My week in the outdoor nursery – my first interaction with the orangutans!

Last Monday I started my first week in the outdoor nursery with the orangutans! I was so excited to finally get up close to them and to really get stuck into helping at the centre. As excited as I was to meet them I was apprehensive too as I had no idea what to expect!

There are 5 orangutans that use the outdoor nursery – Beryl, Bidu-Bidu, Kolapis, Gellison and Chiquita. They are all juveniles and have been at the centre since they were babies. There are also semi wild orangutans here, they were here as babies but now come and go between the jungle and the centre. It’s great to learn about the stories of these orangutans and amazing to watch them thrive in the jungle.

When I first met them all I couldn’t really tell them apart but after spending six days with them their individual personalities shone through! They are all so funny and had us in stitches everyday! They are so loving but don’t be fooled because they keep you on your toes, you turn your back for 2 seconds and someones up to no good! Brooms, buckets, keys, EVERYTHING has to be locked away so they don’t get hold of them!

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We share the food between two feeding platforms and it’s great to see them going through the food to find the best bit to eat. Papaya always goes first! Rumbutans, which are a local fruit, similar to a lychee and it’s their favourite! They will do anything for a Rumbutan! We get those and hide them in the tyres and the platforms for them to find, it doesn’t take them long!

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Hiding the Rumbutans!

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When we’re working with the orangutans we have to encourage them to climb on the ropes and stay on the platforms, in the wild the babies would be up high with their mother away from the forest floor and the predators that could harm them, they also eat EVERYTHING and eating the dirt and mud on the ground can be very harmful to them.
We speak to them in Malaysian and use simple commands like up (nike), come (mari mari), walk (julan), in (masouk). At first it was hard to remember all the right words but after a day or two it was second nature to us!

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Mother of the year award goes to me! Beryl being far too distracted by a stick to walk!

When we walk with the orangutans you are told to hold onto their hands firmly, they feel safe knowing you have a firm grip on them and their mother would hold them tightly. The first time I walked out with one, Beryl, it was so bizarre. They are so strong and hold your hand so tightly, it’s an amazing feeling to walk along with them hand in hand. Little Beryl is so gentle and often looks up at you while you walk along, she also likes to hold both of your hands or holds onto your leg too as you walk along together. She is such a sweetheart!

I have had the BEST six days and I can’t belive I get to call it work! It’s such a pleasure to spend time and get to know these amazing animals. They share 96.4% of the same DNA as us and at times it’s hard to belive they can’t talk back to you, they are so human and have the most amazing personalities. I have felt so privileged just sitting there and observing them interacting with each other. I still can’t believe I’m here – I’m loving every minute!

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My first week of work: Jungle Trekking

I have officially started work! Monday was my first day and let me tell you, it was better than any other first day at work!
I’m in a group that is doing jungle trekking first, we are going out into the jungle and making any notes on new Orangutan nests that appear. A single Orangutan will make up to 3 nests a day and a nest is considered new if it’s between 1-15 days old.
I was really apprehensive about the trekking as I didn’t know what to expect and I was worried I wouldn’t be able to keep up but I’m three days in now and I’m loving it!

DAY ONE
On Monday we set out on our first trek – I was a little nervous, mainly because it’s so hot here and we have to wear so many clothes! A long sleeve top, our work t-shirt, long trousers, socks, leech socks AND big trekking boots! The temperature is usually about 30+ degrees! We got told we would be going on a 3km trek that day and we’d be noting down any Orangutan nests that we found. We started and I was instantly relieved as the pace is slow because we have to be looking up in the trees for nests! We started along a path and then our ranger had to start cutting a path for us to walk along!

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Making notes on the nests

It was amazing to be out in the jungle, the noise of the rainforest is so loud. There are birds and beetles making the strangest noises! We were worried on our first day about leeches, hence the long top and leech socks but our ranger said that there aren’t many at the moment (which we were relieved about!)

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It’s very slippery when you’re walking and there aren’t always places to put your feet, plus there are big spiders nest hanging from the trees! We were a bit wary of touching trees etc on the first day just incase we got bitten or stung by something!

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This tree is over 1,000 years old!

It was great to learn about the habitat, Jomius our ranger is so knowledgable as he’s been working at Sepilok for 25 years and knows about all the different trees and plants in the jungle.
After trekking for a while we came across a natural waterfall, it was beautiful and a nice place to stop for a rest!

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It’s amazing when you’re walking through the jungle because there are lots of old tourist trails that have now been abandoned so we find lots of old rope bridges with slats missing that we have to cross (…think Indiana Jones!) and old feeding platforms etc, one is from when the centre opened in 1964, it’s quite eerie to come across these things in the heart of the jungle.

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We found a total of 4 nests on Day 1 – well I say ‘we’ but Jomius found most of them!

DAY TWO
We trekked for 2km on the second day, we knew what to expect so we weren’t as nervous about it. Although this day the path was a little less clear as we trekked a different route. We did alot more climbing and ducking under fallen trees today.
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There had been alot of rain the night before so we had to jump across some streams too!

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Now, the hill in the above photo doesn’t look very steep but it was difficult to get up! We had to climb up this to avoid crossing a stream, it was a challenge because it was so slippery and there wasn’t anything to grab hold of and as fun as the challenge was… we were so happy when we got to the top!

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I think Jomius our ranger thinks we are crazy because we are always stopping to photograph mushrooms. The plants and mushrooms are incredible to see, it’s crazy how everything looks so overgrown but clearly everything has a place and everything thrives.
Even though day two had been a bit harder than the day before we all loved the challenge!

Here is a short video of us climbing across a log!

DAY THREE
When we went to work on day three we got told that we’d have another job that day. We were taking Ceria and Wulang into the forest to another feeding platform and hoping they’d stay in the forest for a few days as these Orangs are old enough to be living away from the centre now.
We trekked for about 1km with Ceria and Wulang in toe and as we started trekking Kalabatu, another semi wild orangutan from the centre decided to come with us too!
It was amazing to be trekking in the forest with the beautiful orangutans following us, it was such a surreal experience but I LOVED IT!
When we got to the feeding platform we gave the orangs some fruit that we’d bought with us and they were happy to sit up on the platform stuffing their faces!
The beautiful Wulang was hanging from the tree taking it all in, she was absolutely gorgeous!
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DAY FOUR
We trekked a little further away from the Orangutan centre in the Rainforest Discovery Centre. It was really nice to be seeing different sights and to do a few ‘touristy’ things like a canopy walk and walking up the Hornbill Tower which is a spiral staircase 27 metres above the ground – the views from the top were amazing!
We also saw a wild orangutan with her baby which was incredible to see!

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The Hornbill Tower – 27 metres above the ground with LOTS of steps!

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On the canopy walk at the Rainforest Discovery Centre

DAY FIVE
We went out with a different ranger today, it was good to go out into the forest with someone else, he was pointing out lots of things for us. We came across some palm trees, the ones which they grow on plantations for palm oil, and we gathered up the fruit to take back to the centre for the orangutans.
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DAY SIX
Today was our last morning trekking and considering I was so apprehensive about doing it I’ve really enjoyed it. Today we trekked to a new place, we heard some Gibbons ahead of us in the trees. The noises they make are so funny, like little whooping whistle noises.

Also whilst trekking we ended up on the edge of a palm oil plantation. It was so strange to see the landscape change, it goes from dense forest to rows of palms, with gravel walkways and the odd path of concrete. It’s sad to think that the forest was destroyed to make way for the palm oil plantations.

On the way back from the trek we were chatting to Jomuis, he’s been a great guide this week and has really looked after us while we’ve been falling over and trying to balance over logs etc. I’ve hung my trekking boots up for the meantime but they’ll be back on in 2 weeks when I trek again!

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Our last day off for a while: Sunday 11th September.

Sunday was our last day off for 6 days as we are starting work on Monday – we all wanted to do something constructive with our day off rather than just lazing about. We all decided to go to Mile 4 (here they name things in the mileage from Sandakan which is the biggest town) We wanted to get some yoga mats as Vicky, one of the other volunteers on the project is a yoga teacher and we all wanted to give it a go.
We got three taxis from our guesthouse, it was a fun car journey dancing to the radio and singing along, I’m sure the taxi driver thought we were crazy!
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It was really confusing walking around, we got lost – ALOT! We went into various sports shops but were holding out for one in particular which we were determined to find! We walked around all over but everything looks the same, the streets are in blocks so it’s difficult to know where you are at times!
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We ended up walking over the bridge to get to the other side of town to try and find the sports shop (we weren’t giving up!) and an ice cream shop which is meant to be the best in town! After crossing the bridge and walking for ages in the backing hot sun we found the ice cream shop….it was closed!
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We stopped off in another shop and after asking the shop owner we realised that the sports shop we had been looking for was actually in another place completely and we could only get there by car!…so we called it a day and decided to stop somewhere for a well deserved drink!
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We were still determined to find ice cream but we had to give up in the end because we were exhausted and HOT! We found a nice little cafe that did iced smoothies and juices so we all settled for a crushed fruit drink, kind of like a slush puppy. It was gooood! Vicky and Kelly also went off to find yoga mats and came back victorious! We then all sat down and enjoyed our lovely cold drink!
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We then came home and decided to go to the pool that’s a short walk away in a hotel. It was so hot and we wanted to cool off from our trip around the town! Five of us went down there and it was glorious! We then sunbathed on the sun loungers, making the most of lazing about as works starts Monday and we’ll be so tired!
After our swim we came home, had dinner then Vicky gave us our first yoga class! It was so much fun, we were all pouring with sweat instantly as it’s so hot here, even in the evenings. It was so relaxing and was great to do it all together, Vicky is a great teacher and we hadn’t realised we’d be doing it for an hour and a half!
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Another jammed packed fun day, before the real work starts!!!

Sunbear Sanctuary: Saturday 10th September 2016

On Saturday we got up, got all suited and booted in our gear and had our induction at the centre. It was great to meet all the staff, everyone here is so friendly and welcoming to us.

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After our induction we all had a lovely lunch together and headed back to the centre. Next door to the Orangutan Centre where I’m staying is a Sunbear Conservation Centre so we were taken there to have a look around.
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The sanctuary was amazing, there were big walk ways up in the canopy and lots of info around telling us about the bears. We were lucky enough to be shown around by a lovely lady called Gloria who told us so much about them, it was so interesting to find out about them. We then went outside to see the bears, it was great to see them, they are alot smaller than you think and have such distinct markings.
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There were 40 bears at the sanctuary and they have all been rescued. Most have come from the illegal pet trade, some are from restauraunts as people eat them, they also cut off their paws and use parts of their body in chinese medicine. One had been kept in a tiny cage for 17 years. To hear the stories of these bears was heartbreaking but to see them in their natural habitat was amazing. Sadly the centre, like most of the places around here don’t have the funding so rely heavily on devoted members of staff to keep the place up and running.
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It really was a great day and nice to see a new animal that I’ve never seen before. The staff at the centre were so welcoming to us and have said that we are welcome back anytime, to talk about how to help the bears or possibly volunteer if we have any extra time after our project. To learn more about the centre, to donate or adopt a bear you can visit http://www.bsbcc.org.my/

Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary: 9th September 2016

So today was a sweltering day, you can feel the heat as soon as you wake up. It’s so humid in the morning here and the sun was scorching!
Today John took half of our group the Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary which was about 25 minutes away from our guesthouse.
We ventured a different way in the car this time and we got to see some different sights – mainly the huge acres of palm trees that line both sides of the main road. The view is breath-taking and really is like nothing I’ve seen before. Since being here all of us have wanted to find out more information on the palm oil plantations. John has told us bits and bobs when we’ve asked and it’s so interesting to hear about. Palm oil is the number 1 trade in Borneo and roughly 20% of all palm oil sold in the world comes from Sabah, which is where I am staying. We were asking John about the ways in which they make the oil and he told us that is comes from the fruit and that it can be ground up and put into a lot of things like food, beauty products etc. He then pulled over and picked a piece of fruit to show us what it looks like and it was great to see a piece. I’m really interested to learn more about palm oil while I’m here as it effects on the forest are huge.

We arrived at the Sanctuary and the sun was still scorching us!

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The sanctuary itself was relatively small but the views were incredible! You walked out onto a wooden deck and were presented with huge green trees and lots of wooden platforms for the monkeys to climb on. The trees started to rustle and little orange flashes started to appear, then little faces started popping out on the trees, then they all started leaping onto the platforms as a man has started to feed them.

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Watching these monkeys was so different to watching the Orangutans, these ones seemed to be on the look out alot more and one shriek from one of them and they’d all dart off into the trees again! It was fascinating to watch them interact with each other and you could definitely see that there was a hierarchy in the group.

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There was also a Hornbill that flew in from a tree to be fed a banana, it was such a beautiful bird and it’s beak was huge!

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After the Hornbill we went back and watched the monkeys again, there was a mother and a baby and I could have watched them all day. The way the mother was grooming him and he was going off to explore and then getting scared and running back to Mum, or anyone that would save him! The other monkeys were very gentle with the baby and it was lovely to watch them all with him.

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I’m absolutely loving spending the time watching these amazing animals in their natural habitat, the way they interact and use their environment around them in incredible to see and definitely something you don’t get when you watch them at the zoo. What another great day!

Trip into Sandakan -8th September 2016

Today was our first outing into Sandakan which is the nearest town and is about 15miles from where we are staying. We were picked up by John who looks after us here, he drove us round pointing out intesting facts about the town and showing us the sights.

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We were taken to the Sandakan War Memorial first – the gardens surrounding it were so beautiful, there was a huge pond with huge lily pads and terapins and the flowers growing there were beautiful!

The memorial was funded by the Australian government as it was a camp that British and Australian prisoners of war were kept at and it was the starting point to where three different death marches took place. Seeing the remains of the tanks and tools used was incredible but reading the plaques and the stories of what the prisoners of wars went through was really tough but very educational too.

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Sandakan War Memorial

The next stop was the Buddhist Temple at the top of a really steep hill in Sandakan. It was a beautiful building and the views from the top were incredible!

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We made our way back to the car and headed to our next stop which was a little shop to pick up our wellies and leech socks for work! (nice!)

After the shop John took us to a traditional floating village, he was telling us that alot of people live in floating houses as you don’t have to pay as much tax and it’s an easier to to live. The houses there were all painted bright colours and there were little resteraunts down there too with their menus hanging in the windows.

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The people in the village were so friendly, as we walked past all the children were waving and shouting “hello!” and coming to talk to us, they were so sweet. We went to a ladies house who had lots of cats outside, turns out she rescues them and she had 20 at home, we stayed outside photographing the cats and speaking to her and her kids for a while then headed back to the car.

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It was great going around Sandakan, learning about new cultures and meeting some of the people there, hopefully we’ll be heading back soon for another look around.

Day two: Pool & Cocktails (…I know right?!)

After an amazing nights sleep I woke up refreshed and ready to start a new and exciting day! We all ate breakfast together which was lovely and then decided to venture down to the feeding platform again.

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The platform is a short walk away from the centre and it’s where tourists can see the Orangutans so it can get quite busy. We got there early and the jungle seems quite peaceful, then you’ll notice the trees will start swaying and rustling, then you’ll see a flash of Orange! The food is placed on the platform so everyone can get a good view, it’s fascinating seeing them sorting through the food on offer, trying to pick out the best piece of fruit on offer!

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We stayed there for an hour or so then came back to the resthouse and got our swimming gear ready as there is a hotel near by with a pool and wifi! It was glorious to be able to cool off in the pool, which was actually like a warm bath! but it gave us all some relief!
After the pool we headed to another local hotel for cocktails as it was Sarah (another volunteer’s) birthday! It was so lovely sitting with everyone, sipping cocktails having a laugh and a chat and getting to know one another.

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oh my…!

So I still can’t believe I’m writing this from the jungle of Borneo (sidenote – it’s after midnight here so apologies in advance if this makes no sense) The rain is hammering it down outside but with temperatures of 30+ it’s nice to get some relief from the humidity! So where do I start?!…

well we arrived at Sandakan airport at about midday and were picked up by Ronn who is our ‘go-to’ for this trip and made our way to the resort which was only about 25 minutes car journey from the airport, she had explained to us in the car that if we were quick at taking our bags up to our rooms when we got back to the house we might have enough time to catch the orangutans at the feeding station. The feeding station is a viewing platform that’s open to tourists that visit the centre, they feed the orangutans here twice a day. We were all beyond excited and threw our bags in the guesthouse (which is lovely by the way and much nicer than I expected!) and made our way down there!
As we started walking into the jungle I couldn’t get over the noise, it’s so loud with buzzing and screeching from the birds and insects. We walked down a wooden walk way and I just couldn’t believe where I was, it was so overwhelming and like nothing I’ve ever seen before. The trees are so tall and the bases of some of them are as big as a small car!

As we arrived at the feeding platform I saw the trees rustling ahead me, I looked up to see two Orangutans swinging through the trees right in front of me! I could not believe my eyes, to see these animals in their natural habitat is so overwhelming, now you’ll not be surprised to hear that I cried! I was just so happy to be there and after waiting 19 months I was finally in Borneo watching Orangutans swinging through the jungle, I couldn’t believe how lucky I was to be seeing such a sight.

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Our walk to the jungle

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The feeding station (minus the Orangutans)

Now….quick mention about the heat. IT.IS.HUMID. While we were watching the Orangutans the sweat was pouring off of me and you are just breathing hot air, it’s a small price to pay though so I won’t complain.

After the feeding station we all came back to the house, chilled out and pretty much collapsed with exhaustion. We couldn’t believe the amazing day we’d had and how lucky we are to be staying here for two months!

 

…twas the night before!

So I’m packed (…I’m still gonna double check everything tomorrow morning like a crazy person!) and it’s nearly time to leave!
I cannot believe how quickly the time has gone, I booked the trip 19 months ago and I leave tomorrow morning! I feel excited but also nervous to be doing this alone and sad to be leaving behind great friends and obviously my family for a year but I know it will all be worth it when I get there…..after the endless plane journey!
Hopefully WIFI won’t be too hard to find and I can keep everyone updated….
Big Hugs to everyone and I can’t wait to start blogging about my trip! Amy x