We recently gave our lucky competition winner, Libby Palmer, a nine-day trip that took her from our Malaysian restaurant in Maida Vale to the tropical island paradise of Malaysian Borneo.
We’ve already recounted most of Libby’s South East Asian adventures, from the mouth-watering food to the astonishing scenery – but here we’ll explore the time she spent with the orangutans of the Sepilok Nature Resort.
Libby’s first encounter with one of these gentle giants was not long after she first arrived in Sepilok, when an orangutan named Michelle wandered close to the cabin she was staying in. The local orangutan sanctuary is close to the resort, and the animals are able to roam free in the protected area, occasionally crossing paths with the people staying there.
The largest tree dwelling animal on Earth, orangutans are the only great ape of Asia, and are found exclusively on the islands of Borneo and northern Sumatra. Despite their size, orangutans are not aggressive creatures – they can often be found simply sitting and gazing for hours at a time.
They also lead quiet, solitary lives. Once an orangutan reaches maturity, they spend most of their time alone. The exception to this is when females give birth – the bond between an infant orangutan and its mother is among the strongest of any animal. For the first few years of their life, an infant orangutan clings to its mother’s body as they journey around the forest together.
During her time at Sepilok, Libby made a trip to the nearby orangutan sanctuary, where she met David, a representative of Orangutan Appeal UK. In recent years the number of orangutans has been falling for a number of reasons, but the main one is the loss of their preferred lowland habitat. Logging, mining, palm oil extraction and forest fires have all sped up deforestation and robbed the orangutans of their preferred home. Although the Sepilok resort and organisations such as Orangutan Appeal UK are hard at work trying to protect the orangutans as best as they can, they are currently listed as ‘critically endangered’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
Seeing the problems faced by the orangutans she encountered, Libby decided to do something about it. As well as adopting an orangutan named Gelison, she made the decision to run the London Marathon in 2018 to raise funds for Orangutan Appeal UK. She should find out later this year whether she has secured a place, so we’ll be keeping you updated about her progress.