscis monkeys. These funny-looking creatures live in tightly knit communities and swing from branch to branch with surprising grace. 

By Going to Borneo, You Are Helping

As we trekked the jungle and river, our local guides reacted like excited little children, whenever we spotted something interesting. Orangutans caused pure delight. However, the people from International Animal Rescue told us that this wasn’t always the case. Now that local people see how they can earn money by preserving nature because foreign tourists want to come see it, an interest in sustainability has been cultivated. That is precisely why it is so important for us, as travelers, to visit these regions. Tourists are a powerful tool for protecting the rainforests of Borneo.

If you want to see orangutans in their natural habitat, you don’t necessarily have to traverse the jungle with a machete and sleep on wooden floors. If your style is more relaxed, and you prefer high-end adventures, other parts of Borneo offer a 5-star yacht journey. You can read about this experience, and the Taman Putting National Park, soon in Contrabond Blog. 

What do you think about the Borneo and its orangutans? Share in the comment section below.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column]