Big, ugly, Ritchie

Trip Start Sep 17, 2007
Trip End Oct 08, 2008

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Flag of Malaysia  ,
Saturday, May 10, 2008

"Please, everyone listen up," pleaded one of the staff at the Orangutan Wildlife Rehabilitation Center outside of Kuching.  "It is now mating season and the orangutans, they are not very happy.  They may look happy, and they may do funny things, but DO NOT LAUGH.  They are not happy, they are very very angry.  Some tourists don't listen and crowd around the males.  They don't have a way out and they will get angry.  Do not make the orangutans angry.  And watch out if they get ahold of dead branches.  They may throw them at you."

This message was hard to take seriously while looking up at the young orangutan that was hanging out several meters up above the feeding area.  He looked harmless, even playful.  He would occasionally swing down to grab a handful and mouthful of fruit.  He was cute.

It wasn't until Ritchie showed up that one could understand what a mean orangutan might be capable of.  Orangutans have incredible strength and can unscrew by hand a bolt that was tightened with a two-foot wrench.  A commotion among the crowd of tourists announced the arrival of a large female orangutan carrying her large baby.  And behind them trundled something out of a science fiction movie.  It was big, ugly, Ritchie.  Have you ever seen a full-grown, dominant male orangutan?  It's an enormous walking shag carpet.  It's Chewbacca on a bad hairday.  It is a yeti.  It's a very cool looking creature.  And you do not want to get between him and his love interest. 

It was actually pretty comical.  Ritchie would walk along wherever he wanted, generally directly towards the onlooking tourists.  The staff members would call frantically from the background, "Stay away from Ritchie.  You are too close to Ritchie.  Ritchie is VERY angry."  The crowd would, half-obediently, get out of Ritchie's way as if he had some sort of infectious disease.  Except for a very daring camera-toting man who didn't seem to get the message.  I half-hoped for the orangutan to grab his camera and snap it in half.  But that would be mean...

Wherever his girl went he would follow along like a slow, giant, guard dog.  Apparently the giant face flaps only develop on the dominant male.  At one point a staff member brought over a plate of food to offer to the monster.  Orangutans are messy eaters.  Then he barreled through a group of tourists (I think he enjoys it) and disappeared.  This left the mother to get some lunch.  The baby just capered around.  The whole thing was quite an amazing experience. 

We got a ride from a very entertaining minibus driver who talked our ears off the whole way (You want to know the most difficult people to understand? SCOTTISH!)  Then a surprisingly honest taxi driver to the airport.  We'll have to come back to explore Borneo in the future.  For now, we just wanted some relaxation and a little orangutan on the side.

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