It was nearly one year ago that I first found out I would be heading off to Borneo for the opportunity of a lifetime: a six-month internship with Orangutan Foundation International at the Orangutan Care Center and Quarantine (OCCQ) in Kalimantan, Indonesia. I had a few months to prepare for this journey but nothing can prepare you to for its end, although it is inevitable. As I reflect upon my experience I am filled with gratitude, awe, inspiration, and sadness. How am I supposed to pack my bags, board a plane, and leave this world behind?
For the past six months my office has been the forest and my colleagues orangutans. My position as Communications Intern has allowed me the honor of sharing the stories of these amazing animals with the world. Although my dream has come true, there are over 330 orangutans that are still waiting for their dream of being wild again. Without OFI, these orangutans would not even have that chance to dream. Their fates would have been sealed the moment their mothers were killed and taken away from them. Thankfully, they have safe places to sleep, fresh fruit to eat, and caregivers to take them to the forest.
I have seen the devastation that humans have inflicted upon the forests in Kalimantan. I have driven through hundreds of kilometres of palm oil plantations, visited mining sites, and met the results of illegal logging – infant orangutans suddenly orphaned with panic and heartache in their eyes. Precious forest habitat is disappearing at a nearly unstoppable rate: not only affecting wild orangutan populations, but also affecting the future of rehabilitated orangutans. Where will they go? Time is of the essence with orangutan conservation. We cannot wait – we must act now. But can we right our wrongs? Can we change what we have done? The only answer I have to these questions is that we must.
Losing any of our planet’s precious life to the point of extinction is a terrible tragedy. But to lose a great ape, our history, our almost ancestors? This is a tragedy of unthinkable proportions. At least it is for me. When I look into the eyes of an orangutan or compare the size of my hands, I have a hard time believing that we are so different. Perhaps this is the reason I am so drawn to them. Orangutan mothers care for their infants much like my mother cared for me. When I watch juvenile orangutans play, I cannot help but think about children at the playground or in the sandbox.
I will never forget the orange halo that radiates from an orangutan as it forages in the canopy on a sunny day or falling asleep at night to the majestic sound of long calls. It is only in my final days here that I truly realize what I have experienced and what I will greatly miss. I thank Orangutan Foundation International for not only giving me this opportunity but also for the amazing work they do. I thank the orangutans for sharing so much of themselves with me. I thank the people of Pasir Panjang and the staff at the OCCQ (including my fellow volunteers) for not only accepting me but befriending me. So instead of saying goodbye, I say sampai jumpa lagi – until we meet again.