In the rainforest on Borneo

Andy and the orangutans

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It starts with a rustling. A rustling that pervades this incomparable rainforest permanent sound of chirping, splashing and chirping for a short time.

Treetops fluctuate threateningly, something, someone comes right up to us. Then I see her. An orangutan female with her offspring. On ropes, the mother cleverly climbs into the feeding area with all four limbs, while her baby clings to her back. Quickly she fuses a bundle of bananas, a few fruits are consumed on the spot, and the two are already gone in the eternal green. There, a rocking, treetops strive apart. A three-way team of mother, baby and young monkey approaches from the other side to quickly serve the fruit buffet. Caution is advised. There could be an aggressive male nearby that could be dangerous to the offspring or even the female. Basically, the imposing apes tend to be loners. Mostly they meet only for mating purposes. The peaceful females also keep it together for longer, while encounters between male conspecifics usually run hostile.

Once established in sprawling areas of Southeast Asia, orangutans live in the wild only on Borneo and Sumatra. Like here in the Semenggoh Reserve, outside Kuching, in Sarawak. Where the orangutans are almost half wild. For the past 20 years, young orphaned orangutans or animals from captivity have become used to a life in the rainforest in the Nature Reserve. There is now a healthy population of about 2,000 apes living in the wild and only occasionally stopping by the feeding station for a free snack. Animals that have recently been released are more common. Feeding times are daily at 9 o'clock in the morning and 15 o'clock in the afternoon. For this purpose, visitors are welcome in the reserve, otherwise the animals enjoy undisturbed peace. The chances of seeing some of the great apes are very good, although of course no guarantees are given.

The head of the Semenggoh Reserve is called Ritchie and is thus virtually my namesake, which makes me spontaneous sympathetic. The "Big Boss" is already 37 years old and with its nearly 100 kilograms live weight an impressive appearance. But lately he's getting competition. The younger Edwin is out for his status. Wild territorial battles have already seen the Rangers, where Edwin has already lost a finger. With a soon victory of the younger and the subsequent banishment of the old boss, will be expected shortly. Yes, nature can be cruel too.

The care and protection in the reserve are exemplary, but also in Malaysia and Indonesia , the habitats of great apes are threatened massively. Above all, the strong demand for palm oil endangers the orangutan population. Both nations are among the main producers of this product.

But not only the habitats of our next animal relatives are in danger, even human habitats often have to give way to progress, or palm oil and the timber industry. This is where Andy comes in, a man who impresses me after our encounter. Andy is in his late 50s and does not really mean Andy. Like many Malaysians, Andy carries a western personal name in addition to his Malaysian. I did not understand exactly how this system works. Apparently, this name can be chosen freely, or is already selected by the parents. Andy himself is one of the indigenous people of Borneo, which is summarized under the collective term Dayak and made up of more than 100 different tribes, with their own > The Cultural Village Sarawak has received many awards and is dignified with the indigenous heritage of Sarawak, apart from the Cultural Show, which reminds me a little too much of Amusement Park. Last year even Prince Charles and Camilla were guests. But how does it have to be for Andy to guide tourists through the ruins of his childhood? Despite all my fascination, I can not put aside this idea. Andy's kids do not like the rainforest and simple life there anymore, they find it boring and do not want to give up comfort and the Internet. I ask Andy if there are many tribesmen who have adaptation problems to the new way of life, and yes, they abound. Alcohol abuse and glue sniffing are the answer. Of course, the history of colonialism in Borneo is centuries old, and the tribes were never left in peace, whether by Brunei sultans, the Brooke dynasty, the English or the Dutch. But the massive deforestation of the rainforest, which is hardly controlled by states, changes the land sustainably for humans and animals. After the complete clearing of the jungle, huge monocultures of palm oil plantations are created here. It is to be hoped that the massive national and international criticism of this industry will lead to a reluctance and rethink.

You can still experience the indescribable beauty of the rainforest, for example in Bako National Park, the oldest national park in Sarawak. It is located north of Kuching, on a 27 square kilometer peninsula on the South China Sea. The park can only be reached by boat, more precisely, by means of a daring 20-minute crossing in a tiny wooden barge. I'm there in the rainy season, the water is high, the waves are strong. The driver is banging on stilts with a murderous pace at colorful wooden huts, the water is very brown from all the silt that the river that travels at this time of year transports directly into the open sea. That's really bumpy, but it's really fun. Already at the pier there is a warning sign in front of crocodiles who can lurk everywhere. So hands better not dangle in the water. In the park, 16 different trekking routes await visitors, along with a ranger station, which is also the only supply facility around which the lodges are surrounded. Anyone who wants can stay for several days and explore the rainforest at night. The flora and fauna is enormously versatile. Thus the nature park covers five different vegetation zones. Grasses and bushes, mangrove forest, swamp forest, lowland jungle and high plateau forests can be hiked. With open eyes and especially thanks to Andy's targeted tracker look I see on our hike funny boars, cheeky little macaques, a sleeping flying squirrel, lizards, crabs and as an absolute highlight the legendary proboscis monkeys, which are only here on Borneo. With the oversized, pear-shaped nose, which however only the males possess, the long tail and the ball-round belly, they offer a very curious sight. The proboscis live in the lower mangrove forests, not far from the water. The chances to see the diurnal forest dwellers in the Bako National Park are therefore not bad, especially near the water. "There, you look" - Andy's typical announcement when there is something to see. He points to a bush, not a meter away from me. I look and see nothing, then I discover, full of showers, a grass green viper. I'm really scared of snakes. When asked about the toxicity of the Viper, Andy tells me she is extremely dangerous. Depending on where they bite, a few minutes to hours remain until death. In case of a bite, Andy adds nonchalantly, in the best case one should behead the snake and take it to the doctor, then chances are best to get the right remedy. But especially many people do not die of snakebites, the crocodiles are far more dangerous. Nevertheless, I do not pretend to touch anything and look very carefully at my path.

The visit of the crazy green, steaming, fragrant, buzzing rain forest touches me and leaves me happy and moved back. I sincerely hope that the many efforts of animal and species conservationists will be successful and that this incredible patch of earth will continue to be valued, nurtured and cared for. Andy, I wish many nice, relaxed tourists, especially from Germany, so that he can refine his >

Many thanks to Tourism Malaysia for the invitation.

Semenggoh Nature Reserve
Sarawak Cultural Village
Bako National Park

  1. Hello Ricarda, thanks for the fine report! can you give me the contact of Andy? I'm in Borneo in April and looking for a nice guide.
    Love from
    Tanja

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