Each morning and afternoon, at the Gunung Leuser National Park Headquarters in Bukit Lawang, visitors are invited to watch great apes lumber in to a designated area and receive a free meal of coconut milk and banana mash. These semi-wild Sumatran Orangutans live in the canopy of the surrounding jungle, but have now grown accustomed to hand-outs (originally given only to mother apes enrolled in the breeding program) and show up for a bland, slimy meal when foraging proves to be too taxing.
Although the feeding center has an awkward, queuing-up-at-the-local-welfare-office vibe about it, it is quite amazing to get an up-close view of apes using utensils and observing the niceties of human society. This unabashed aid recipient, a young mother, was handed a cup by the ranger, which she then gingerly sipped and then held for her baby. When the contents were exhausted, she politely passed it back to the ranger, and patiently waited for a refill. Descriptive anthropomorphism is unavoidable at times like this.
After the mother and child were sated and swung off into the forest, it was only a matter of minutes before a huge male came crashing through the undergrowth. It was almost as if there was an unseen queue where orangutans have a chat and wait for their turn to eat.
Although physically daunting, males are shy, solitary creatures that rarely pose a threat to humans and generally stay high up in their tree-nests. It's unfortunately becoming more and more common for them to eschew traditional means of procuring dinner and pensively trudge over to the nearest feeding platform for an easy meal instead.
Seemingly amused by the presence of spectators at his breakfast, he plopped down post-feed and watched the humans gathered around him.
His beady, furtive eyes, placed closely together in the center of his magnificent, moon-shaped face, were restless, darting from person to person as he seemed to measure and size up his present situation.
Thick orange fur, a monkish hairdo, and a prim goatee made for one dashing ape.
A photographer firmly placed in photographer's heaven.
There are less than 5,000 orangutans left in the wild in Sumatra and another 12,000 or so in the neighboring island of Borneo. At the turn of the last century, there were over 100,000. Deforestation, fueled by logging and palm oil plantations, currently poses the biggest threat to their existence. 98% of all logging in Indonesia is illegal, yet officials continue to turn a blind eye as multi-national companies line their government coffers with cash.