Tag Archives: tours

Bangkal – a gentle giant

I’d like to share with you a lovely story…

In October 2000, I went to Tanjung Puting National Park, Central Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo to join the Orangutan Foundation Volunteer Programme .  Back then, illegal logging of the national park was in full flow and because of this our group of 12 volunteers found it hard to keep our spirits up.  The whole reality of the situation came crashing down on us one day when we heard that an injured orangutan had been found close to where we were working.


Bankal in 2000 just after he was found.

Bankal, a sub-adult male aged about 11 years old, was found injured and weak. He had an open wound across his face and a horrible burn down the side of his face and neck. The cause of his injuries was all too clear, boiling oil had been thrown over him by illegal loggers. No one else would have done this.  It is probably one of the most heartbreaking things I have ever witnessed.  He was rushed to the Orangutan Care Centre and Quarantine Facility, run by Orangutan Foundation International, where he was given emergency surgery. 

Despite all he went through, Bankal remained incredibly gentle and trusting. During his recuperation, he developed a unique way of protecting himself from annoying insects, by using a blanket to cover his injured face. He would lift the blanket to allow people to feed him. 

Sadly, this was not the first tragic encounter Bankal had had with humans. It is likely that his mother was killed when he was still an infant.  He was caught, and may have been sold into the illegal pet trade.  Luckily he was discovered and confiscated by the Indonesian Authorities.  He then began the long, slow process of rehabilitation.  Bankal was a quick learner and his gentle, intelligent manner made him a favourite with everyone who cared for him.  He was first released into Tanjung Puting National Park and he became more and more independent and rarely needed to come to the feeding station.

Bankal recovered from his burn injuries and he was eventually released again in 2003, but this time into the Lamandau River Wildlife Reserve.  This June, almost 11 years after my first encounter with Bankal, I unexpectedly saw him again – this time in much happier circumstances.  I was leading a group of our supporters, from Steppes Discovery, which had been given permission by the Agency for Natural Resources Conservation (BKSDA) to visit the reserve for the afternoon.   As we walked through the forest an Orangutan Foundation staff member pointed out an orangutan on the forest floor. It was hard to make him out but when they said it was Bankal my heart jumped.  I was so thrilled to meet him again and see what a beautiful, magnificent adult male he had grown into.

Bangkal in forest Jenny Aundrews

Bankal in 2011 – photo by Jenny Aundrews

I am confident that Bankal will spend the rest of his life in the wild. His habitat is being protected and this we owe him. With a new vet programme in place we continue to monitor the orangutans that have been released.  With local communities, the Agency for Natural Resources Conservation and a local NGO, Yayorin we are safeguarding the future of this reserve for orangutans, forests and people.

Please consider a donation to help us continue our vital work.

Thank you,


Orangutan Foundation

Orang-utan Holiday

Two of the three Orangutan Conservation Tours that we run with Steppes Discovery each year have now finished leaving the last one departing in September. Ruby, who joined the first trip in June and kept the group entertained with her yoga poses and cartoon drawings, wrote the piece below for Latest 7 magazine, www.thelatest.co.uk/7 . We thought we’d share it with you…

Orang-utan Holiday

It has taken me several days to come down from my visit to Borneo.  I am completely orangutaned out. When I say that I was reading the same book on the plane back as the one I had started when flying out, and that the large bottle of gin L and I bought in Dubai was hardly touched at the end of the two weeks, it will give you some idea of how action packed this holiday was.

As we swanned up and down the Sekonyer river in a local boat (klotok) we were not allowed to just lie back and enjoy the surrounding jungle of the Tanjung Puting National Park. We had to look for proboscis and macaque monkeys in the trees and try and identify the various brightly coloured birds  and admire the  storks , geese and ducks  that flew overhead. Our guide, a beautiful young Indonesian man with high cheek bones and thick glossy black hair, had incredible eye sight and could see and identify a hornbill at five hundred yards, whereas I had trouble seeing it when we sailed past.

At Camp Leakey the ex-captive orangutans  were cheeky and not at all frightened of humans. Watching a mother swing through the trees with a tiny baby clinging to her back was just incredible. Later we were privileged to be able to visit the Lamandau (Lamandau River Wildlife Reserve) reserve where orangutans  are released or relocated and see the various community projects which help to protect the rain forest  by teaching the local people to earn a living  other than by logging or mining.

One day we had a five hour tramp through the jungle, tripping up on tree roots, sinking into bogs  and teetering along  tree branches like bad trapeze artists.  We were all geared up with rucksacks, water bottles,  mosquito repellent and trousers  tucked into our socks(against the leeches) while our lissom guide scampered ahead in flip flops!  It was magic when we managed to see some wild orangutans high up in the trees but I have never sweated so much in my life.  No time for a gin before collapsing into bed that night.

All the creepy crawlies seemed to be so much bigger in Indonesia –  ferocious red ants a good inch long, flying geckos and stick insects with large gossamer wings, cicadas which sounded like chain saws. I think that between us L and I were lucky to get away with only experiencing two leeches, one tummy bug and multiple mossie bites.  This has been one of the most exciting, uplifting and exhausting holidays ever.

Next week we’ll share some beautiful images taken in Tanjung Puting National Park.