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48 Hours in the Jungle with Orangutans in Borneo

A group of rickety boats bobbed up and down forming a large line shooting out from the dock. Ducking through hobbit sized bulkheads and over railings, we jumped from deck to deck slowly making our way across the floating bridge.

After hopping a half of dozen boats, we came to a small blue one, our new home for the next 48 hours.

“In a few moments, we would start our journey down the river to Camp Leaky, an Borneo orangutan sanctuary located deep in the jungle.”

The Rare Wildlife of Indonesia

This wasn’t my first time to the islands of Indonesia. However, it was my first to beautiful Borneo. I’ve always wanted to visit the third largest island and one of the best islands to visit in the world. Borneo is teeming with mangrove trees, thick jungles, and exotic wildlife.

It is also home to rare animals found almost exclusively here like the long-nosed proboscis monkey and the largest tree-dwelling ape in the world, the orangutan.

Due to habitat loss, the orangutans are endangered and only found in Borneo and Sumatra. In Borneo, these animals are protected in the area surrounding Camp Leaky called the Tanjung Puting National Reserve. Here in Borneo Camp Leaky Orangtuans are taken care of by rangers.

This camp was set up by Dr. Louis Leaky who mentored Jane Goodall. (There is your fun fact for the day.) 


There was an air of excitement as the five of us piled onto our boat. We sat under the roof of the top deck eager to escape the scorching heat of the midday sun.

This deck served as our living room, dining room, and even our bedroom throughout our journey.

As we dropped our bags and camera equipment, the boat began chugging its way down the river.  Within a few moments,  we were surrounded by jungle and all traces of civilization disappeared.

Sweat rolled down our foreheads, as different types of ice cream became the main topic of discussion.

The thick forest of Tanjung Puting National Reserve surrounded us. Mangrove trees loomed over the boat as we coasted down the dark waters and deep into the belly of the jungle. We leaned against the rails, eagerly scanning the banks for signs of crocodiles, apes, monkeys, and other wildlife.

It wasn’t long before we heard the crew shout while pointing at the trees and our boat slowed to a crawl. As we docked on the side of the river, tiny screeches came from the rustling branches above us.

Looking into the trees, we saw a family of proboscis monkeys scattered throughout the branches. Their long noses drooping down over their humanesque faces; they have the longest noses of any monkey in the world.

They also flaunt large bellies which have an abnormal shape. This is because their stomachs have a couple of different compartments which act as fermentation tanks.

This allows the proboscis monkeys to feast on leaves and plants that are poisonous to other wildlife in the area.

We stood watching, taking photos, and enjoying the monkeys as they played around in the trees before heading back into the depths of the Borneo wilderness.

After a couple of more hours on the water, the boat pulled up beside a little village.  Starting down a winding path, our guide told us that we were more than likely to find orangutans after trekking a couple of kilometers into the jungle.

While the orangutans in Borneo are wild and do whatever they like, the rangers do leave food for them in some regions of the park. This raises the chance of seeing them. It also helps the rangers study these creatures’ habits and lifestyle.

I was shaking with anticipation by the time we reached the first feeding station.  I was busy patting my dusty hat against my knee when a loud crack rang from the tree above me.  I quickly brushed my hot and matted hair out of my face and looked up to see a massive red silhouette swinging just a couple trees away.

Orangutans in the wild

My first glimpse of a wild orangutan was incredible. These creatures are known as the humans of the forest (or in my case the fellow gingers of the jungle)

After spotting one, it was as if my eyes were unveiled; they were everywhere. A couple of these gentle beasts were on the eating platform gorging on bananas.  A few more were hanging out near the top of the trees. Off in the distance, a mother was attentively watching her baby as he climbed a tree.   

We stayed for 30 to 40 minutes carefully watching them. At one point one got curious about the jungle spectators. He jumped to a near tree, the width which was only a little bigger than my fist, grabbed on with all his hands and feet and bent the tree riding it down like a pole vaulter. At the height of his jump, he swung to a tree right above us.

Enjoying the attention, he looked down as if he was posing for the array of camera flashes before heading deep into the woods.

Heading back to the boat we continued our journey.  We soon stopped for dinner. While we ate on shore, the crew turned our deck, which had been our living room until this point, into a bedroom. We climbed into our mosquito nets and called it a night.    

By noon the next day we arrived at our final destination, Camp Leaky. This camp is the main base in Tanjung Putting National Reserve and serves as a conversation facility for the orangutans.

Camp Leakey was the highlight of the journey. We saw over a dozen orangutans; some were only a couple feet from us. We even saw one playful gibbon that kept stealing bananas for the gigantic male and running off before he had a chance to notice.

Trekking through the jungles of Borneo and watching these beautiful gingers in their natural habitat was an amazing experience.

Even now, I am just realizing how lucky I was to spend some time with these wonderful animals, and it is something I highly recommend when visiting wonderful Indonesia. It’s one of the most beautiful places in the world.

For more info check out this Guide to seeing Orangutans in Borneo.

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