For the past three years, I have been working to protect orangutans and the rainforests native to Indonesia. Last month, I was fortunate enough to go on the trip of a lifetime to visit the islands of Borneo and Sumatra, the only place in the world where you can find orangutans. We had many incredible experiences on this trip, such as meeting the local Dayak people, seeing the large cities and small towns, replanting the rainforest, and even visiting a special school. The most memorable part of my trip was venturing out into the rainforest and seeing Sumatran orangutans for the first time in the magical Leuser Ecosystem.
Jack Dalton, Kid Conservationist & Youth Ambassador for Orangutan Alliance and Orang Utan Republik takes selfie with everyone in his ecotour group.
I was lucky enough to have gone on this trip hosted by Orangutan Odysseys with the Orangutan Alliance team, which included Maria Abadilla, the founder of Orangutan Alliance, and Lexi, the zookeeper who first started my conservation journey. We were leaving our ecolodge to go on our big hike of the trip, one that would last over the course of two days and included trekking across rivers and hiking up steep slopes, then sleeping overnight in tents beside a river. Miraculously, after just ten minutes into our multi-day journey, we spotted a rustling in the leaves. We looked up, and there we saw it: a big, bright red male orangutan sitting in the middle of a giant tree. Just a few meters away, another orangutan, a small female, maneuvered her way through the branches. This was our first sighting of Sumatran orangutans. It took my breath away. It was an indescribable beauty. First, the male, sitting there, looked so serene and calm, yet you could see in his eyes (and his arms) the strength he really had. Then the female, swinging through the trees reminded me of everything I had ever seen or heard about orangutans prior to seeing them wild myself - their intelligence, their maneuverability, and of course, their strikingly red color.
Thomas leaf monkey in the Leuser Ecosystem
This first encounter with these two orangutans led to the sightings of two others in the same area, both with the same magical aura as the first two. After observing them for about an hour, we continued on our hike, stopping along the way to spot mushrooms, gibbons, Thomas leaf monkeys, and more. Soon after, we stopped for lunch at a beautiful elevated place, looking out over the rainforest that surrounded us. We ate the usual, delicious lunch - fried potatoes, nasi(rice), and fruit, along with one of my favorite dishes of the whole trip, a spicy tempeh and peanut meal. After lunch, we went back to our journey, walking for another few hours before spotting another orangutan, but this time it wasn’t just one orangutan, it was a mother and its baby. This sighting was special to me because the orangutan I first fell in love with was Rowan, a baby orangutan who lived at the Memphis Tennessee Zoo. Seeing this mother and baby reminded me of Rowan and his mom, and the special connection between mother and baby orangutan. These sightings of animals with the cicadas constantly whirring in my ears made this hike just perfect. Eventually, we reached our campsite, signifying the end of our first day on the hike, though of course not before it poured, in traditional rainforest fashion.
Lone orangutan high in a tree
After this trip, I realized even more just how important it is to protect these places because we don’t want these precious orangutans and their rainforest home to disappear. My hope is that future generations of orangutan enthusiasts have experiences like these. Experiences that will shape who you are for the rest of your life, and motivate you to protect our world and all of its inhabitants.