Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Visiting the orangutans

One of the main SOS projects in Sumatra is an ecotourism programme in Bukit Lawang, site of the old Orangutan rehabilitation centre inside the Gunung Leuser National Park. Bukit Lawang is a small village about three hours away from the hustle and bustle of Medan city and our office. You can’t really go to Sumatra and not go trekking to see the jungle and hopefully some of the amazing wildlife. A group from SOS and OIC was already heading there so I jumped in the OranguVan and we headed due west.

Taking all the traffic chaos of Sumatra into account, we made it to Bukit Lawang before lunch, and made our initial stop at a building which SOS has just recently purchased. Once the renovations are completed this space will be used as an internet cafe/information centre and will be staffed by OIC. This will be a place where both tourists and locals can come to learn about the rainforest and the orangutans and will have loads of information about what we do as a charity.
Bukit Lawang used to house an orangutan rehabilitation project, and still gives visitors the chance to spot orangutans and other wildlife by trekking into the jungle. You hire a guide from the Bukit Lawang guide association and head into the wild. For various reasons (disease transmitting, increased dependence on humans etc.) it is strictly forbidden to feed, touch or disturb the orangutans in any way, and the rule is that one should always keep at a safe 10 meters distance of the animals (guidelines). Unfortunately, this is not always the
case. The guides want to make money, and the tourists want their “real wildlife experience” and possibly a photo of themselves hugging the orangutan – a practise which the OIC are working to put a stop to. As we make our way through the jungle we spot an orangutan and her baby that have obviously just been fed by a tour group, we stick around for a while to ensure there is no more feeding and that no one is tempted to get a photo of themselves hugging either mother or child. In order to control these situations and hopefully put an end this practice, SOS are working with the guide association, providing an extensive training programme for guides in the area. We are also trying to generate more awareness with the tourists to encourage them to say “no thanks” if they are offered such close encounters with the animals.

During our trek we also visited a hectare of land that belongs to OIC. The
land was previously part of a rubber plantation, placed just on the outskirts of the national park. SOS were able to buy the plot with the support of Patron Bill Bailey, a couple of months ago and is working to turn this area into rainforest once again. Fast growing indigenous tree seedlings have already been planted and hopefully it will not take too long time until the area is once again covered by the rainforest. Cheers Bill!

That’s it for now, catch you later!

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