Sunday, 6 January 2013

Kuching Final Part - Matang Wildife Centre


We’d seen the sign for Matang every time we left or returned to The Kebun. It really was just a short distance down the road. After our trip to Semenggoh, we thought we’d pay a visit to Matang too and asked Adrian about it. What he told us confirmed that we really should make that tiny effort.

And so on our penultimate day we dropped by and spent an enchanting couple of hours there.

Matang is very much like Semenggoh in that it rehabilitates wild animals. Unlike Semenggoh, however, the work is very much in the forefront. It doesn’t really put up a song and dance and isn’t really set up for the spectacle. Although you can book accommodation on the premises, it is indeed very focussed on the business of healing, caring for, and reintroducing certain species to the wild where possible.

Matang is part of the Kubah National Park and as such you can expect hiking trails and so on too. We were more interested in what Matang itself had to offer though. And we weren’t disappointed by any means.

When we entered the centre, we first spied a few very large cages and aviaries. The wires of cages prevented any nice pictures being taken but we spied some primates as well as Hornbills. This last aviary had very fine-holed double wire fences. I asked one of the workers there if there was a reason for this - snakes perhaps? He did say the Hornbills had tremendous strength in their beaks but was less clear in his reply about snakes. I’d imagine a snake in one of these aviaries could wreak havoc, though I have seen a cobra come out the loser in a tussle with a pair of kingfishers once.

There was also a large cage with a very young Sun Bear in it. This cute chap kept running back and forth, playing with various things in his space, including a large ball, and dipping himself in a water trough at one end. He left us breathless just watching his endless traipsing.


There was a large crocodile enclosure and you almost couldn't see them, so well camouflaged in the mud or water were they.




This young sun bear kept trotting from one end of his cage to the other. It really was quite tiring watching him!
We then took a walk along a trail which brought us around to some very large enclosures with tall viewing platforms. The platform we climbed first afforded us a fantastic view of two enclosures. One of these had a concrete building on one side along the wall of which were a few doors. These doors opened into some sort of work area and in the enclosure were a few youngish orangutans as well as a few adult ones.

Some of the staff came up the platform we were on - all caucasian ladies including one or two who seemed fairly new to Matang. They explained to us that one or two of the orangutan had just returned from some time in the jungle and were exhausted. We laughingly identified them without problem - one lay on her back with a hand over her eyes in a ‘I’ve had a rough night out and why is the darn sun so bright?’ posture while the other, a much younger fella, looked like he’d had a few too many pints of lager and really couldn’t care how he looked lying there in a crumpled heap.



I really have no idea why she was doing this, but she kept it up for a long time indeed.


This is Aman the other large male in the area.
These two had just returned from some time in the jungle and were clearly exhausted!





More sun bears.




We chatted with the ladies and told them of our trip to Semenggoh. They told us that Matang had a couple of large males and the one in the other enclosure had not been able to get along with Ritchie and was thus moved to Matang. The males do need a very large territory - from 500 to 4000 hectares - and this means that the area available in Semenggoh is simply not big enough to support two alpha males. The two had had some tussles and it was thought it would one day end in tragedy so the two were separated.

Looking at creatures that have roughly human shapes, it’s easy to anthropomorphise. Thing is, what do we really know about how these creatures think? We look at orangutans and see furry, cuddly creatures who sometimes seem to smile at us or reach out tenderly with their so0human hands. And we forget a couple of things - firstly that these creatures are much more adapted to the wild than we are and that those gentle-looking hands can grip with astonishing tenacity and tear things apart with great strength. And secondly, we forget that despite their strength and their near-human actions, they are also very vulnerable and helpless. As we destroy their habitat - and we do so at a tragic rate - so too do we destroy their future.

Places like Semenggoh and Matang, and Sepilok, exist to counter this imbalance. The people who staff these centres work very hard to help the endangered species under their care maintain their numbers. The ill are treated and the healthy are hopefully rehabilitated to be independent in the wild once again.

Sadly, some will never return fully to the wild. In the case of Aman he’s had to deal with a cataract operation - the first ever on an orangutan - in May 2007 and despite his much improved eyesight, I wonder if there really is enough habitat for him. Meanwhile, there are places like Matang where they are retaught their jungle skills, and where people may come and see them and hopefully be moved to do something about slowing down the rate at which the jungles are cleared just so that the natural habitat or orangutans and many other species of flora and fauna may be safeguarded and protected.

This Kuching trip was a great eye-opener in some ways. Not just to the natural beauty of Malaysia, but also to the goodness in so many of her people. Adrian and Olivia are hospitable folk, and the few people I met in and around Kuching were just the same, mixing and accepting in a warm and embracing way that we on the Peninsula seem to have largely forgotten.

I think we’ll be back pretty soon…

For more information about Matang, see here and for Kubah see here.
For a Matang volunteer’s record of her time helping animals, see here.
To volunteer yourself, here’s one place you can start.


Friday, 4 January 2013

Kuching Part 5 - Semenggoh Wildlife Centre


Apologies for the long gap in between posts - a mix of work, holidays, computer trouble and being distracted took its toll and even when I had some time, the mind wasn’t much interested in writing.

Anyway, here we are again, taking off from the last post when we’d gotten back to the car, were leaving Kuching headed for the Semenggoh Wildlife Centre.

This place certainly proved to be a spectacle. A popular destination, we parked the car at the designated car park and walked in to the main meeting area where we found a large group of school kids and a smattering of adults. We waited around for awhile and had a quick peek at a number of crocodiles in concrete enclosures, then a Ranger came out, gathered the kids in a group and began talking to them in Malay. Turns out he was giving a briefing and the tourists there (including us of course) hung on at the fringe of the group. We needn’t have feared for he later spoke to us all in English and explained that we may not get to see any orangutans and so on. Managing expectations as it were.

The crocs here were big, but quite inactive.


He told us it was now a pretty abundant season - there were many fruiting plants and the orang-utan thus has less of a reason to visit the centre. When food was scarcer in the jungle, the supply that the rangers put out were very welcome, but this was less so now.

Still, after some waiting around, it turned out we would see some action after all and at the ranger’s instruction, we all hurried off to the feeding station near the carpark.

And what action! We didn’t just see one or two, but a pair of younger orangutans, a mother and child and the star of the show, Ritchie the alpha male. The younger and smaller pair came swinging along ropes laid out high above the ground. The descended in turn onto the wooden platform and helped themselves to fruit and coconuts laid out on the deck, or thrown up at them by the rangers.

And they came swinging through the jungle...

That's an orangutan nest up there. They sleep there at night.



Yummmmm.....



Their gymnastic abilities are quite a sight to behold.





Then the crowd began getting excited at something else, and I spied a mother and her young one ambling along on the ground. They came up to about 30 metres from us and stopped at a construction site where some workmen had been busy a few minutes before. The workers had been told the apes were coming so had quickly packed up their gear and moved away. It turns out they’d left a small bag of tools, nuts and bolts and the two primates found this and spent some time playing with a hammer and some long bolts.

It was fascinating watching them play with tools. The mother seemed to know how to hold and use a hammer and I half-expected her to hold a bolt in one hand and drive it into the wood with the hammer in the other. She didn’t quote get there though we chuckled at her antics. The ranger who’d briefed us eventually distracted her with a newspaper which she perused with intent - enough for the ranger to quickly grab the bag of tools and take it away.







Then quite suddenly our attention was drawn to some calls and shouts from further back. One of the younger orangutan rapidly climbed up and disappeared into the trees. The other moved off to a discreet distance as a huge lumbering shape made its way into the open. Ritchie, all 150 kgs of him, propelled himself along the ground - knuckles before feet - with a palpable sense of power and might. He occasionally paused to cast a sweeping almost disdainful glance across his kingdom and the 50 or 60 weak fair-skinned and relatively hairless bipeds who looked on in awe.

He moved with astonishing grace - astonishing because our minds had trouble wrapping themselves around the idea that something built like an army tank could move with panache and such fluidity - right up to the platform then amazingly climbed up the rope. He seemed to defy the laws of physics - not just by being his size, but by so effortlessly and adroitly casting himself up the thick rope.



Ritchie is huge and it's astonishing how agile he is.



Once on the platform, he was King. A bottle of milk was dispensed with in the manner a thirsty miner would down a pint of ale in an English pub. A dribble of milk went down his chin, and he went about his business polishing off fruit and coconuts. One of the pair of males came back and joined Ritchie. For some reason this fella was allowed to do so. He and Ritchie seemed to get along quite well. The ranger said the other male was not as close and would never have been allowed to share a platform with Ritchie.

We spent quite a long time watching all this, and the show didn’t stop even after feeding time - as we sat at the little drinks stall later, along came the mother and child, followed closely by a couple of rangers who made sure no one disturbed them. They patiently followed this pair as they made their way to and then through the car park and back into the jungle.




We got into our car and drove back to The Kebun, happy we’d seen so much today.

Find out more about Semenggoh Wildlife Centre here.

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