Photography Projects - Orangutans in Indonesian Borneo images by Jackie Peers
How it started for me.... Baby orangutans have four dexterous limbs. I know this because within moments of entering the orphan "pondok" at the Orangutan Care centre, in Southern Borneo. I had young primates climbing up my legs, crawling over my back and grabbing my camera. Their favourite method of identifying me was to twist my hair around their fingers and remove it from my scalp. No wonder volunteers are not normally allowed any direct contact with the orangutans.
I was there at the invitation of Sai Kung resident Mara McCaffery, who founded the Orangutan Aid society in Hong Kong in 2009 to raise money for the centre. She fell under the orangutans' spell after visiting Borneo in 1996. "Man's greed and inhumanity are the fundamental reasons that orangutans are on the brink of extinction, bit it is also within our power to save them" she says.
She spends a month each year at the centre in Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo, supplying hands on care to the orphaned orangutans, delivering funds and making sure the money raised is put to best use. I went with her to take pictures for the Orangutan Aid website, allowing me privileged access to the young orangutans
I befriended the two babies, Cri and Douglas, both around a year old still in nappies an in need of constant attention. They were my introduction to the orangutan world an its surprisingly human-like behaviour: orangutan translates literally as "person of the forest". Wild orangutan infants don't leave their mother's grasp for about two year, or their presence for seven years, which makes it easy to understand the intensity of their needs.
There are 350 Orangutans orphans at the Care centre, which is part of the Camp Leakey Orangutan Research Centre. Some are former pets - either confiscated or voluntarily handed over - others were rescued from plantations or fires. Of these, 60 live in the nursery pondock.
As with any household filled with children, there have to be systems in place. In addition to daily trips to the baby forest, the seven permanent staff spend much of their day in food preparation and feeding, cleaning and health care for the orangutans, some of whom live at the centre for up to eight years before being reintroduced to the wild. I was impressed at how ingenious the local women were at devising stimulation and entertainment for the youngsters, with a minimum of materials. They gave the youngsters branches and baskets to create their own "nests", hid food inside handmade rattan balls, and tied towels together to make a swing.
In order to get a feel for where orangutans should be living in the wild, Mara and I made a short visit along the river to the Tanjung Puting National Park, and Camp Leakey, where Canadian primatologist Birute Galdikas - set up the Orangutan Research Centre nearly 40 years ago. Following in the footsteps of Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey, Galdikas is sometimes referred to as the third of Dr Louis Leakey's angels. She has contributed much to the current understanding of orangutan behaviour. It was her book "Reflections of Eden- My Life with the Orangutans of Borneo", that inspired Mara to visit Camp Leakey and to set up Orangutan Aid in 2009.
Camp Leakey is open to visitors, and it was an amazing sight to see the fully grown males and the females up in the trees with their young ones firmly clutched to their sides as they should be. Orangutans have a slow reproductive rate, often producing only three offspring in a lifetime. Which doesn't help there predicament.
There are an estimated 40,000 - 60,000 orangutans left in Borneo, putting them on the endangered list. Logging, uncontrolled wildfires and, primarily, palm oil plantations are destroying their rainforest habitat. Mining and road construction is fragmenting the rainforest, making human contact had to avoid, and poaching for the wild animal trade or bushmeat is common. This wanton destruction is the orangutans' tragedy: if we don't do something, their may be no wilderness left for Cri and Douglas to be returned to. By doing these tours I would like to introduce you to a very special world, and increase the awareness of the loss of habitat for these wonderful animals. I would like to see Cri and Douglas return to their natural home.
My abiding impression was just how human-like they are in their behaviour.