Saturday, October 2, 2010
Borneo: Land of Orangutangs, and much more!
As it turns out, I did not go at the best time to see orangs in the wild because it was "fruiting season," and when fruit is available widely, the animals are widely dispersed and it is harder to see them. It's also a year when trees that fruit only every few years were fruiting, so that means even more choice for the animals. I did see a large male in the wild, but only one. The rest of the orangutangs I saw were in sanctuaries. The sanctuaries are not like zoos, they are simply protected areas of natural habitat, but they contain feeding platforms and the orangs are given two meals a day on the platforms. The orangs are orphans which are being rehabilitated, and all of the orangs you can view have been released into the sanctuary and they forage for food naturally, but have the supplement of the feeding platform when they need it. They are not caged and are free to leave anytime. As a result, some feedings only one or two young orangutangs may show up, and other times, 10 or more, it all depends on how available food is in the forest. Whether to appear is completely the orangutangs option, which is nice. However, I much prefer seeing animals in a completely natural habitat, not habituated to humans, and since I only saw one orangutang under those conditions, I would like to head back sometime, in April when my chances are better for seeing wild animals.
I was a bit concerned about three things this trip - none of which proved to be a real problem. First, scorpions. I have heard some stories of people getting stung, and while I generally do not fear snakes when traveling as I know they will move off, I don't know enough about scorpions and I did not want to get a nasty bite in a remote area....but I only saw one, and it was already dead of natural causes.
I was also concerned with getting terrestrial leeches, which I was told was basically "guaranteed." They are very plentiful int he forests and there are two kinds - brown leeches and tiger leeches. While I did encounter leeches, I was lucky enough to get all of them off of me before they attached, so I never had to go through the detaching or bleeding process. There were a number of close calls - but I made it! And, the truth is, leeches are a gross out factor not a real danger or health hazard, so even if I got them I would have gotten over it.
The third concern was traveling in a largely Muslim area of the world as an American. While I personally do not have anything against Muslims, I am well aware that there has been a lot of anti-Muslim hysteria post 9/11 and I could easily see Muslims resenting that view and resenting being blamed for the actions of a few nutball extremists. Certainly the average Christian does not get blamed for the acts of the extreme right wingers who shoot doctors who perform abortions, yet for some reason, many people blame Muslims for the acts of the extremists who acted on 9/11. I was angry that two days before my trip the fruitball in Florida was planning the stupendously stupid Koran burning stunt...which though canceled, was yet another insult to Muslims. In the Bush administration, I had some uncomfortable moments holding the American passport at various checkpoints and I had some concerns about what it would be like to travel in a country that is largely Muslim in this era of fear and prejudice, particularly since I am female and traveling alone.
I had absolutely no problem whatsoever with the Muslim population, and I think any discomfort I had at holding the American passport was largely my own fear and guilt/embarrassment about the actions of other Americans towards non-extreme Muslims. I did have a strange encounter with a young Muslim couple who wanted to have their photo taken with me (I don't understand why at all, but it was a harmless request and the young woman was so excited about it that I didn't have the heart to refuse her request - spoken in tentative English). However, that was more amusing than anything else. I do not envy the Muslim women their headscarves in that super hot climate, and it was definitely different to have everyone at airport security be a Muslim woman in a police uniform with a headscarf, but hey, different is part of the fun of travel.
In the days to come I will put up pictures of the wildlife I saw, with the caveat that the photography conditions were overall not great! The humidity was near 100%, which can cause fog in the lens. There were rainstorms, some of which doused the cameras despite my best efforts. The lighting when we saw animals was often bad, the animals move quickly, and often we were in a boat or on a platform that was constantly moving, causing most of the photos to be out of focus. I did my best, and hopefully got a few good photos along the way, despite my cameras quitting on me now and then!
This starter photo is a young orangutan at the Sepilok sanctuary.