As our boat nears Camp Leakey we can’t believe our eyes when we see two orangutans on the jetty. They are orange blobs in the distance, but we excitedly take many photos. Fardi our guide tells us they are Peta and her baby Petra and they often wait at the jetty to meet the visitors.

mum and baby orangutans at camp leakey
Peta and Petra

Camp Leakey

Camp Leakey is situated at the branch of the Sekonyer River in Tanjung Puting National Park in Borneo, Indonesia and is home to the last of the orangutans that were rehabilitated here. A passionate Birute Galdikas set up Camp Leakey in 1971 with a few huts in the jungle accessible only by dugout canoe. She began documenting the ecology and behavior of wild orangutans for the first time. Birute brought the attention of the orangutans to the rest of the world and is the foremost authority on them.

Birute Galdikas
Birute Galdikas on the cover of
National Geographic 1975

Camp staff supplements the diet of the free-roaming orangutans with bananas to discourage competition between the ex-captive orangutans and the wild population. The orangutans approach the feeding platforms from the tree canopies in the forest. This provides a great opportunity to observe them up close in their natural environment.

Doyok the dominant orangutan
Doyok the dominant male relaxes in a tree after grabbing bunches of bananas.

We fly into Pangkalan Bun and are met by our guide Fardi and transfer to Kumai. Here we board our traditional river boat called a klotok that will take us on the 4-hour journey up river to Camp Leakey. The rest of the local crew greet us; our captain Sabri, our cook Imbran and deckhand Udin. They serve us a welcome drink and over the next few days we experience first class service and Indonesian hospitality.

Gina and her baby Gam

The Klotok

We love our basic but comfortable klotok. Downstairs is the crew’s quarters and the kitchen.The top deck is all ours and from here we watch black hornbills fly overhead, orangutans build their nests in trees on the riverbank and proboscis monkeys swing from the trees at dusk. At times we share the deck with an orangutan, and a gibbon called Boy drops in while we have lunch. At night we dine by candlelight and sleep on a soft mattress on the deck in the open air with the clear night sky overflowing with stars above us. We go to sleep listening to the gentle waves and the river breeze cooling us.

Akhmad and our klotok

Imbran serves up amazing culinary delights with only a small gas burner and a few pots and pans in the little area below. He prepares scrumptious and authentic Indonesian meals served three times a day with plenty of snacks in-between.

Macaque Monkey
Macaque monkey

The Orangutans

Over the next few days, we not only experience the friendliness and warmth of the locals but we encounter the most heartwarming moments with primates that we will treasure for the rest of our life. Our days are spent with the orangutans and other wildlife in the rainforest. We meet the macaques, gibbons and orangutans including the notorious Unyuk and her baby Ulexa. We get to know the individual orangutans, and their intelligence and human-like sense of humour never ceases to amaze us.

Ray & Atlas

Unyuk & Ulexa

On our first day when returning from a trek in the jungle Unyuk stops me on the walking track and feels my body all over like a security check. She pats my pockets to see if I have a treat for her. My uncertainty turns to excitement when I feel her gentleness. Her ginger fur sticks up all over the place like a bad hair day, and I notice her ginger eyelashes. I look into her brown treacle eyes and see crafty shrewdness, but I also see eyes that are passive and gentle. “We nickname her Trouble,” says Fardi. Unyuk is an ex-captive mistreated orangutan who has been at Camp Leakey for 37 years.

Unyuk and Ulexa
Unyuk and her baby Ulexa

Peta & Petra

One afternoon while relaxing on the deck the klotok starts rocking as Peta makes a mad rush on the deck and grabs a packet of chocolate chip biscuits, dropping most of them in her haste. Back on the jetty, Peta and Petra greedily lick the empty packet of crumbs. Later in the afternoon, we are ecstatic when Peta makes a nest in a tree across from our boat. The next couple of nights they cheekily watch over us.

doyok the lead orangutan
Doyok the lead orangutan has so much character.

Doyok

A 27-year-old ex-captive orangutan called Doyak is the dominant male and rules the platform closest to Camp Leakey. With his distinctive cheek pads and stature, he reminds me of Chewbacca the Wookiee from Star Wars. Some orangutans are allowed on the platform and some are not. They nervously check to make sure it is safe and that he’s not looking before descending from the trees, grabbing a bunch of bananas and making a run for it. Some are not fast enough to avoid a thump over the head from him.

Siswe

Siswe

During a storm, an orangutan called Siswe picks ferns, leaves and branches and arranges them on her head like an umbrella. Her eyes are full of laughter as we get drenched. She loves the attention of photographers and plonks herself right in front of us. She is often seen lying around on the jetty with her legs waving in the air. From grooming herself to eating a banana, everything Siswe does is done in a theatrical way. Siswe is the only female orangutan at camp with no baby. An infection which nearly killed her a few years ago made her infertile. Born in 1978, she was the first baby born to a rehabilitated orangutan at Camp Leakey. Her mum Siswoyo was kept in a tiny cage and barely able to walk when she was brought to Camp Leakey in 1975.

Sue and Akhmad
Sue and Akhmad

Akhmad & Atlas

One morning we have the camp to ourselves. Akhmad and her seven-year-old son Atlas follow us back to the boat. Akhmad is also an ex-captive orangutan and has lived at Camp Leakey since 1975. She is very friendly and eight months pregnant, and I hope she will give birth during our visit. The morning is spent with them on the jetty and we get so close to them, they even lay down beside us while we read. The highlight is when Akhmad hesitantly holds her hand out for me, and I offer her my hand and she holds it firmly.

Dominant male - Doyok 27 year old ex-captive
Doyok greedily grabs a bunch of bananas.

Tut & Tor

Tut and her baby girl Tor wait in the camp and they are the first orangutans we see every morning when we leave our klotok. One morning Tut snatches our water bottle and guzzles the water as quickly as she can with most of the water dribbling down her chin and her ginger beard. They are a beautiful pair and Tut dotes on Tor; always playing with her, grooming and giving her lots of cuddles and attention, sometimes with ruthless thoroughness.

orangutans at camp leakey
Tut and Tor

Gina and Gam

Usually swinging in the trees together, Gina and Gam are two of the quietest orangutans at Camp Leakey. Being quiet though doesn’t make them any less curious and cheeky. They reach out to grab us once we walk past and when we turn around they both look innocent and pretend to have not done anything. Their eyes sparkle with the familiar mischievousness that we have come to know.

Gina and Gam

Our morning of departure arrives too quick. We won’t forget our time here with these gentle red furballs full of personality and we will visit again. As our klotok moves away from Camp Leakey I look back and see Peta on the jetty watching us depart. The sun highlights her fur marmalade orange. I watch until she is nothing but a dark shadow in the distance.

Peta and Petra swing down from their nest

Camp Leakey gives these ex-captive orangutans a chance to reproduce and be truly wild. Baby orangutans are in the arms of their mothers where they belong. Only some of the rehabilitated orangutans hang around the camp. Most went wild and were never seen again. Though capable of living in the jungle independently, some love hanging around to interact with staff and visitors.

gibbon
Boy the Gibbon

Information on the Orangutans and Camp Leakey

We travel via Denpasar as it’s the perfect trip to finish with a stopover in Bali.

Flights from Denpasar (Bali) via Surabaya to Pangkalan Bun.

There are direct flights from Jakarta to Pangkalan Bun.

ticketindonesia.com

Baby Tor

We travel with VisitOrangutan Tours, a local company owned by Nanang who was a guide with the orangutans for ten years until he set up his own company based in Pangkalan Bun. They are fantastic to deal with from the very first email to the end. Ms Ute answers all email queries promptly, and nothing is too much trouble and they are one of the few companies that will arrange domestic flights to and from Pangkalan Bun. Ask for Fardi. He is an outstanding guide!

vegetarian meals
Our vegetarian meals are scrumptious!

Based on two people, our 4 day/3 night package with the Orangutans at Camp Leakey $353 USD per person includes:

Return transfers from and to Pangkalan Bun airport

All transfers and travel to Camp Leakey

Accommodation and scrumptious meals on the klotok

Three days rainforest trekking to orangutans

Shorter and longer packages are available.

Tut and her baby Tor. Tut was the first female to have twins at Camp Leakey.
Tut and her baby Tor

This trip is suitable for the young and elderly. The treks into the jungle are not strenuous or uphill and are only about 20-30 minutes long.

We cover up and wear long pants and long-sleeved shirt between dusk and dawn and use insect repellent to protect us from mosquito bites.

Some health professionals recommend malaria medication.

Mosquito nets are supplied on the klotok at night.

baby orangutan at camp leakey
Baby Gam

Dietary requirements are catered for if advised at time of booking.

Cakes and decorations can be arranged for special occasions such as birthdays and anniversaries if advised at time of booking.

Buy snacks or soft drinks before departure, as once on the klotok there is no chance of buying anything.

Baby Ulexa
Camp Leakey gives these babies like Ulexa a chance to be truly wild.

Best time to visit Camp Leakey

Hot and humid all year-round with temperatures ranging from 23°C to 35°C and humidity sometimes over 90%.

The wet season from November to April.

The dry season from May to October.

The busiest time in the park is June to October.

The best weather and less chance of rain are in June, July and August.

During the wet season, there are fewer orangutans hanging around as there is more fruit in the rainforest for them.

November and December are perfect times to visit as it is just the beginning of the wet season and the rain is often at night. There are still plenty of orangutans and without the crowds.

All throughout the year, there is a chance of showers, so pack a light rain jacket and protection for camera equipment.

Sue and Atlas
A dream comes true. Sue and Atlas.

Our Guide

Fardi now has his own Orangutan House Boat Tours   

We recommend booking and travelling with Fardi as he is special and has so much love, knowledge and respect for the orangutans. He and his crew go out of their way to make it a trip of a lifetime for their guests.

Email Fardi direct: fardibornean@yahoo.com

Beautiful Akhmad

11 Responses to “Orangutans at Camp Leakey”

  1. Natasha Armstrong

    With such a beautiful gentle animal in such danger I thank you for telling us your amazing story and providing us with the most spectacular photos to accommodate your article. The one photo of Akhmad sitting on the jetty holding your hand is telling a story on it’s own,totally breathtaking. I am unable to travel to see these truly amazing animals so I thank you for taking me there through your photo’s and words. Please continue to do so.

    Reply
    • Ray & Sue

      Hi Natasha. Thanks so much for reading our blog and taking the time to comment. These sure are one of the most amazing animals and it was one of our most incredible experiences.

      Reply
  2. Marie Bell

    I would have to endorse the above comment. About the whole blog, but especially that photo of her holding hands. It’s an amazing thing to do! I mean, who has the guts to sit on a pier and hold hands with an enormous wild animal?!! And it doesn’t matter that it is ‘probably not savage’. It would scare the heck out of me! But this girl makes it a beautiful, natural thing to do. Such empathy! Dunno about ‘talk to the animals’ I think she has telepathy! This is so special. And what a beautiful place. Who knew such places existed? Thanks for sharing and safe travels!

    Reply
    • Ray & Sue

      Thanks so much for your comment Marie. It means a lot to us. Seeing the Orangutans at Camp Leakey really was one of those once in a lifetime experiences.

      Reply
  3. Dianne Bach

    Thank you for sharing your experiences with us. Your photography is magnificent. The Pictures bring them to life. I think we are all so lucky being able to share these special moments being that close to the Orangutans. Keep up the wonderful work so we can all feel we are a part of them. Thank you

    Reply
    • Ray & Sue

      Thanks for visiting our website and leaving a comment. We appreciate it very much Dianne.

      Reply
  4. Jeanette

    I have just come across your website and the photography is stunning you have captured the expressions of the orangutans so well. Also the clarity is excellent I have seen so many photos where their coat is very blurry I think because of the bright orange color. We have also chosen Fardi for our trip this July and are hoping for a similar experience If you had any advice you have our email and I would be thrilled to hear from you.
    Thanks articles like yours are scarce especially so well written.

    Reply
    • Jeanette thanks for your comments & compliments on our blog & images. Yes Orangutans can be hard to photograph especially in harsh light. Rest assured with Fardi you will have the best chance to photograph them. You will not want for anything; you will have the best opportunity for photos. Fardi is so knowledgeable, patient & one of the best guides ever. Not to mention you will have some of the best food ever!! Because it’s in the rainforest there is the possibility of rain anytime, so make sure to take some sort of protection for your camera. We would love to hear about your trip, so please get back to us.

      Reply
  5. Thomas

    Hi
    I’m Thomas Rosen a student from Germany and I’m actually in Thailand. After a trip with some nature photographers I totally fall in love with wildlife photography. I would love to go to Camp Leakey and photograph Orang Utans there.
    During my researches I found your fantastic blog with these beautiful pictures of orang utans in the internet.
    Do you have any hints (like a recommended guide, other fantastic places close by, best traveling route or how to save money) for me?
    I would be glad about every hint.
    Best regards

    Thomas

    Reply
    • Ray & Sue

      Hi Thomas. Thanks so much for visiting our website. The Orangutans are an incredible experience and a must do for every photographer interested in wildlife.
      Our guide during our visit was Fardi. He now has his own business and will custom a trip for you. (We have already told him to expect an email from you) Orangutan houseboat tour
      He also has a Facebook page facebook.com/OrangutanHouseBoatTour
      He will work with you to make a private trip as economical as possible. Fardi knows and loves all the Orangutans and you just can’t go wrong with him. We got so close and he took us into the jungle for early morning and late afternoon light. If you are flying from Bali, you will need to fly from Denpasar – Surabaya – Pangkalanbun. This can be done in one day if you take the early flight from Denpasar. Once you arrive in Pangkalanbun, Fardi will pick you up at the airport. He will also help you with the flights. In regards to other things in the area, there is the Dayak tribes if you are interested in them. Fardi can also arrange a tour to see them.
      Another option is the Tarsiers and Black Macaques at Tangkoko National Park in Sulawesi. It’s another exciting destination for someone interested in photography & wildlife. Ateng our guide was the best guide ever. If you get in touch with him he will arrange a really good deal for you, including accommodation in Tangkoko. It is a gorgeous place on the sea and you will be guaranteed on getting close to the Tarsiers and Black Macaques. It is a very inexpensive place to stay and we could have spent a lot longer here. About 40 minutes boat ride from Tangkoko there is also some great snorkelling, diving and sea turtles come to the beach to nest. To get to Tangkoko involves a flight to Manado in Sulawesi. You can get in touch with Ateng gyulisman@yahoo.com You can check out our Tarsier blog too. Hope this helps. Any more questions don’t hesitate to get back in touch.

      Reply

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