Buluh Kecil River: Visiting orangutan nests above a giant “mirror”

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Orangutans create nests from branches and leaves to protect themselves from the heat and rain. (photo: IO/Pramitha Hendra)

IO – I have actually long been aware of Tanjung Puting National Park (TNTP) in West Kotawaringin, Central Kalimantan. However, only in mid-March this year was I able to visit the largest orangutan conservation area in the world.

At 06.30 WIB, alongside a group of friends, I arrived in Kumai Port, the main access point to the park. Under a cloudy sky, I prayed that the sunrays would share their positive energy for my first adventure in Borneo. A neat row of boats or kelotok were lined up on the north to the south of the Kumai River coast could be seen.

I was about to head up Buluh Kecil River via a speedboat owned by the National Park. For me, Buluh Kecil River was very foreign as the National Park was more often associated with Sekonyer River. After 90 minutes traveling at about 80 km/hour along Kumai River, the speedboat slowed down as it entered Buluh Kecil River.

“In Buluh River, the attraction is the water. We can see animals in the water, so there is no tracking,” explained the West Koawaringin Tourism Office Head Drs. Wahyudi.

My prayers were answered as the morning sun appeared and lit up the black river water between the Nipa palm trees. That morning, the sky was perfectly reflected on the river’s surface and was the object of my first photo during the trip.

I was suddenly surprised by a troop of proboscis monkeys jumping from tree branch to tree branch. Like a circus act, they continued to move around agilely. Because of their large noses, many say that proboscis monkeys are the most handsome primates.

We continued our trip as the stars of the National Park had not yet appeared. Every so often I would see a feeding station for the orangutans at the side of the river. As time went on, the Buluh Kecil River became narrower and narrower. The river’s breadth was now only 3-4 meters, and the speedboat crept along at a turtle’s pace. I continued to search for any signs of orangutans in the trees.

“There’s one!” screamed a friend of mine. Immediately all eyes were on a single orangutan relaxing in its nest. I could see the orangutan very clearly. It was perhaps only 7-10 meters away. The sound of camera shutters became the background of my adventure that day. A sense of beauty and sweetness was present whenever the orangutan moved — every act photographed by excited tourists.

Orangutan Nest
Just like humans, orangutans can make their homes or nests. This endemic primate is arboreal, meaning it spends most of its life in the trees. Orangutan create their nests from branches and leaves to protect themselves from the heat and rain. “Usually orangutans create their nests near a source of food and water. They create their nests in only 5-15 minutes. The thickness of orangutan nests is around 40-50 cm,” explained Tanjung Puting National Park Public Relations and Data Presenter Evan Ekananda.

Orangutan nests are made 5-7 meters above the ground and some 11-20 meters above the ground in lowland forests. Those with babies usually only create nests 5 meters above the ground while male and female orangutans with older children ages 7-8 usually create nests 11-20 meters above the ground.

Orangutans will continue to move and create nests throughout their days. They can differentiate their nests from nests made by others. Interestingly, if they find one of their old nests, they will repair it.

Another interesting fact about orangutans is that when they want to determine their territory, they will scream – and however far their scream is heard is what they consider their territory. If another male orangutan trespasses on their territory they will fight to determine a winner. These territories do not apply to female orangutans who are free to roam about wherever.

“Those who come to Buluh Kecil River are usually tourists who need peace and are avoiding the increasingly dense activities in Sekonyer River. Here, unlike Sekonyer River, orangutans can be seen more in their habitat in the wild in their nests above the trees,” explained Orangutan Days Guide and Central Kalimantan Indonesian Guide Association (HPI) Chairman Yomie Kamale.

Observing orangutans in their nests was a first for me. My speedboat finally harbored in Harapan Cape. Unlike Buluh Kecil River, which was empty and quiet, Harapan Cape was full of local and international tourists looking to observe orangutans.

Harapan Cape was about an adventure in the middle of the forest. You could see orangutans play and eat fruit at feeding stations only 20 meters away.

Cape Keluang

After enjoying my time with the orangutans, I decided to rest in Cape Keluang. The trip from Buluh Kecil River to Cape Keluang was around 45 minutes. For me, Cape Keluang was a place to relax and eat lunch.

Cape Keluang itself is worth visiting. The sand is clean, the waves calm, and the beautiful beaches are an ideal location for snorkeling and watching the sunrise. If you are lucky, you might also meet hawksbill turtles laying eggs on the beach. (Pramitha Hendra)