We left our river base in Borneo’s Tanjung Puting National Park at 4 am. Three hours later by motor boat, we arrived at a remote jungle destination far from the tourist trail. It had been a visually intoxicating journey - half “Apocalypse Now” and half “Tarzan”. My guides then spoke to local rangers about where a certain large male orangutan had been recently sighted. Everyone wanted to help us.
By 8:45am, we had landed in an area reconfigured by fires and deforestation - it was otherworldly and unique, but bereft of our principal goal - the orangutan. But my local friends know the calling noises and sure enough within an hour an enormous male came into view. But no more than just into view - he was scared of humans and who right now can blame him? We have destroyed his home for corporate greed.
There was no picture and eight hours in a boat the size of a phone box looked like ending with nothing.
The thing is that orangutans are so smart. Let me repeat - so smart. It’s humbling, because us humans clearly aren’t that smart.
When we got back into our tiny boats defeated - but in awe, everything changed in one minute. He felt emboldened by our evacuation and approached us. We cut our engines and I had my moment. The backdrop - of dead or burnt trees - was a poignant canvas on which to paint a picture that speaks a thousand words.
They are just like us - around 97% some say. But they are so much more magnificent than us - look into the orange person's face!
I will never forget that Sunday morning in Borneo. We have to show this in colour. It is what it is and I am damn proud.