Cruising the river in Central Kalimantan I scanned for wildlife, spotting long tailed macaque and proboscis monkeys at the river’s edge and bright colored kingfishers and hornbills darting across the river. This was idyllic, but the reason I was in Kalimantan was to photograph orangutans and understand why they are Critically Endangered.
Venturing into Tanjung Putih National Park I hear an adult male and see shaking treetops as an orangutan moves through the dizzying treetops hidden from below. I’m heading to Camp Leaky, one of the feeding stations managed by Orangutan Foundation International (OFI).
OFI looks after distressed orangutans forced out of their natural habitat. Baby orangutans normally spend their first two years dependent on their mothers so they need specialized care.
Orangutans and humans share 97% of their DNA, a relationship even more obvious after a few days watching them interact. The range of facial expressions, mother baby interactions and competition within the group signal the depth of their feelings and similarities with us.
The last hope for wild orangutans is on the island of Borneo in Malaysia (Sabah) and Indonesia (Kalimantan). There is another orangutan population on the island of Sumatra, but this dwindling population has little hope for a future in the wild.
A look at the numbers is numbing. In the last 75 years the population of wild orangutans has fallen by 82%. By 2010 only 60% of orangutan habitat still existed in Borneo with only 20% in the national park system.
Humans and wildlife once shared these habitats, but human population growth and economic development have changed everything. The greatest threat is the expansion of palm oil plantations. Surging global demand for palm oil has lead to massive forest destruction with a dramatic loss of habitat for orangutans.
I was privileged to spend this time with the orangutans. Tanjung Putih National Park is a safe haven for orangutans, but it isn’t clear for how much longer. I hope my images move you and you consider supporting the Orangutan International Foundation, The Nature Conservancy, the World Wildlife Foundation or others working on behalf of orangutans.
Enjoy the images in my gallery.
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