Our guide shifted his weight to keep the boat steady as we all heaped over to look. I was out on the Kinabatangan River in Malaysian Borneo. This area is publicly known as the Corridor of Life, after the strips of jungle and rainforest surrounding the ethereal river were designated as a preservation area for wildlife. This place is protected from any development activities such as building, logging or any other form of industry.
The rainforest is currently being restored to create a passage of wilderness for sun bears, pygmy elephants, macaques and more, including, most importantly to us where at that moment, orangutans. I lifted my binoculars towards the direction where our guide was pointing. Instead of spying an orangutan, unfortunately I seen nothing. Apparently spotting orangutans in the wild takes a lot of patience. It’s no wonder that doing so is considered a rare treat, a once in a lifetime experience for most travelers. These beautiful creatures are excellent escape artists and, as they were now getting very good at concealing themselves.
My visit here was as part of an orangutan conservation project with my university. My group and I had been spending our entire time in the conservation area to plant trees, monitor wildlife and work with locals in order to promote the survival of these scarce species. Each day we were out on the boats, either heading to a tree planting site or spotting the wildlife that lives alongside the river banks. There are some birds which I didn’t recognize happens to flew over my head, and we would hear elephants calling to each other in the long grasses. Crocodiles reclined eerily in the sunshine. We had been told that orangutans here were a common sight, and it left us surprisingly eager to see them.
And so here I was, gazing at a tree and sometimes, wishing for it to suddenly transform into an orangutan. Others in the boat had started to glimpse it and were shouting, “She has her baby with her!” My heart started going flip flop and my palms were sweating. What if everyone saw them apart from me? All I could sense was the swaying leaves through the wind, the shadows they cast and… a hairy orangutan boob! It wasn’t what I had expected to see on my first sighting, but at least I’d found her.