Hanging out in the Borneo Rainforest: The Heart2Heart Orangutan Program

Hanging out in the Borneo Rainforest: The Heart2Heart Orangutan Program

Deep in the heart of the Borneo Rainforest lies a sanctuary for one of our closest ancestors and one of the most intelligent primates… the orangutan. In recent years, the lives of these incredible creatures have been put in grave danger. There are now only two surviving species and both are endangered. At the Heart2Heart Orangutan program in Sarawak, Malaysia, you can play a part in their protection. The name orangutan actually stems from the Malaysian words ‘orang’ and ‘hutan’, which translates as ‘man of the forest’. Without the help of programs such as the Heart2Heart Orangutan program, these men of the forests may soon be extinct.

An orangutan family swing through the trees in Sarawak, Malaysia 

The Matang Wildlife Centre

At the first station, the Matang Wildlife Centre which is fondly known as the ‘kindergarten’, the young orangutans are taught the most basic skills of survival. The next centre, the Semenggoh Wildlife Centre is the ‘high school’ at which there are no fences or cages. It is the middle of the orangutan kingdom and visitors will find themselves up close and personal with mans closest relation, often standing just a few feet away from these playful creatures. Volunteers need to be prepared to get down and dirty, as they will be involved in cage cleaning, food preparation and maintenance of all the facilities, amongst many other jobs! You will be taught by the experts about the challenges involved in rehabilitating orangutans and also of the related works of the centre. It is crucial that awareness is raised concerning these near-extinct primates, so that people realise the importance of conserving the orangutans and their environment.

Semenggoh Wildlife Centre’s 3 main aims:

1. To rehabilitate wild animals who have been injured, orphaned or kept illegally as pets.

2. To conduct research on wildlife and captive breeding programs in order to bring them back from the verge of extinction.

3. To educate the general public and raise awareness of these animals’ fragile state and the importance of conservation. In the thirty-six years that they’ve been open, the Centre has cared for nearly 1,000 endangered animals with a great success rate. But their greatest triumph is with the Orangutans, gaining the Centre worldwide recognition for releasing records numbers of the animal back into the wild. In fact, they’ve done so well that the forest has now exceeded its carrying capacity and orangutans have to be transferred and released nearer to Matang Wildlife Centre, in order to avoid overcrowding!

An orangutan high up in the tree tops

The Role of Semenggoh

Over the years, the role of Semenggoh has evolved and changed. Nowadays it is a centre for the study of orangutan biology and behaviour, as well as a safe haven for dozens of semi-wild ‘graduates’. It is also home to numerous baby orangutans born in the wild to rehabilitated Mothers. These orangutan mothers carry their children for two years, at which point the youngsters adopt a ‘buddy travel’ approach, holding hands with a friend as they clamber through the trees. With arms twice as long as their legs and human like hands, this isn’t as tricky as it may seem. These mammals are designed to perfection for their treetop lifestyle. In captivity, orangutans have been known to reach the grand old age of sixty, however in the wild this data is harder to gauge and it is estimated that they often only live to half of that.

Worth a visit – The Botanical Research Centre

Also to be found here is the Botanical Research Centre (BRC), with a huge number of rare plants, wild fruit orchards and ferns ready to be explored by foot. Be sure to check out the ‘plank walk’, a thirty-minute easy trek through stunning scenery and fantastic flora and fauna…

Whether you are a visitor or a volunteer, a trip to Heart2Heart is certainly a once in a lifetime experience. Even if it sounds a little hard work looking after these men of the forest, it’s all worth it, as you’ll gain the unbeatable sense of achievement and the knowledge that you have been part of helping these species to survive. You also get to ‘hang out’ with these cheeky chaps in the jungle day-on-day…an incredible reward in itself!

A very cute baby monkey, clinging on to it’s Mother

Words by Laura Davies and photos by Michael Tsan

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