In September 1996, my mother, father and I shared a truly remarkable journey to "Camp Leakey" at the heart of Tanjung Puting National Park in the south of Kalimantan, Indonesia. This precious place is where a young Birute Galdikas arrived in 1971 under the mentorship of Prof. Louis Leakey, beginning 42 years of relentless endeavour to save the orangutans and their forests.
Without the work of Dr Galdikas and the Orangutan Foundation International and its supporters, this tiny peninsula of jungle would certainly be clear felled like the thousands of clear-felled hectares pressing at its boundaries. It is one of the last havens for the orangutans and the other species that share this wild jungle home, such as the proboscis monkey and toucan (read more about Dr Galdikas below).
Dr Galdikas is one of my heros and shining lights. When I question what we are doing at Biome or I struggle with the pressures of the competitive retail industry, I try to remember what she endured and achieved. How she dared to dream, lived her dream and helped our planet. We can't all devote our lives to such significant work in the wilds of Borneo, but we can do something to help the environment each day in the sphere over which we have control.
Avid readers of National Geographic Magazine, our family was drawn to primates and we hoped to see them up close one day. The opportunity came to visit Camp Leakey 17 years ago while I was working in Jakarta for a public relations firm. It was a time before the internet and mobile phones! I remember organising the trip via a chain of land-line phone calls and messages in broken Indonesian. There were no blogs to read the advice of other travellers. So when we hopped off the tiny plane that flew us to Pangkalan Bun, we had very little idea of the expdetition that lay ahead.
As in most jungles of the world, rivers are the highway and so we set off on a long narrow boat called a Klotok up a small tributary of the Kumai River. Our four crew were enthusiastic and entertaining hosts. For the next few days we lived a dream. We saw proboscis monkeys leaping from high branches to land as far as they could across the river and then swim like crazy to beat the crocodiles. We swam in the river at Camp Leakey so smitten by the adventure we forgot about the massive crocodile we saw sunning itself earlier. One gloriously serene night our boat was lit up by a galaxy of fire flies shining from the long river reeds all around us. And of course, we saw up close many orangutans of all ages, from playful orphans to a massive male with large cheek pads.
|Feeding time at one of the stations where young orphaned orangutans are reintroduced to the jungle.|
|Poking her or his tummy out for a tummy tickle from me - 17 years ago!|
|Hee, hee ... Spot the similarities!|
|Breakfast on the Klotok. One of our crew, Dad and I.|
As we now know so well, the orangutans' rainforest home is being destroyed for palm oil plantations and illegal logging. There are a number of amazing organisations fighting to protect them. Please consider volunteering your time to help them out or making a donation through sponsoring an orangutam.
Today, similar organutan tours to the one undertaken by us are run by the Orangutan Foundation International to raise vital funds to continue their work. Some include the absolute honour of being accompanied by Dr Galdikas!
This video captures some of what we saw. It was wonderful to come across this as we did not have any video memories of the trip.
About Dr Birute Galdikas
In 1971, Biruté Mary Galdikas and her then husband, photographer Rod Brindamour, arrived in one of the world’s last wild places, Tanjung Puting Reserve in Borneo. There were no telephones, roads, electricity, television, nor regular mail service. The reserve was being logged and the laws protecting wildlife were not enforced. The rhinoceros had already been hunted into extinction in the area. At this time, very little was known about orangutans in the wild. Before she left the U.S., she was told by her professors and others that it “couldn’t be done”; she wouldn’t be able to study orangutans in the wild. They were too elusive and wary, living almost entirely in deep swamps.
Before long, however, her hard work and determination had paid off. She set up “Camp Leakey,” named after her mentor and began documenting the ecology and behavior of the wild orangutans. Four years later, she wrote the cover article for National Geographic Magazine, bringing orangutans widespread international public attention for the first time. The article was illustrated with Brindamour’s photographs.
Camp Leakey is the site of the longest continuous study on any primate. She has also protected one of the last havens for orangutans in Borneo despite the tremendous pressures from illegal logging and mining interests. Read more of Dr Galdikas' life work and achievements for the orangutans