Sunday, 7 October 2012

Orangutans at home

I have long suspected it: my failure to ever capture a blur-free butterfly was a clue. Now, it is confirmed. I am a complete failure as a wildlife photographer. From now on I shall have to stick to gardens, scenery and other inanimate objects, and, given Onslow and Miss B are two of my very favourite subjects, continue to let sleeping dogs lie.

In all other respects, I am so privileged. Not only have I had the opportunity to spend nearly five months this year working in Indonesia, I have been able to visit some of its stunningly beautiful natural and historical sites.

One of my dreams for this visit was that I would have the chance to visit the jungles of Kalimantan (Borneo) and see orangutans in the wild, and finally, with only three weeks remaining of my time here, my friend Adri and I flew out of Jakarta last Saturday for Pangkalan Bun in Central Kalimantan. Just over an hour later, we had arrived at the airport, met up with our guide, and were on our way to the riverside port of Kumai to board our klotok for our journey up the Sungai Sekonyer to Tanjung Puting National Park.

View of another klotok , very similar to ours, from the deck

 This was our first glimpse of an orangutan's evening nest.

In the  initial stages of our journey, palms bordered the riverbank. As we got deeper into the forest, this changed to pandanus.

A fisherman pulling in his nets

First sighting of a probiscus monkey

We had fabulous meals on board. This was lunch on Day One: spicy prawns, tofu, stir fried vegies, steamed rice, a nice hot chilli sambal on the side for me, and watermelon for afters.

Reclining in the boudoir after being woken by the birds and the eerie calls of the gibbon

At Camp One on Day One

Beautiful mosses on the forest floor

Our escort to the feeding area

Yani, the dominant male 



The upper reaches of the river were as clear and black as obsidian. Were it not for the crocodiles, it would have been lovely to just slide into the water for a quick dip.

Our crew

This native gardenia grew along the riverbanks.

One of the 'neighbours'

Our captain

Day Two we arrived at Camp Leakey. This is our guide Bain.

Siswe, the dominant female and my nemesis, or rather the nemesis of my beautiful Helen Kaminski sun hat.

She was determined to remodel it to suit her own fashion sensibilities. First, gently remove the cord around the crown, then tear out the label inside.  I must admit it did rather suit her!

There were a couple of wild boars under the feeding platform scrounging for any dropped bananas.

A gibbon dropped by to share in the bounty

Bracket fungus on the forest floor

Here I am with Adri and clutching firmly onto my retrieved hat

That face!

This is another beautiful fern, which emerges from flat brown sheaths

Definitely an adventure to remember for a lifetime, but it is also very sad to think how threatened these beautiful animals are by the loss of their habitat to illegal logging and palm oil plantations. If you are interested in seeing more, there is a great documentary 'Final chance to save the orangutans' with the wonderful Joanna Lumley, who actually traveled on the very same klotok as us on her visit.


  1. Thank you taking your wonderful pictures allowing me a glimpse in a beautiful world. What a great trip!

    1. I really was blessed, Gisela. I had great company, good weather, not too many other tourists, and got to see these beautiful creatures up close.

  2. Wow, what an amazing experience this must be! And as for wildlife photography, my best tip is to keep taking photos, lots of photos - that's the only way to get experience. Besides, there are two kind of wildlife photography, carefully planned and simply just being there at the right time and pressing the shutter :-)

    1. Practice it is ... and I think a visit to the optometrist might be in order too. I'm long sighted and can see the animals perfectly in the distance, but can't see a thing in the camera's monitor. I can usually get by using auto-focus, but with animals in motion and lots of trees, it's no help.

  3. oh what a lovely trip, I went with my daughters to Malaysian Borneo and saw the Orangutans, and found it such a moving experience. Sleeping on that boat must have been rather special... Your photos are just lovely, thanks for sharing them..

    1. When I visited Malaysia my holiday budget wouldn't stretch quite as far as Borneo, so I was incredibly lucky to get the chance again. I had my doubts initially about sleeping on the boat - more for the bathroom than the sleeping arrangements - but it was wonderful.

  4. I agree - thanks for sharing the photos and explaining everything so clearly. I'm glad I read the blog and didn't just stick to seeing the photos you put on Facebook last week. Can't believe you've only got 3 weeks left before you have to return to Oz!

    1. I can hardly believe it myself, Cathy. At the moment it looks like I'll be home within a day or two of the 22nd.

  5. Marisa thanks for taking me along on another wonderful trip with lots of detailed photos....I enjoyed it.
    I think your "wildlife" photos are super, you did a great job.
    I may be willing to take one of those orangutans in exchange for my nemesis Brazen, who has made poor Brownie hurt his other hind leg over the weekend.
    Glad you got your redesigned hat back...

    1. I was actually thinking of your 'Brazen' when I was there. Fortunately, the orangutans were well behaved, although our guide Bain had earlier shown me a scar on his leg he received when he tried to retrieve another client's backpack. I was sure my hat wasn't worth that, but it has survived the tug of war remarkably well. Perhaps I can get a lifetime supply in return for my endorsement!

  6. I think your photos are great, esp Siswe in your hat. What a wonderful experience.

  7. I should probably have included the epilogue to the Siswe encounter. I searched in my backpack for something to trade for my hat and inadvertently rustled a lolly paper. Siswe rushed at me, Bain the guide shouted 'run', so run I did, Forrest Gump had nothing on me, especially as Bain had already shown me the bite scars he got when retrieving a client's backpack and told me that Siswe had attitude. Adri is still laughing and whispers ‘Run Forrest run’ every so often to keep herself amused!

  8. Hi Marisa.

    I am Bain, I hope you remember me.
    Love to see you again. How are you?
    I hope you coming back again one day to see mores orangutan in nature habitat.
    Thank you so much for everything.
    This is my new job.., just to let you know.
    I am make a website for the tour in Tanjung puting national park central Kalimantan, Borneo Indonesia.
    Have you visit my website please.
    My email address:

    Thank you so much
    Great time to you




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