25 July 2009

Monkeyin' Around Part 1 - The Jungle Men

Better than Disneyland, but just as touristy....

When our friend Brandon started planning his trip to Malaysian Borneo and Indonesia to meet us, I asked him what his priority was – what did he want to get out of this trip? Was it culinary tourism? Culture and architecture? Ruins and beaches? “Monkeys” was his answer. “Lots of monkeys.” We decided to visit two wildlife reserves in order to see as many different kinds as we could.

Brandon joins our crew - them's be Orang Utans back thar.

After a few days in Kota Kinabalu we headed to Sepilok, home of one of the five Orang Utan rehabilitation centres in the world. The centre is a located on a large chunk of protected jungle and is home to over 20 of the lovable red guys who have been abused, injured or rescued from bad zoos and irresponsible owners.

The Centre is famous for its feeding times – at 10 am and 3pm hundreds of people crowd onto raised wooden platforms to watch the handlers dole out bananas. We arrived to the platform half an hour early to watch the daring long tailed macaques lunge and steal handfuls of the fruit, growing in numbers from one brave monkey to over a dozen.

Hey - whatcha got there?

One of the handlers approached the feeding station and held up a small sign that read “Silence.” Within moments a collective gasp escaped from the crowd - my own lungs included. An Orang Utan, hairy and muscled with long arms, big round head and long jointy arms swung into sight and snatched a bunch of the bananas. With big sad human eyes and and a sweet demeanour he ambled over in his strange Frankenstein way to crouch next to the blue bucket, surrounded by grabby macaques.

Room for one more?

Over the next thirty minutes four more “Jungle Men” (the Bahasa translation) came into view to collect bananas, including one mother and baby. She tried to teach her funny little babe how to swing on the rope using just his arms, but he seemed to be afraid and insisted on using his feet to help his balance.

Overseeing the learning process. If only there were training wheels for this....

Mummy and baby.

It was an amazing experience to sit and watch the bizarre mythic primates just hang out, play and nosh, knowing that unlike a zoo, they were free to leave and go back to their business (ha! Monkey business!) at any time.

Hee hee - he looks like he's wearing a toupee!

My awe and magical feelings dissipated only for a short time, when one of the big boys decided to swing his way over to the viewing platform right next to all of us tourists and our unrelenting cameras. Despite stern warnings from the British handler, her calls of “No Flash. Do Not Crowd. No Flash!” were ignored as moronic photo-hungry families surged forward and shoved flashing bulbs in the Orang Utan's face.

That's right, crowd around.

That moment made me scared. Are we all just heading toward a planet of these small conservation pockets, places that seem like a good idea to visit until you get there and realize that all of these other people with poor intentions are also there? People so desperate for a snap of the perfect vacation memory that they think that using flash photography in an animal sanctuary is okay?

Hey - I'm just a poster. Feel free to ignore me.

My greatest fears in fourth grade, when I wrote a little speech about the destruction of the rain forest, have been realized. We have so few of the big fascinating mammals left that even when they are ostensibly in the 'wild' we still crowd around them, desperate to get our moment with them before they are all gone, killed off by poaching and slowly starved by deforestation. And the desperation, the crazed attitude that they are first and foremost a tourist attraction and secondarily creatures with as much right to this land as we have (alright, I'll stop just shy of an “Oh Gaia Mother Earth” hippie sentiment because as we all know – I hate hippies) drives people to do stupid things.

I'm comin to get ya!

When I was in Nepal's Chitwan National Park, I witnessed a group of tourists feeding a baby elephant Oreos, waving the cookies around to lure him closer in order to take photos with him. The mahout's (elephant dude) back was turned, and I caught his attention and tattled on the group (I had already asked them to stop but they looked at me blankly and kept flinging treats) The mahout repeated the sentiment, watching them with a hairy eyeball, but the moment his back was turned they resumed feeding him Oreos, and also some Lay's potato chips, snapping away with flash the whole time.

Me, with said baby elephant, in Nepal.

While this made me seethe, this ignorant behaviour pales in comparison when I think about animal poaching. While I understand the economic factors that drive people to murder endangered species, this understanding does nothing to diminish the near violent rage I feel when I think about the people responsible for a) driving the market with demand (“ooooh, honey look! Rhino Horn tea! I know that there are only 200 left in Borneo, but my wang-o sure is lacklustre lately!”) and b) doing the hunting. My little fists ball up and I my face heats up and I wanna go out there and find the monsters myself.

Yes, it is a few steps from feeding elephants cookies and flashing cameras in monkey's faces to poaching – but there seems to be the same sort of disassociation between right and wrong and the same desperate urge to exploit the animal for your own selfish reasons.

I was naïve and thought that no one would kill threatened animals in this day and age– no one would dare even think about harming an elephant, a monkey, a sun bear. As a child (and even up to a few years ago) a poacher to me was a nameless, faceless monster who lurked only in news stories and my imagination. But now I have been to too many places affected by rampant killing to try to see the good in people and earnestly believe that it will stop.

Wheee!

Orang Utans are being poached to snag the babies to keep as pets, and to fill the market for so called 'bush meat' – the consumption of large primates and other endangered species. I have seen them up close. They look like us, and I'm just gonna put this out there: if you eat the great primates (gorillas, chimps, baboons) you are a bad person. I'm not even putting in a qualifier like “unless you are starving.” Nope.

As long as poachers exist, sanctuaries like the one at Sepilok are necessary and the people that keep them running are practically saints. But.... while the Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre was amazing and interesting and a really good cause, maybe they could enforce a mandatory sitting-only policy? A no-camera policy? They could sell video and stills from the feeding time that you attended and make even more moolah for the centre.... They could also employ me (and let me hug the Orangs all I want to) to stand and look disapprovingly at the crowd.

I have a very effective stern look......

Just let me at the poachers with it.

Please don't eat me. Or put cameras in my face. Thx.

40 comments:

Freak said...

Congrats on an awesome blog!

thatsorad said...

I love the pic of all those people with their cameras and then the poor poster with the Orang Utan being flashed to oblivian. You are an awesome writer! Thank you for the awesome read!

Katie said...

Great photos - I especially like the one with the orang "wearing the toupee." :) It must have been a real treat to see these guys up close and personal.

kikkinkate said...

I love these big guys they are so cute... you are so lucky to be able to experience these great beings. Awsome blog. Thanks for writing and posting these pictures... they are awsome.

iz said...

A similar thing happened to me in Kenya when I was working in a primate conservation centre - I was using the pool in a nearby hotel and saw an older lady with her grandkids feeding pizza to the vervets. They looked like nice people so I tried to say it in a nice way that the monkeys shouldn't be fed, but the lady just glared at me like I was destroying their dream vacation or something. And then they went right back to giving pizza to the monkeys.

Unfortunately it is pretty much known by everyone that these hotels illegally poison monkeys because they "bother the guests and try to steal their food."

Seriously, is there any hope for humanity?

K said...

You rock. I am pushed every single day by the ridiculous, senseless acts of people who you might think have some sense... God knows they were born with the same sense I was, and I know enough to not kill something so amazing and beautiful.... my heart nearly jumps out of my chest in envy as I read about your amazing adventures while I am living in concrete city, (Atlanta)... someday I may join you (at least in thought) on these many adventures... and... it is my personal vendetta to be anti-poacher... ;)

nitya said...

Hello! I am from Indonesia, live in Jakarta.
Lucky you have seen the Borneos' Orang Utan! Me, Indonesian, never go there..

I will follow your blog.

Safety Squirrel said...

I like your writing style, it's quite smooth and engaging.

As far as this post goes, I've got to say that I've also had a hard time imagining what exactly makes people want poached animal products, though one must bear in mind that things are very, very rarely what they seem to be from a distance.

The so-called bush meat market is probably going to get what's coming and beyond without intervention. You see, it seems that the Bush Meat market is often traced back to being the source of deadly Ebola outbreaks in Africa. Once people get privvy to it, I don't expect that the market will collapse, but it won't be doing much growing.

Anyway, have you considered sharing your thoughts with the people that run the shelter? It could be the case that they never really considered it, or that there are restrictions in place that few people would have anticipated.

I expect you'll take the time to stay safe from Malaria and other quite considerable hazards while you enjoy the area. I'll certainly be returning to read your future posts.

kristine said...

counldt agree more. I went to the indonesian side of borneo and had a similar experience. the way people behave is quite shocking. The guides told us tey have a lot of concerns about, but that the local tourists tend to be the least sensitive. This doesnt surprise me really; when i told my indonesian colleagues i was going to kalimantan to see orang utans they were like 'why???' - perhaps they havent quite realized what an amazing treasure they have...

Elizabeth said...

I feel the same way. People can be so stupid at times (a lot of times). In the "great" cities, like New York, I've heard of restaurants selling "exotic" meat, which is just disgusting. I mean, animals have a hard time getting by as it is. Anyways, there's my rant. Thanks for writing this. You are a brilliant writer!

MeanDonnaJean said...

I eat this kinda stuff up. I love watchin' all kinda shows about wildlife 'n the conservation of same. Animal Planet is my best friend. Its the ONLY thing I watch that makes me smile...and sadly, sometimes cry. Wish I could experience it all in person, but I reckon I'll just have to live vicariously thru u instead.

Rachel said...

Agreed. Wonderful photos. I am a lover of all things primate so I definitely appreciate this post.

Lollie said...

Wow! .. and again I am rewarded with another day of adventures. Finding your blog has been my good luck since I am not able to travel. Your stories are so well written I can feel the experiences with you!!
Thanks for the lovely trip :)

Lilian Moreira εϊз said...

OMG, that little elephant is so cute!!

NIKK. A. said...

Your blog is so inspiring! I hope to do the same with mine...

heartofayoungdynamic.blogspot.com
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paperbacks preferred said...

I read an article about these orangutans a while back. Puts things in perspective when you see pictures. :)

I'll be following~

SimplySarah said...

This was a nice break from my day thanks a ton.

Sobrina Tung said...

I didn't know people eat the great primates :( I am right there with you -- who the heck can eat an orangutan?

The mummy and baby picture was too cute.

indrablog said...

You have a nice and simple writing style. The reason why I have added you to the list of blogs I follow is that, I thoght, I would get to visit many exotic places through your blog. Nice travelogue and great pictues too.

Nikki S. said...

Wow what an awesome blog. I'm from Singapore it WOULD be cool if I actually bumped into you or something on the streets. Happy travelling! (:

Sherry said...

Congrats on the Blogs of Note title! Am SO pleased that you are travelling to this part of the world and I see that you have made Malaysia one of your stops!
If you decide to drop by KL, please drop me a note, perhaps we can meet up!
If not, hope you enjoy Malaysia and the rest of your trip!

Magatha-May said...

Congratulations on the blog of note - and you have my vote on blogging to antartica. best of luck.

Trina S. said...

great blog! Would love for you to check mine out! Have a super weekend!

J.Me. said...

I can't believe you got to feed an elephant!! I LOVE elephants!!! Jealous!

Casey said...

The keepers "Dole" out bananas, eh? Aptly chosen verb when discussing nanners. :P

ThatGirl-xox said...

Just found your blog and I love it :)
Great pictures! Especially you with the baby elephant!

Jonathan said...

love the blog visit mine at:

lifeofakidnamedjon.blogspot.com

Relax, Enjoy, Follow

umama said...

Lucky lucky you... and not just for being a blog of note (so cool though!) But because you are in some areas with the BEST food... I love Indian and Thai, and I can only imagine what the food must be like there, so jealous am i!!!

mariha_k said...

love ur blog. visit mine @ http://diary-of-a-psychopath.blogspot.com/ keep writing!

Pat said...

I love the pictures! Thanks for sharing your story. Why can't people respect nature? Why can't they respect the rules?

Some guy got butted by a bison the other day in Yellowstone. Why? because he got too close with his camera. Well, no duh!

depannage informatique lyon said...

that's huge ;)

Elizabeth said...

There is an amazing national park near Kuching (Malaysian Borneo) http://www.forestry.sarawak.gov.my/forweb/np/np/bako.htm Proboscis monkeys and silver leaf monkeys come down from the hills and eat mangrove leaves along the seashore at dusk and ten or so tourists gather to watch (respectfully). Definitely a less traumatic encounter for the monkeys and for animal lovers. I went there last year and recommend it highly.

Bella Sublime said...

I have to say that this yours is probably my favorite blog--ever!
I just found it, and I love everything about it: the pictures, your writing styles and your stories of lands far away.
Thanks for sharing your experience with all :)

Indian said...

cool pictures, they are really funny

jhackie decena said...

hello, just give you smiles :):):) Thanks

FashionConsciou$ said...

I've just returned from East Malaysia - a very beautiful part of the world! Great blog :)

Anonymous said...

7-29-09 Just saw your blog for the first time...the one about the Orangutans. How sad that some humans are so removed from nature (and our healthy selves) that they can't even treat other animals with simple respect. They would never feed their own children weeds or dirt, would they? Yet they give wild animals cookies and chips with no regard for how unhealthy these things are.

Fortunately there are other people out there like you who are still connected and understand their place in nature and can show others, through living example, the way back.

Sounds like you're having a grand time on your adventure. good for you! Good luck to you and be safe.

gina

sani said...

nice to read and interesting information thanks for share....

syaida said...

hello..i'm from MALAYSIA..i like your story about Sabah, since i've never been there yet..this like a journal to me..

depannage informatique paris said...

i like this article so much, it's like going there without moving from behind his computer :)

 
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