Bukit Lawang is a tiny little town on the border of Gunung Leusar National Park. There are a couple of other tiny towns on other edges of the park, but Bukit Lawang gained fame several years ago because it was the site of a center for the rehabilitation of orangutans that had been kept as pets. The scientists and staffers on site would feed the orangutans twice daily at a feeding platform about a mile inside the jungle. They’d feed them bland food so as to encourage the orangutans to wean themselves off of the food and head out on their own to the more tasty pickings in the jungle.
Drinking milk from the park rangers
Orangutans in the wild are very tough to spot and never come down to the ground, so getting a chance to see these beautiful, massive apes (the only great apes who don’t live in Africa) coming out of the jungle to feed lured enough travelers to turn Bukit Lawang into a major tourist destination. But Bukit Lawang is a victim of its own success. The rehabilitation program is now fully complete (there are no more orangutans living as pets), but the tourists keep coming, and so the guides keep feeding them, which has led to the domestication of several orangutans.
The problem with having these beautiful creatures come so close to humans is that because we share so much genetic material, orangutans can catch our sicknesses and diseases, but have no natural protection from them. Infant mortality in the Bukit Lawang region is 88%, which is devastatingly high, considering that it takes 8 years for an orangutan to finally become mature enough to leave its mother.
So that’s the real, and kind of sad, story about Bukit Lawang. What began as a success story for rehabilitating the animals has now become its own industry which is putting the animals at risk. In any case, we went to the feeding this morning and it was pretty damn amazing. A mother showed up with her baby, and the guides handed her cans of milk. Then a wild (but now semi-domesticated) male showed up. Check out the pictures!
We spent the rest of the day just enjoying our lovely room over the rushing river, as well as meeting several people to try to find a good guide. We saw a green mamba (a very poisonous tree snake) as well as a young rafflesia flower, which is the largest flower in the world and emits the foul odor of rotting meat to attract insects (which it eats).
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