Sunday, August 09, 2009

Men of the forest

The village of Bukit Lawang, close to Medan in Northern Sumatra is famous for its orang-utan rehabilitation center. However, the Bohorok rehabilitation center is not operating any more in its old function but people continue to care for about 30 semi-wild apes living in its vicinity.

Young orang-utans are often kept as pets and once grown up most ‘owners’ don’t know what to do with them. In the last three decades in Indonesia an estimated 2,000 orang-utans have been confiscated or turned in by private owners to rehabilitation camps. In rehabilitation centers orphaned organ-utans have to relearn skills to survive alone in the forest.

Orang-utans are the largest apes living in trees and the only apes living outside of Africa. The word orang-utan derives from Malay and means person of the forest and explains very well how close these apes are to humans. Some recent research is even suggesting that orang-utans are closer related to humans than chimpanzees. By observing these forest people and how they interact with us many similarities become obvious. Many of the orang-utans are only a few kilometers away and some of the usual suspects can be found within 3-4 hours time.

Orang-utans give birth in their nests high up in trees after nine months. The reproduction rate is slower than humans as they give birth only every 5-7 years after the offspring is able to live on its own. Suma standing below is in her seventh month.

Sandra with her killing eye lashes (click on the picture below) eating one of our rambutans.
No make-up needed...Baby orang-utan playing in the trees.

We visited Bukit Lawang in 1992 for the first time but the cottage we stayed in before was washed away when a flash flood hit the town on 2 November 2003 causing more than 200 (human) deaths. The river is now a bit tamed around town. Gone are the times when people could jump into the water right next to their cottages…

In Bukit Lawang day trips and week-long trips can be booked, some may even bring people closer to the rhinos and tigers which also could be found in Leuser National Park.

Bukit Lawang, Sumatra, August 2009.

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