By Kathryn Stocks

After Centennial residents Laurie and Bruce MacIsaac took a trip they loved to South Africa in 2018 that was based on safaris, they knew they wanted the same type of animal experience on their next trip. Orangutans have always been a favourite of Laurie’s so when a tour they were looking at mentioned those animals, they decided that Borneo was where they wanted to go.

They left in April and several flights later they landed in Kuching in the Malaysian state of Sarawak on the island of Borneo. “Every tour or activity that we did was focused on seeing wildlife,” Laurie said.

One tour took them to see Irrawaddy dolphins and proboscis monkeys,”which have crazy noses,” she said. They also went frogging and Laurie was amazed the guide could find the frogs in the dark.

In Mulu National Park, they took a tour of some beautiful caves and watched bats exit en masse. Animals they saw on other days included pygmy elephants (rare to see on a river cruise), macaques, a large monitor lizard, and lots of hornbills and other birds.

But the best part was when they saw orangutans at the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre. “It was great! They were very entertaining and always doing great stuff,” Laurie said. “They have such expressive faces and eyes.”

“The thing about orangutans is that their habitat is being decimated,” she said, mainly for palm oil plantations. “There is nowhere for them to live or they get caught for bush meat or sold as pets. This place rescues them and rehabilitates them to go out and live in the wild.”

While they were there, a large male orangutan came lumbering in and the guide told them he didn’t live at the centre, he just knew he could get food there when he’s feeling lazy. Laurie was disappointed they didn’t see any orangutans in the wild during the excursions, but was delighted to see these wild ones in the rehabilitation centre.

Orangutans are solitary primates with only the mother and child living together until they’re about 7, Laurie said. They’re also the largest animal that lives in the trees, spending about 90% of their time there. They sleep up there and every night they build a new nest. That’s why they’re so hard to spot in the wild.

The highlight of Laurie and Bruce’s trip to Borneo was seeing the animals and gaining an understanding of the conservation efforts needed to help them.

So what can we do? Sustainable palm oil is something that the Toronto Zoo is promoting with their new orangutan exhibit. You can’t tell people not to use it because it’s in everything, but there are ways to grow it that will not cause so much destruction of habitat, Laurie said. The Toronto Zoo has an app you can use to check the barcode on a product to see if it’s sustainable. Watch for the logo.

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