Wild Men Of Sumatra

Trip Start Aug 06, 2011
Trip End Oct 06, 2013

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Flag of Indonesia  , North Sumatra,
Monday, June 25, 2012

We’re back in Indonesia with a fresh 30 day visa (losing another page in our passports in the process) but this time we’re on the island of Sumatra. We came in via Medan, but that was just to get our bearings and make our travel arrangements- our first real destination was Bukit Lawang which sits on the fringe of Gunung Leuser National Park and is one of the few places that you can visit with the disappearing Sumatran Orangutan- the chances of seeing the even more critically endangered Sumatran Tiger (only 500 left) and Sumatran Rhino (only 200 left) are almost nil so we were just hoping for glimpses of our ape friends. This Orangutan is on a list you don't want to be on if you happen to be a monkey or ape- "the world's 25 most endangered primates" and there are an estimated 7,000 left that are tightly grouped in North Sumatra only. 

The reasons they’re disappearing?? Primarily loss of habitat, although poaching continues to be a problem (Indonesia has serious penalties for poaching but apparently those responsible for capturing the orangutan babies for pets are those with the power and influence to avoid prosecution in a country that continues to struggle with corruption- in addition to Indonesia, the other countries singled out for blame were Malaysia and China). The rate of deforestation is shocking, and it’s largely to clear space for foreign-owned rubber and palm tree plantations, and these days even the rubber tree plantations are being converted to palm trees. And why palm trees?? To make beauty potions and lotions for women (and Sam S?) as well as an ingredient in many food products. A sign at the park entrance states that it isn’t asking for a boycott of palm oil products (presumably to avoid problems with the government) but, in a somewhat circular way, I think it was asking for the boycott. DH has signed up and will now be checking labels. Given her enthusiastic spa usage, the Indonesian palm oil industry should be seeing the effects in short order, but if Sam S were to join the crusade, it would likely be a death blow (or at least slow the current loss of habitat). I found this site http://www.saynotopalmoil.com/palm-oil.php which provides some good info if you're joining DH and Sam S. 

So why the passion around the Sumatran Orangutan? In addition to a self-confessed problem with taking too many monkey/ape pictures, there’s something truly magical about seeing these hairy red beasts in the wild. It’s almost as though spotting an orangutan in its natural habitat provides the reassurance that everything will be ok in the world in much the same way as not spotting them should raise the alarm. To get into the park we had to cross a small river in a weird (and badly leaking) canoe and pulley contraption- the river itself acts as a barrier for the orangutans. A short jungle hike and we were at the feeding station that is used to provide supplemental food to the orangutan population- since the jungle serves up a number of tasty treats itself, most of the time it's nursing mothers and babies who show up to greedily grab as many bananas as they can possibly stuff in their mouths. We were lucky to have a few show up and put on a pretty good show for us. They seemed very comfortable with us hanging around and spent a good deal of time looking at us- most of the time it seemed to be a reciprocal curiosity but as often as not, it seemed they were asking for help.
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Carol on

Amazing and beautiful photos! So sad that they are loosing their precious habitat!

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