It was nearly one year ago that I first found out I would be heading off to Borneo for the opportunity of a lifetime: a six-month internship with Orangutan Foundation International at the Orangutan Care Center and Quarantine (OCCQ) in Kalimantan, Indonesia. I had a few months to prepare for this journey but nothing can prepare you to for its end, although it is inevitable. As I reflect upon my experience I am filled with gratitude, awe, inspiration, and sadness. How am I supposed to pack my bags, board a plane, and leave this world behind?

Berman and I on our way to the forest

Berman and I on our way to the forest

For the past six months my office has been the forest and my colleagues orangutans. My position as Communications Intern has allowed me the honor of sharing the stories of these amazing animals with the world. Although my dream has come true, there are over 330 orangutans that are still waiting for their dream of being wild again. Without OFI, these orangutans would not even have that chance to dream. Their fates would have been sealed the moment their mothers were killed and taken away from them. Thankfully, they have safe places to sleep, fresh fruit to eat, and caregivers to take them to the forest.

Office in the forest

Office in the forest

I have seen the devastation that humans have inflicted upon the forests in Kalimantan. I have driven through hundreds of kilometres of palm oil plantations, visited mining sites, and met the results of illegal logging – infant orangutans suddenly orphaned with panic and heartache in their eyes. Precious forest habitat is disappearing at a nearly unstoppable rate: not only affecting wild orangutan populations, but also affecting the future of rehabilitated orangutans. Where will they go? Time is of the essence with orangutan conservation. We cannot wait – we must act now. But can we right our wrongs? Can we change what we have done? The only answer I have to these questions is that we must.

 Orphaned Suntara in the arms of her caregiver

Orphaned Suntara in the arms of her caregiver

Losing any of our planet’s precious life to the point of extinction is a terrible tragedy. But to lose a great ape, our history, our almost ancestors? This is a tragedy of unthinkable proportions. At least it is for me. When I look into the eyes of an orangutan or compare the size of my hands, I have a hard time believing that we are so different. Perhaps this is the reason I am so drawn to them. Orangutan mothers care for their infants much like my mother cared for me. When I watch juvenile orangutans play, I cannot help but think about children at the playground or in the sandbox.

Holding hands with Frankie

Holding hands with Frankie

I will never forget the orange halo that radiates from an orangutan as it forages in the canopy on a sunny day or falling asleep at night to the majestic sound of long calls. It is only in my final days here that I truly realize what I have experienced and what I will greatly miss. I thank Orangutan Foundation International for not only giving me this opportunity but also for the amazing work they do. I thank the orangutans for sharing so much of themselves with me. I thank the people of Pasir Panjang and the staff at the OCCQ (including my fellow volunteers) for not only accepting me but befriending me. So instead of saying goodbye, I say sampai jumpa lagi – until we meet again.

9 Comments

  • Cas White
    2012-02-02 at 2:43 am

    Britta,

    We wish you all the luck in the world in your new venture, and that it brings you back to Borneo soon. Thank you for being so inspirational, consistantly being the one to make us laugh, informative, caring, and endlessley devoting your boundless energy to the Orangutans. We miss you and hope to see you very soon.

    Cas

  • Hollis Burbank-Hammarlund
    2012-02-02 at 4:04 am

    As always, Britta, a beautifully written story from the heart. Thank you for ALL you have done for OFI and the many orangutans who need our help. Good wishes in your next adventure. Be well…do good work…make a difference!

  • Beth
    2012-02-02 at 9:01 am

    Very beautifully written. It’s very moving to read this. The photos are amazing too. I wish I could experience something so amazing.

  • Rebecca Reeder
    2012-02-02 at 3:12 pm

    Thank you for all of your work and love for the orangutans. All of your articles and photos have helped so much! Hurry back to Kalimantan.

  • Sara
    2012-02-03 at 9:27 am

    I believe you will travel back to Borneo and the the orangutans you love so much. And they love you too and will be waiting.

  • Wendy Di Paoli
    2012-02-06 at 10:45 am

    From the heart..”sampai jumpa lagi.” =)

  • Kim Spencer Thomas
    2012-02-07 at 6:42 pm

    We get so caught up in everyday life in the U.S., you forget our world is disappearing; our forests, our fellow species. I have been following the OFI information for a yr now and am impressed with the work it has done. My kids are currently under my roof, but would love to volunteer as soon as I am able. I am a nurse by profession..but truly believe caring for any creature is a gift. Thanks goes to you Britta.
    Kim

  • Anthony Farmer
    2012-03-13 at 12:51 pm

    Truly amazing story, my dream would also be helping orangutans and help as much as I would help others. I’ve been looking for volunteer applications but I cant seem to find one. I would be interested in going to Indonesia despite of what people think. If I could get a reply or maybe some suggestion on how I can fulfill the void I have inside by helping this species I will be greatful on recieving an email. Amazing job Britta.
    Anthony

  • Pamela
    2012-03-18 at 3:24 pm

    I read your wonderful experience and I do remember when I did my internship in the care of other animals (marine animals), it really is a beautiful and rewarding experience.

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