MEMBERS OF OUR WELCOMING COMMITTEE at Camp Leakey climb around the wooden slats of the jetty, anxiously awaiting our arrival. The unrelenting equatorial sun highlights their orange tufts of hair, their playful antics offering a distraction from the tropical heat.
One of the orangutan greeters, Percy, befriends several of the tourists who have come to this renowned research area in Tanjung Puting National Park, located in Kalimantan, or Indonesian Borneo. Borneo boasts the world’s oldest tropical rainforests which, until a few decades ago, completely covered the island. Only 50 percent of forest cover remains; 25 percent disappeared since the 1980s as virgin forest was converted into oil palm plantations. The loss of habitat makes orangutan refuges and sanctuaries critical to their survival.
Many of us arrive at Camp Leakey on a klotok, a wooden boat that ferries tourists along Senoyer River to the park. My three-day trip includes two nights sleeping on deck.
Percy joins us as we walk to the feeding platform where orangutans being rehabilitated to live in the wild receive supplemental meals of fruit and milk as they learn to forage on their own. Mothers, babies and a few males indulge in papaya, bananas, durian and other fruit. Some linger in the branches overhead while others quickly depart with their bounty into the surrounding forest.
We make our way to the research center, established in 1971 by Dr. Biruté Galdikas and her former spouse, Rod Brindamour. The center was named after paleo-anthropologist Louis Leakey, a mentor to Galdikas as well as to Dr. Jane Goodall, known for her work with chimpanzees, and Dr. Dian Fossey, who researched mountain gorillas.
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