Though I’ve been here in Kuching over a year now, I’ve barely been outside of the city. Partly because of that, I had the impression that all the “real” nature was to be found far into the uplands. So I was very pleasantly surprised when I visited Semenggoh just a half an hour’s drive from our house. Semenggoh is a state park with an Orangutan rehabilitation center attached to it. “Apes in rehab?!”, you’re thinking, “what are they, on crack?”
Ahem. No, these are orangutans who have been orphaned in the wild or were illegal pets or so forth, and are now being retaught how to live in the jungle. They are fed twice a day by rangers who leave big piles of fruit on an elevated platform, and the orangutans come brachiating in out of the jungle for the free food. It was an amazing thing to see animals this way, freely moving around in their own habitat. We were on the other side of a small ravine from the feeding platform, but some of the orangutans had brachiated on over, and were literally overhead, some 20 or 30 feet up in the trees above us. They didn’t swing from vine to vine like tarzan either, they would swing to small trees which would bend over under their weight till they could grab another one. The largest male in the group, who had a black leathery face and chest and must have weighed half a ton, misjudged a tree and it bent all the way to the ground, dumping him rather ungracefully. My son and daughter had a blast, with my daughter asking me the very next day when we could go back to visit the “orang rambutan”.
Which brings me to our fifth Malay contribution to English: Orangutan comes from two malay words, Orang meaning man or people and hutan meaning jungle. So, people of the jungle. I have heard though that the name was only given to the creatures by the British. Maybe someone out there can confirm or deny that? There is a local Sarawakian name for them too, but I can’t remember what it is.
[Update: Orangutans are called Mawas in Malay and Kuyat locally, according to comments received below. -Ed.]
Well, we had so much fun that we went back last week, this time with my father (that would be Gregory) and uncle, who were visiting for a few days. We didn’t have as much luck though: no orangutans. But we did see a very lively gibbon, a few crocs, and an unusual tree dropping that I must conclude is a fruit but is pretty enough to be a flower. It kind of resembles the terap, except petite and decorative, so maybe it is an Artocarpus of some kind.
[Update: The fruit is Anthocephalus sp., a member of the Rubiaceae, eaten by gibbons. TQ, Iqbal.]