Travel Features > National Park & The Great Outdoors > Semengoh

Orang Utan Mayhem
A Recent Trip To Semengoh

by Wayne Tarman

A trip to Semengoh is usually filled with fun and games. There is always at least one orang-utan who thinks of something totally mad to do. Semengoh's motley crew of orang-utans have an extensive repertoire of tricks to entertain the punters. These include the following: grabbing cameras, hugging visitors, throwing fruit, a few mad scampers across land (great for dispersing the crowd), general swinging antics, sheltering from the rain under leaf 'umbrellas', break dancing, wrestling matches, fiddling with water taps, and my favourite trick of theirs - treating tourists to a 'golden shower.'

I like this last one because I know how humiliating it can be. I was targetted for a liquid bombardment by an orang-utan about a year ago. A most unpleasant experience, especially as a group of 25 Japanese tourists armed with video cameras were their to witness the event. As I tried to avoid drinking the stuff running down my face they were poking cameras at me to recording this historic event. Mind you, as travel 'claims to fame' go, being pissed on by an orang-utan takes some beating.

My last trip to Semengoh (September 1997) was one of the best ever. Firstly, the madness factor was high as two adolescent orang-utan were game for anything and secondly, two of the orang-utan that came down to the feeding area had infants. And to top it all some poor guy got the wet and warm waste-product treatment!

Orang Utan Mother with Baby hanging from Vine
©Wayne Tarman
I arrived about 1.30 pm, a bit early for the afternoon feeding session but I like to get there before everyone else arrives, just in case some of the semi-wild orang-utan arrive early. A group of amateur photographers from Kuching had the same idea and were already waiting outside. We were allowed in at 2 pm and headed to the forest near the enclosures. When we arrived there we were all pleasantly surprised. Sitting on a very low branch was a female orang-utan holding a young infant. After a few excited "wows" everyone started taking pictures and luckily the mother did not seem to mind. She just peered down at us.

One of the amateur photographers told me that he had visited Semengoh for the last 6 days in a row in the hope of seeing one of the three infants at Semengoh. I'd also made numerous visits over the last few months for the same reason. On one occasion a mother and infant came to the feeding platform but stayed high up in a tree. This time we both couldn't believe our luck as the mother and infant were only a few metres away.

Orang Utan Mother and Baby
©Wayne Tarman
After 10 minutes or so we saw another orang-utan making its way towards us. As it got closer I realised that it too had an infant. Unbelievable luck. This time the mother came and sat on a tree just one metre away from the plankwalk. Over the next half hour or so another four orang-utan appeared and started playing around. Two of these were quite small, probably a year or so old, and they were both totally mad. One was a rather dopey looking male who was slowly climbing a tree. A recently arrived tourist moved closer to line up a shot. The orang-utan looked down at this intruder to see what the fuss was. He didn't seem to mind and had a "what's the big deal look" on his face. I was beginning to regret not moving in closer when suddenly a river of orang-utan urine fell from the trees above and splashed onto 'Mr Close-Up' and his camera. Mayhem! Everyone erupted with laughter as Mr Close-Up tired to shield his lens from the smelly afternoon shower.

This seemed to be the cue for the two adolescent orang-utan to join in the madness. One started swinging on a vine as fast as he could whilst the other scampered across the grass dispersing a group of 8-10 tourists who ran as if their lives depended on it. Meanwhile, the dopey male of 'golden shower' fame, who I swear has lost the plot of life because he looks so stupid, joined his junior mate for a bit of crowd dispersal with an award-winning "Ministry of Silly Walks" scamper, followed by a bit of break dancing.

Small Orang-utan on plankwalk
High speed orang-utan
scampers are great for
crowd dispersal
©Wayne Tarman
Small Orang Utan grabbing the leg of a tourist
If you don't move out of
the way, you're in trouble
©Wayne Tarman
Things were getting a little out of hand, so thankfully the warden appeared with his bucket of goodies and some sense of normality returned. All fun and games ceased as eyes focused on the red bucket. The warden made his way to the feeding platform with a line of orang-utans marching behind him. Most of the visitors moved out of the way as the orang-utans came close. Although the orang-utans are normally quite friendly they are not entirely tame and very strong. On a previous trip I was 'bear hugged' by a orang-utan. He tried to steal my bag but I would have none of it so he decided to hug me instead. I wish I could say I enjoyed the experience but I was too concerned that orang-utan was going to break most of my bones. So, this time I stood well back; but not the group next to me. They were still snapping away until the maddest orang-utan of all jumped on one lady and started to sniff her skirt. He soon jumped off to go in search of a freebie lunch.

Lunch was served and scoffed in half and hour or so. A total of nine orang utan including the two infants were at the feeding platform. Some grabbed a few bananas and immediately moved off into the forest whilst others hung around for a while. A half-hearted food fight took place as did a short bout of wrestling. One of the adolescents took on the dopey orang-utan who, despite a sizeable weight advantage, took a nasty beating before the warden called time out. With the rain clouds darkening by the minute most of the orang utans were leaving, a sure sign that I should do the same.

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