This weekend I sit in a shack at Black Point indulging in good food, wine, listening to music & swimming in the ocean with three of my girlfriends having a peaceful break from my hectic life. This is a stark contrast to the past six months of my life which have… well, keep reading and you may understand.
I have wanted to write about my time in Indonesia for a while now but I have just not felt ready to confront all my mixed emotions. But all of a sudden in this shack here in Black Point as my friends one year old daughter April looks up at me with her big blue innocent eyes the only thing on my mind is the orangutans and their big innocent eyes which have such a depth to them that gets right into your soul and changes your life. So I begin to write…
Most of the time it’s someone with orange hair that I am thinking about, it could be Tommy, Dewa or Charlie on my mind. It’s often Charlie’s captivating personality that makes me break out into a random smile or Tommy’s little face that would melt my heart everyday as my family and friends sit reading gossip magazines on the Hollywood stars or talk about which $160 face moisturiser is the best. Most of the time though it is the fact that they are stuck in cages and I am worrying if they have had enough to drink or if they have been out to the forest in a while that plays on my mind. Even though I am not normally a person who cries I know I could burst into tears in just a moment. These things are weighing on me constantly. While they could be considered a massive blessing or burden, I would never change the path my life has taken for anything in the world.
It’s Charlie’s funny personality that I want to tell you about because he actually is the funniest little boy around, this I am sure of. Charlie has a very quirky personality and just like some children stand out in your life, this little boy stands out in mine; Charlie just oozes charisma. One adorable thing about Charlie is the fact that he is a two and a half year old who is so childlike it’s hilarious. Charlie’s preferred mode of transport to the forest for his release time is to climb down onto your foot and just sit there clinging to the leg, looking up at you with his big animated eyes. So, picture two orangutans in your arms, sometimes another on your back and then little Charlie on your foot, now this is not an easy thing to do, walking with four orangutans on your body. Every now and again Charlie will even be eating a mango or a banana while you walk with him and although you will be all sticky you can’t help but allow it as he is just too funny!
Charlie is also known for his tantrums and could compete with any two-year-old child. If you have something Charlie wants and you say ‘no’, Charlie will throw himself on his back, cry out loud and almost scream and throw his arms about just like a two-year-old child would do in the shops when mum says no to a candy. It’s heartbreaking in the shops for the mothers and it is heartbreaking with Charlie just the same but you can’t help and smile at him because he is so adorable for such a tiny little man. Once his tantrum ends, he starts to sulk and just like with the two-year-old child your heart melts and you nearly always want to give in to them but know that you need to stay strong. But when Charlie’s big, beautiful eyes look at you and his lip is pouting it takes all your strength to not to melt, cave in and serve him whatever he may desire. Charlie also was known for being a little bit err…. excitable… he had his special face for this and you knew what was on! this small man’s mind especially if you were wearing crocks. He liked to attempt to get close to the little holes in them. Charlie really is a special boy indeed.
One more story is about Dewa. It is not uncommon for orangutans to feel stressed or depressed in current cages and as a result of this they are prone to lose their hair and weight which is just heartbreaking to witness. Dewa was like this when I arrived. He would sit alone with his arm over his eyes hiding from the world. As I sit and write this the tears fall again! Anyway, I worked with Dewa everyday giving him vitamins, food, love and extra forest time to make him happy and stronger. After four and a half months it is hard to even recognize him from when I arrived. He is now a fatty with lovely hair on the way and he was also a lucky boy who got a brand new spacious enclosure. Most importantly, he now lives and plays with his friends.
Many orangutans stand out in my life as they all have their own story, scars and their own personality. Despite my family looking at pictures and thinking they all look the same, they all actually have their own features and individuality. Each story behind the reason of them being in the care centre is just as heart breaking as the other. You see, all of the 340 orangutans are orphans. They have all been victims of Man’s destruction and devastation to this planet. I personally went on my visa run and drove through five hours of nothing but palm oil plantations. There, people burn forests so they can plant more palm oil plantations. Many orangutan babies are victims of the palm oil industry where the mother has been trying to eat as there really is not much forest left for them to find adequate food. They have been seen as pests and the mother has been killed and we end up with a distraught baby that will have to live in captivity until it is old enough to take care of its! elf again in the wild. They are usually up to or over eight years old and even then some of them just don’t have the skill to look after themselves. Some are so traumatised by what they have been through in their lives that they may never get over it and this is if there is even enough forest left for them to be released into. It’s all due to deforestation and the pet trade that these babies have to live without their mothers.
This care centre is run by Dr Birute Galdikas who is in my eyes an amazing lady who has dedicated 41 years to these beautiful babies. She and the staff at the care centre are doing what they can to get by and care for every orangutan. This centre runs on a fundraising/ donation basis and its monthly food bill would make any person flinch. But she just keeps going and caring and scraping by with bills and fundraising to purchase rainforest for the release as so many grown orangutans are depending on this for their chance at freedom which is something that should just be their natural born right. My concern is that the centre was never build for the number of orangutans they have and it is well over crowded. This is where I have taken on the challenge of improving the lives of the orangutans while they are in captivity.
Prior to my 2012 visit I raised $10,000 to build larger enclosures as the current enclosures really do not even allow them to move at all. They live full time in these cages and if they are lucky they get to go to the forest for three hours every three days. The cages that were built with the $10,000 are not by any means large and amazing if you compare them to most modern zoo enclosures but they have provided a space for between five to ten orangutans, depending of course on what age they are. In the new cages they can have permanent enrichment so they can move around and play all day between their forest release times. This is great for their muscle strength and the enrichment keeps them entertained so they are not losing their very intelligent minds. They have also all been given a bed (which is a rocking hammock made out of a barrel that has been cut in half) to sleep in at night so they are off the floor, which is where most of them are currently sleeping. The new enclosures are 3m x 4m which is not large but obviously much better than some of the current 1.5m x 1m cages. Initially the intention was that every orangutan would be in the forest every day and the cages were just made for sleeping. But with so many now this is actually impossible.
We could never anticipate the reaction we would receive from the orangutans as they would explore the new environment. Some of them were so used to the confined space that it seemed the new large space was a scary move and it could take up to three weeks for them to adjust and start enjoying the space. For others, imagine Christmas morning when you see the children approach the Christmas tree and find out Santa had been there and left them a present, the little eyes all lit up with excitement. This is what it is like for most of the orangutans when they are moved. They enter the new enclosure and immediately check everything out, they always so gently touch different things in there and then smell their finger, then lick it, after this it seems ‘what can I break’ is on their minds and then ‘how does this work’? Always with big bright eyes. It truly brings a tear to the eye simply knowing that their lives are now just that little bit nicer for them after everything th! ey have been through. Another job of mine was to go around and check that they actually hadn’t broken anything and, if so, repair it. This was also rewarding because I could see that even after two months in the new cage they were still continuously playing happily and there could truly be no bigger reward.
Each new cage costs $3000 plus around $200 for enrichment. My goal is to raise over $30,000 to build as many new enclosures as I can, fill them all with enrichment and orangutan beds & if I can raise even more I would like to buy forest to help them with releasing the older orangutans. My hope is that every orangutan will have a better quality of life while it waits to be released.
Snapping back to reality I am sitting in Black Point, right on the beach front really relaxing and enjoying time with my girlfriends but my heart is still in Borneo with what I now call ‘my babies’. I feel so distant in this world now and further away from anything going on here. I am constantly worried if the orangutans are ok and I am forever thinking of ways to raise money to improve their lives. I feel overwhelmed by so many issues in this world we live in and this is just the beginning for me. I often wonder if there are other people out there who feel the same. So much help is needed but I am only one person and I am only home in Adelaide for three months before I return to what now feels like home in Borneo. I am choosing the orangutans and their living conditions to be my main concern. So I now ask anyone who can afford a few dollars donation or would like to buy or help sell my raffle tickets, help me, hold an event or support the cause in anyway, please contact me through our facebook site at www.facebook.com/HelpingOrangutansThePeopleOfTheForest.
There is no better feeling than knowing these beautiful babies have a better quality of life.
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