BLOG    Fiona Place  19th Sep 2008  Sabah, Borneo>

The Elusive Orangutan

At 4.30 am the alarm screams into the silence of our jungle abode. By 5am the more enticing sound of birdsong fills the air as half our group piles into vehicles for the journey to a canopy walkway 45 minutes away. Suddenly the headlights pick up a samba deer as it disappears into the jungle, a masked palm civet dashes across the road, then a mouse deer. It’s clearly the time to see wild animals – except for the elusive elephants.

The canopy walkway hovers over the Segama River and for 300 metres we are transported 26 metres high into the rainforest. Mist hangs in the gulleys, a cacophony of birdsong surrounds us, and we have this surreal place to ourselves. But what we really want are are orangutans, but as they don’t stir until around 9 am there are none to be seen. By 7am hordes of tourists (we, of course, are not tourists) from the nearby Borneo Rainforest Lodge descend upon us – or rather ascend - and we leave them to it.

We head to the Lodge for a leisurely breakfast, but before long discover the shop. There, we indulge in an orgy of retail therapy buying books, beaded necklaces and woven artifacts traditional to Sabah.

Later, with our eyes peeled, we wander a rainforest trail still searching for an orangutan, or indeed, anything that moves. We find bizarre fungi, termite nests, a burrow belonging to an unknown animal, a variety of birds and the ubiquitous leech. ‘Orangutan’, yells Ilona. We don’t believe her, but nonetheless run to where she’s seen it, and sure enough, there is a large 20 year old male orangutan feeding high in the canopy. We take hundreds of photographs as this irresistable orange creature moves along the branches, reaching out with his long hairy arm to pick fruit.

Then something else moves nearby in the same tree – it’s a gibbon and it performs delightfully, swinging from branch to branch sharing his food source with the orangutan. We are told by a guide that his mate died here two months ago, and that he constantly returns and emits a heartbreaking moan while searching for the dead gibbon.

After more than an hour we tear ourselves away, but before driving back to the Field Centre we head to the bar at the Lodge. It might only be 11am but our decadent group celebrates its sightings with gins and tonic all round. We have, after all, been up for nearly 7 hours.

Susie Nathan

High in the canopy

Blog by Fiona Place 

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