Part 2: An introduction to my experience with the Orangutan project

This second trip has been crucial to understanding the complexity of the issues facing the world’s most threatened Orangutan sub species and their environment where they still roam free ‘outside’ the Batang Ai National Park borders in the last of the Iban owned, wilderness river valley communities; Jingin. My initial visit, last year left me overwhelmed by the scale of the issue. It was a two week volunteer tour that i decided to take spontaneously after viewing a documentary on the species, our closest relatives that are facing high risk of extinction. The  project i chose not only let us observe and take part in the rehabilitation efforts at Matang Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre but also aims to work with the local tribes on this precious piece of land near Batang Ai. The aim is to help the Iban save Hairy in the sustainable and natural ecosystem that they have inherited from their ancestors which is a model of human/wildlife interaction that goes back hundreds of years. It is the last hope of Pongo pygmaeus, pygmaeus(***for local taboo reasons “hairy” is the name we use)

This time around my trip began in the village home of a selfless couple who have dedicated their lives to real conservation on this grand task of saving hairy. During my stay with them I joined part of the tour(Alvin runs and Christina volunteers) to re visit the hairys in their last remaining habitat and the tribe that lives within the area. The full tour, which i had the opportunity to take part in last year, starts with work such as animal husbandry, cleaning cages, making enrichment treats and contributing to construction they may be working on during the time of current at Matang wildlife rehabilitation centre, one of the bases for the Orangutan Project. Here you not only take part in jobs alongside short term volunteers, long term volunteers and expert staff at the centre, local and international but receive an informative introduction to the animals themselves, particularly hairy! Monitoring behavior of all the species being rehabilitated at the centre is an important aspect of the volunteer’s tasks as they are constantly receiving hairys and other animals which have been orphaned and terrorized or hurt in one way or another. The goal for those at Matang is to give life to the injured animals they rescue, which is a strenuous job with such an influx of different animals of various ages/stages in their life and problems. The people at Matang do an incredible job at dedicating their time to each individual that comes in and are often working long hours through the nights to keep the latest casualty alive. During the time I was there the people at Matang were having sleepless nights with dependable primates and taking turns to observe the slow Lorises just released in the wild.

For the best interest of hairy it is the next part of the tour that we use to work towards keeping the primates out of rehab centres and in their natural environment, because it is clear that everyone at Matang, especial CEO Leo Biddle would much rather see them healthily swinging in the real trees than struggling for life in his care. From Matang the tour extends next to Bako national park to further our knowledge and understanding of the Bornean environment as a whole. We take part in trekking under the guidance of Alvin who well informs us of the flora and fauna we are passing by and through. This in combination with our experience at Matang prepares us for the most important part of our trip; contributing to true hairy conservation with a sustainable, holistic approach. Jingin is the wilderness riverside community where a tribe of Ibans live, that the orangutan project have made relations with in order to reach long term conservation goals together. It is also the gateway to the Malaysian side of the only viable natural habitat for this sub species. Through uniting with these native people, including 2 other Iban valleys that we can keep sight of the chance that Batang Ai has a real good chance of becoming the last true refuge for Pongo.P.P.  Batang Ai National Park is our sub species last hope. Numbering probably slightly over a thousand in all the three WWF declared 1 million hectares straddling the international border.

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