Bill O'Neill, MS '10Conservation Biology
No Monkey Business: AUNE Student Works with Orangutans in Malaysia
I did a summer practicum in Borneo at Matang Wildlife Center. My focus at Matang and at Antioch is orangutan rehabilitation. As I embarked on my journey around the world I was nervous. I was traveling alone, it was the first time I had ever left the United States, and I had never been on an airplane longer than three hours. Nonetheless, it was a fulfillment of something I had always wanted to do. For my first time leaving the United States, I was able to briefly visit many different countries. I flew from Boston to Chicago, from Chicago to Hong Kong which was about sixteen hours in the plane, from Hong Kong to Singapore which was about seven hours, and then onto my final destination, Kuching, Sarawak Malaysian Borneo.
When I finally arrived in Kuching, I ventured away from the city to Matang Wildlife Center, which is near Kubah National Park and approximately one degree North of the equator. This area is comprised of extensive rain forest and is only an hour drive away from the South China Sea. My living situation was simple: I had a bed and a small propane grill for cooking. There was no television, no cell phone, and no Internet.
The Daily Grind
From 7:30 am to 5 pm Sunday through Friday, my focus was to take care of an infant orangutan and help out with the other primates and animals at the center. The infant orangutan's Indonesian name is Ting San, but she was introduced to me as Gus. She was one year old and came to the center because her mother was killed by poachers who wanted to illegally sell Gus as a pet. Luckily, for Gus's sake, the authorities found out about the killing and confiscated Gus and brought her to the center. Since she was so young, it was up to the workers at the center to get her to live on her own so she can eventually be released and survive in the wild.
My role at the center was feeding Gus her bottle, two daily feedings, getting her climbing in the trees, and walking her to the feeding platforms in the jungle. I know this all sounds incredibly exciting, but a large portion of each day was spent looking up at Gus high in the treetops making sure she didn't fall.
Another orangutan at the Center was Doris, a seven-year-old female with a particular fondness for humans, especially males. When Doris was less than a year old, her mother died. Doris was kept as a pet and treated poorly. Workers at the center believe that she is uncomfortable around females because the person who had her as a pet might have been a female.
Adjusting to the Jungle
It was tough in the beginning getting used to living in the jungle, but it did not take as long as I thought to acclimate myself to everyday life. Near the end of my trip, television, cell phones, and Internet did not even seem to exist anymore since I was not structured in a world dependent on these things.
The experience left a lasting impression on me. I am currently pursuing research possibilities so I can go back to the same area. I keep in touch with the project manager at Matang who gives me updates on how the orangutans are doing. The manager also sends me messages from the local Bidayuh and Iban people I met. They are waiting for me to come back and visit.