Day 151, Year 3: Day 1 of the Ultimate Orangutan and Wildlife Explore
Date: Hari Selasa (Tuesday), Bulan Oktober 7, Pada Tahan 2008
Weather: Even Hotter!
Location: Sekonyer River, Kalimantan, Indonesia

Never in my wildest dreams did I ever envision myself motoring up the Sungai (river) Sekonyer to Camp Leaky to actually observe some of the world’s last orangutans. But this morning this is just what we did. The Omega, a wooden river klotok (slowboat) came to Windbird to drop off a man who will live in our cockpit for the three days we are gone and to pick us and our gear up and start our jungle journey. The motor on the klotoks make a loud, distinctive “putt-putt” sound and away we went back
down the wide Sungai Kumai the way Windbird had come in. We made a turn to the left and found ourselves in the much smaller, dark chocolate-colored Sungai Sekonyer. Klotoks are about eight to ten feet wide and two can pass easily in the river but there’s not much more room than that. At first the river was lined with Nipas palms that grow right at the edge of the river. They are one of the few palms that can grow in salt water. The scene changed as we went further up as low growing pandanus
replaced the Nipas palms. These mangrove pandanus bear a poisonous fruit that monkeys can tolerate and people can eat if the fruit if cooked properly. A little further back from the river’s edge taller deciduous trees reached up to the sky, some with the most delicate salmon-colored leaves. All of the trees seemed to be covered with epiphytes of one kind or another and there were the largest staghorn ferns that I have ever seen. Butterflies were flitting here and there and dragon flies were darting
about. The sun was shining brightly and it was just a glorious day. We passed the first two observation camps and then the Sekonyer made a right turn heading to Camp Leaky. The river narrowed and the water color changed abruptly from a muddy brown to a clear black. At the point where we turned the Sungai Aspai joins the Sekonyer and brings the mercury pollution from the gold mines downstream. Thankfully the fork of the Sekonyer heading to Camp Leaky is pollution free, but all of a sudden the
air was so thick with humidity that it felt like you could cut through it with a knife. The river narrowed and Justin and I spotted a small crocodile sunning itself along the bank of the river. There was no other wildlife to observe until we reached Camp Leaky. But once we were tied to the dock, Siswi, a female orangutan, was there to greet us. It was quite thrilling to meet our first orangutan friend. We made our way to the camp on the boardwalk and as we were walking I asked our guide, Rudi,
if he thought we would get to meet Tom, the current “king of the jungle.” Rudi explained that Tom rules the jungle here and travels where he likes. We would have to be very “lucky” to meet him. But no sooner that Rudi said this than we heard someone in the camp call to say that Tom was there. It was like magic. We were the only people in that area so we had Tom all to ourselves. Tom is a very large orangutan sporting huge cheek pads and a large throat pouch, all signs of male dominance. He
looked so regal and just sat there while we got as close as we dared for photo ops with the king. After spending time with Tom, we walked past the Information Center and over to the building where bananas are stored. The banana boat from Kumai arrives once a week bringing the much needed food for the orangutans in Camp Leaky and today was the day. We had quite a show of gibbons, orangutans, and wild boar all wanting their share of the bananas. It was a great opportunity to watch the orangutans
swinging through the trees. They prefer this to walking on all fours, but their moves are slow and deliberate compared to the smaller gibbons which seems to really glide through the tree tops. They swing with graceful abandon. At this point we had only been in Camp Leaky for an hour but we had seen so much. It was way past time for the 2 pm feeding, so we scurried through the forest and open swamp land to reach the feeding platform. Tom, the king, decided to come, along with about fifteen other
orangutans. Some were young males and others were mothers with babies. The babies are just so cute, but the real show stopper was a female named Princess, her one-year old Putri, and her six to seven-year old son Percy. There is a picture of baby Princess on the cover of the June 1980 National Geographic playing with a human baby, the infant son of De. Galdiikas. This is the woman who arrived here as a brand new PhD in the early 1970’s and has stayed and become the mother of all orangutans.
Another researcher in the late 1970’s, Gary Shapiro, “adopted” baby Princess and taught her sign language. She is a very intelligent orangutan and we delighted as she responded to Rudi when her encouraged her to sign. Her latest trick is blowing out a lighter when you sing Happy Birthday. Princess is about 35 years old and she is quite a lady. All in all, it had been just a fantastic day at Camp Leaky, but there was even more to come. Before leaving, we went back to the area where the bananas
are stored and we had yet another treat in store. We got to meet the “fallen” king, Kusasi. He ruled the jungle here in the 1990’s and into the 2000″s but was badly hut in a fight with another male and never really recovered enough to maintain his rule. Near the end of his reign, actress Julia Roberts came here to meet him and tomorrow we will see the film made starring Kusasi with Julia as his supporting actress. Kusasi is still a big orangutan but you can see that he is growing old and has
lost his spirit. It is quite sad to see him, but we were still glad to have the chance to meet this grand old fellow.

We went back to our klotok thinking it couldn’t get any better than this. Our first afternoon at Camp Leaky had been really phenomenal but it was time to find a quiet place to anchor for the night and then return in the morning. We found our place for the night, had dinner, and then Captain Suma brought mattresses up to the top deck and enclosed them in mosquito nets. It was a great day and we are looking forward to more adventure tomorrow.

081007 Day 151 Kalimantan, Indonesia–Orangutan River Trip, Day 1
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Day 152, Year 3: Day 2 of the Ultimate Orangutan and Wildlife Explore
Day 150, Year 3: Getting Ready for the River Trip