The People of the Jungle
We stopped for a few days in the town of Bukit Lawang which is located at the southern tip of the massive Gunung Leuser National Park. This park of almost 8000km² is one of the last remaining strongholds of the Sumatran orangutans. This is mainly due to the ever-expanding palm industry for which Indonesia and Malaysia have been burning down their rainforests. In the Malay and Indonesian language, orang means person and utan (derived for hutan) means jungle, so orangutan translates as person of the jungle. This is very appropriate considering we share 96.4 percent of our DNA with these great apes. We did a two day trek through the jungle looking for our red-furred relatives and other animals. Within the first couple of hours we’d spotted five semi-wild orangutans, three females and two babies. These orangutans are in transition from being dependent on food from the rehabilitation center to foraging for themselves, so they are familiar with humans and are not afraid to get close to people. At one point we were within a couple meters of a large female who hung by one arm from a nearby tree and watched us impassively for about 20 minutes. Over the course of the two days we saw a total of 12 orangutans and numerous other animals including leaf monkeys, iguana, peacock, giant ants, large monitor lizards and a troupe of mischievous macaque monkeys who rifled our camp kitchen for unprotected food. On our second day we returned to the village by ‘rafting’ on several inner tubes tied together.