Amazing and Sad: Up Close With an Orangutan and Her Baby
Close encounters with the inhabitants of this world shape my experiences more than anything else on my travels.
A few days ago I visited Chester Zoo. Chester Zoo describes itself as a charity and is supposed to be a conservation zoo. I have a love-hate relationship with zoos but from my uneducated position Chester seems like it is doing great work in the world of conservation.
This is especially apparent when it comes to the Orangutans. With only around 60,000 Bornean and 7,500 Sumatran left in the wild this beautiful species is truly on the brink. Found only in these two places the ‘old man of the forest’ is in serious danger of completely losing it’s home. If we don’t slow down on destroying that habitat the zoo may be the only place to see these mesmerising beasts.
I have been to this zoo three or four times. I always look forward to seeing the orangs the most. Of course seeing these creatures behind glass, within enclosures, is also a saddening experience. Although they may well be happy I find myself projecting emotions onto them, imagining they are bored trapped prisoners having to individually suffer for the survival of their kind. No one asked them to be the tortured survivors and they likely have no idea how close their kind are to being no more.
Of course all the orangs at Chester Zoo are either rescues or born in captivity Humans are as much a part of their life as wearing clothes are a part of mine.
I approached the glass and on the other side of the enclosure I glimpsed her. I was taken over with utter wonder to see a mother with her baby, attentively watching him climb up as she cradled herself beneath him like a safety net. Then something amazing happened, she scooped up the baby, swung across the enclosure and came right up to our glass to watch us and our funny little boxes with lights.
I got the encounter on video. I was literally 2 inches from this beautiful creature, she was looking at me and who only knows what she was thinking! Her baby unsteadily climbing above her.
I would love more than anything to see her in the wild, amongst the trees of Sumatra and from a distance. Humans probably should not be this close to Orangutans.
I go back and forth in my mind about actually going to see them. Will my presence just add to the human activity in the area, even if enacted under the guise of conservation tourism? Isn’t it better we minimalise the contact, try to protect the little area they do have? However my money and interest could help those in the area work harder to conservation over habitat destruction.
An ideal scenario would be to never see these animals in zoos, for them to be secure enough to be able to live only in the place they would feel most comfortable.
But illegal pet and circus trades, killing of parents, leaving orphaned babies, and the wish for us to have zoo encounters means that we’ll be seeing them stuck in cages for a long time still.