Well prepared for the Orangutan this time
Afternoon at Sepilok, a time to let the tourists back in, and a time to watch Orangutans up close.
I met a Primate researcher who was working there and we discussed a little about the pro’s and con’s of tourists and the rehabilitation centers ability to run without them.
“Without tourists there’s no money,” she said as the crowds massed around the viewing platform. “But, it’s also not good for the orangutan’s to be so close to people.“
True words that in the 21st century of commercialism meant they were not so happy to have tourists there. Yet, on the other side they needed revenue from tourists, otherwise there would be no Sepilok.
How to get a front seat for a close up photograph at Sepilok
I returned to the corner seat that I’d been cherishing for 30 minutes. A front row seat as another long tether of tourists arrived.
Again I wondered about Africa and if the openness of it all had spoiled me. As thus far it seemed more like a human meeting place than rehabilitation center.
Then there was a gasp and the crowd parted near to me. An Italian lady froze to the spot and kept repeating something that obviously wanted to come out of her read end.
Mercifully her partner pulled her to the side as a mother orangutan walked up onto the seats right beside me.
Bashful looks, and accusations
Almost with a bashful look of having arrived too early she sat for a second, rubbed her face and turned to the wooden post beside her. All this to hide her face from view. Then, as if peeking out to see if we were all still staring she wiped her face with her hand again. Bit her lower lip and as if to say ‘now what‘.
Again the Italian woman noisily interfered in a mind-numbing way, breaking the silence and wonder of watching the mother Orangutan up close.
“I think this is the one that was biting my husband this morning!”
The crowd murmured and the mother orangutan bowed her head behind the wooden seat in front of her. The primate researcher I had been talking to spoke up to ask confirmation about the Italian woman’s accusation. Her husband shook his head and it became apparent that there had been no biting. Only a “sighting.”
Again the husband pulled his wife further away from everything, much like her mind.
Face to face with a beautiful face
The female orangutan once again peered out from behind the wooden seat. She looked briefly behind her. Then over to the empty feeding platform, before briefly locking eyes with me as I sat there only a few feet from her. Never expecting to get this close, I had a zoom lens on. Utterly useless this close up. I fumbled with the idea of capturing a moment on camera, or just soaking this feeling in.
I took a gamble and did a lens change without looking down. And, just as I completed the action. Our eyes met again.
“A ten second gaze of wonder … at least on my part.”
It’s not often you get to look into the eyes of something/one that’s 99% like you, yet a world apart. (the Italian lady might be an exception).
Learn from your travel lessons
Once the feeding was over the crowd scattered. But something I’ve learned in my travels is to always wait around until the show is taken down and truly packed up. Or you are kicked out. And, it didn’t fail again here.
The majority gone, the mother orangutan made her way back onto the viewing platform en route to the other side of the forest. Our paths crossed once again as it was also my route back.
A sole volunteer tried to keep the 10 or so remaining tourists and their cameras from getting too close.
“No flash please!” she repeated.
Two Korean ladies who I know understood this, showed complete human idiotic behavior and from 3 feet away flashed their cameras into the Orangutans face.
Death to the tourist
If the mother orangutan had ripped the Koreans in two I wouldn’t have blamed her. And, she had the strength to do so. While docile in appearance, when Orangutans move they can really move quickly.
Still not content with the obvious; one of the Korean ladies once again showed her intelligence and reached out trying to touch the orangutan mother. Her friend readied herself with excited coos for another flash photograph.
Thankfully a volunteer got to her first and lashed out with a slap across her arm.
An Australian verbally berated the Koreans as possibly having missed out on Darwin’s theory, but in a much cruder way.
I pushed up, and blocked their view with the PhD researcher. The two Koreans squawked to each other and moved on. Silence soon followed.
“They’ll probably try to sue us,” muttered the researcher. She sighed, and went off to follow them to the office.
Following the Queen Orangutan
The mother orangutan walked along the wooden walkway railing again, then slipped down into the foliage. The remaining tourists left and I was alone. Or so I thought.
A little further on I looked down and there in a flatten spot of fallen leaves was the mother orangutan. She’d come across some berries to eat. She stared over again and I wondered what she was thinking, if anything.
Food, territory, or simply thank goodness the Korean apes were gone.
Strangely enough, I was thinking that I too has hungry, needed a home, and was also relived there was no one else around.
A few minutes passed and I felt very grateful.
Looking into the eyes of an Orangutan puts a lot in perspective, and won’t leave you
My camera down I simply looked on and thought of the simple, yet engaged life this creature with a personality has. And yes, I wanted to say person. Look into a primate like a chimpanzee or orangutan’s eyes and that is the feeling you get. Very different from a smaller primate. (or possibly Korean / Italian tourists on said day)
She looked up at the top of a the tree as a shaft of light shone through. Then over at some neighboring trees. Behind me I heard the clanking of a tourists boots on the walkway. Instead of watching her leave, I left first. It’s something you should do before all is spoiled by another horde of people.
It’s not everyday you get a one on one meeting with the queen of orangutans.
How to go beyond the travel channel or guidebook