Twenty five years ago I made my first trip to Borneo – a rugged island in South East Asia, famous for its rainforests and wildlife. My last visit started my fascination with orangutans and inspired The Call of the Wild (Choose Your Own Ever After) about a school girl who has to make a choice between following her friends to the biggest party of the year or following her heart – helping out at a fundraiser for the critically endangered orangutans.
Earlier this month I was back in Borneo. And I have to admit I was nervous as we flew past Mount Kinabalu towards the airport at Sandakan. A lot can change in a quarter of a century. Large tracts of rainforest have been cleared for palm oil plantations and the organgutan population has been decimated by habitat destruction and hunting.
Conservationists estimate that the numbers fell by 150,000 between 1999 and 2015. Orangutans are now on the critically endangered list. The statistics are heart-breaking but my visit was nothing short of amazing. It was incredible to go back to the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre where orphaned orangutans are being prepared for their return to the wild, with the support of Orangutan Appeal UK. Things are a bit more structured now and visitors are kept well away from the apes. Back in the day that wasn’t the case. I had to extricate myself from the clutches of a cheeky fellow who took a shine to me!
But the highlight this time was a few days on the Kinabatangan River, setting out at dawn and sunset, on the lookout for proboscis monkeys, pygmy elephants and of course, orang-utans, taking in the sights and sounds of this unique part of Borneo. One morning I woke to find a mother and her baby in the tree outside our villa at the Sukau Rainforest Lodge. I watched for an hour as the pair foraged for young leaves in the canopy overhear. Just magical.
If you’re into wildlife, make sure to visit soon, before more of this precious rainforest environment is lost forever.
If you can’t get to Borneo, check out The Call of the Wild for young adventure lovers.