While writing my second hard-cover, coffee-table book, WILDLIFE:IN SEARCH OF THREATENED SPECIES, I decided to travel to the northern part of the island of Sumatra in Indonesia with the intention of photographing in the wild the rare Sumatran orangutan which is endemic to Sumatra and has been classified by the International Union on Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as a critically endangered species since 2000. Once wide spreadon the island, the populations of the Sumatran orangutan, estimated to be less than 7,000 individuals which have been threatened by habitat encroachment of palm oil plantations, are now limited to northern Sumatra, particularly in Gunung Leuser National Park next to the village of Bukit Lawang. The challenge was to trek into the rainforest of GunungLeuser National Park which, togetherwith Bukit Barisan Selatan and KerinciSeblat National Parks, forms theTropical Rainforest Heritage of Sumatra, inscribed by UNESCO as a natural World Heritage Site in 2004.
Bukit Lawang, appropriately called the trek capital of northern Sumatra, located on the two banks of Bohorok River connected by abridge, serves as the base to trek into the surrounding rainforest of GunungLeuser National Park. We stayed at Riverside Guesthouse, a nice, clean, small lodge near the river and had our meals at the nearby Sam’s Bungalow restaurant.
The next morning Robet, a fullycertified guide of Bukit Lawang Guide Association with over 15 years of trekking experience in Gunung Leuser National Park, led us across the bridge to the other side of the river heading into the park. Suddenly we found ourselves climbing up the steep rugged terrain of the rainforest in orderto reach the flat ground at the top. Half way up Robet told us to get our cameras ready as he spotted on the other side of the valley a large family of silvery langurs or silvered-backmonkeys. We steadied ourselves on the reclining slope, raised the cameras with the attached zoom lens, and held our breath as we took several images of those elusive langurs, some of which with babies clinging to their sides.
Satisfied with our first confrontation with the Sumatran wildlife and after a few minutes of rest, we followed the guide up to the top of the mountainl ooking forward to finding the main target of our trip, the Sumatran orangutan. As we reached there latively even ground, Robet, our guide, talked to the guide of a passing group of trekkers, then gave us a satisfying smile and a warning to be ready as an orangutan was spotted nearby. Five minutes later Roet stopped and pointed upward at a tall tree a head. And there it was! A full grown male orangutan was looking down at us from the tree trunk. With in seconds, there peating sounds of shutters eruptedas all six of us fired our cameras at the orangutan, which did not seem to be perturbed and did not flee or looked fierce. On the contrary he slowly and calmly climbed down toward us as if he was curious of what we were doing and wanted to observe closer. After having scrutinizedour group for a few minutes and satisfied that the objects we held in our hands were not dangerous, the orangutan retreated up the tree and soon disappeared.
The following day we embarked on the five-day trek deeper into Gunung Leuser rainforest along the Randak River which flows from its source on a mountain. It was a real adventure as we trekked five to six hours a day mostly wading in the knee-deep Randak River to reach a camp of each day. At a camp we experienced basicjungle accommodation by sleeping as a group in a simple long tent on plastic sheets under a roof of a very largetarpaul in stretched over a bamboo frame and surrounded by the four walls of tarpaulin. Robet’s team was efficient and experienced in putting up a steady tent which endured heavy rains that hit our camp every night.
The five-day trek was fun, relaxing,and adventurous in the wild. However, we didn’t see any orangutan but spotted a troop of Thomas’s langur coming down to drink at the river near our camp one late afternoon. To those who seek unique and exotic adventure in a tropical jungle,I strongly recommend trekking in the rain forest of Gunung Leuser National Park in northern Sumatra, Indonesia.