Tuesday, May 4, 2010
King of the Swingers
All day today I've been singing the song from The Jungle Book that the orangutan sings: "Now I'm the king of the swingers, yeah, the jungle VIP. . ."
Yup, more orangutans (did you know that it's officially spelled orang-utan and means "man of the forest"?). We went to Semenggoh Rehabilitation Centre this morning, and I saw a LOAD of these red-headed apes. They were much closer and more abundant than at the other sanctuary I went to up north. They were everywhere, in fact, and the rangers spent much of their time trying to chase them back up their trees to protect the visitors and reminding us people to "watch out" when the apes got too close.
They hung out at the feeding platforms some, but mostly they just hung out--just as curious about us as we were about them. At one point the alpha male (named Ritchie) lumbered onto the platform, sat his 250 pounds down, and began eating all the fruit. He is MUCH bigger than the other orangutans and has big cheek flanges that identify him as the leader. His hair is also about three times the length of the other apes. What a guy. When he finally left, he bent trees down left and right and even broke a few from his massive weight. Here he is climbing up a vine.
There were orangutans of all sizes--mothers, babies, juveniles, as well as the big daddy of them all. They seemed so comfortable and I got the feeling that if I had reached out my hand, they would have grabbed it. A big poster out front, though, showed injuries sustained by guests who got too friendly with the apes, so clearly I wasn't the only one who considered making friends with them. I learned from the photos and my memories of being attacked by a grown baboon in Namibia, and so I held my ground. (I wanted to touch them, though, so much!)
Here's a mother and baby. Be aware that these pictures were NOT taken with a zoom. They were really this close. As a matter of fact, after I took this picture of the baby, the ranger had to stop people on the trail because we were practically brushing shoulders with the mommy.
Finally, I'm going to include a film of an encounter I had with a juvenile orangutan who was swinging toward me and away from me over and over. He (or she?) was so close I kept thinking I should back away, but then he'd swing back and I'd stay where I was. He seemed like the kind of guy I could be friends with. You know, just hang around.
There's a point in the film where I get bumped by someone and the camera shakes and moves, but keep watching. I want you to see the end where he swings over and takes some fruit from one of the forest rangers. (By the way, the ringing sound you hear in the background is some form of cicada, not a fire alarm.)
I know you've heard from me three times in three days, but you're about to get another break. Jodi and I leave tomorrow morning for three days and two nights at a longhouse. This is the traditional structure of the local tribes (some of them were headhunters up until the end of World War Two!!). We're going to be guests of a community, eat with them, sleep with them, and participate in and observe their way of life. A different kind of "wild life." I'm both nervous and excited. Look for another blog in four days or so--and wish me luck that I keep my head on my shoulders.