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BUKIT LAWANG ORANGUTANS - North Sumatra

Bukit Lawang near Gunung Leuser National Park is one of the few places where you can see wild orangutans in their jungle habitat

ORANGUTANS, jungle, monkeys, birds, a rushing river and a delightful eco hideaway

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To just about anyone with an interest in nature and wildlife, the ORANGUTANG is one of the earth’s truly fascinating animals.

The name orangutan means “forest person” in Indonesian, a tribute to the intelligence, learning ability and behaviours of our gentle arboreal primate cousins.

Bukit Lawang in North Sumatra is one of a handful of places where you will have the best chance of seeing these critically endangered animals in their natural jungle habitat.

The sleepy village of Bukit Lawang on the banks of the Bohorok River nestles into the edge of the Gunung Leuser National Park, the largest natural reserve in Southeast Asia and described as the green heart of Sumatra.

Bukit Lawang is reached by a scenic drive of about 90 kilometres and three hours from Medan.

It is here that two young Swiss conservationists, Monica Borner and Regina Frey, first established the internationally famous Bohorok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center back in 1972.

They aimed to return captive and orphaned orangutans into the wild after first checking and treating them for any diseases and injuries.

Then they taught them how to climb and build treetop nests, skills they had lost while locked in cages or tethered on chains.

A mother and young - Orangutans have been said to be the primates most closely related to humans

Over the years some 200 rehabilitated orangutans were released into the jungle wilds of the national park.

Park Rangers continue to monitor their progress and operate feeding stations where released orangutans can come for supplementary feeding.

The Indonesian Government and international conservation organizations joined in the campaign, mounting an increasing effort protect a shrinking orangutan population becoming highly endangered through loss of habitat.

Around 20 years ago the Bukit Lawang rehabilitation effort moved to another location at Batu Mbelin not far from Medan and the rehab program at Bukit Lawang ceased in 2002.

Early development work to create Orangutan Haven at Batu Mbelin nesar Medan, North Sumatra
Artist's impression of Orangutan Haven islands and moats providing safe refuge for disabled orangutanss

New location for ambitious Orangutan rehabilitation and refuge program

One of the first rehabilitation goals of the new Critically Endangered Sumatran Orangutan (SOCP) at Batu Mbelin was to establish a modern, state-of-the-art quarantine facility for confiscated illegal pets and a program to release these animals back to the wild.

Since 2001, the SOCP has received over 360 ex-captive orangutans into its quarantine facility and more than 270 have been reintroduced to the rainforest.

But some of the orangutans at the Quarantine Centre cannot be returned to the jungle for health or disability reasons and faced the prospect of spending up to 50 years in captivity for their protection.

To overcome this the SOCP is creating a spectacularly ambitious solution by developing an Orangutan Haven – a series of moated naturalistic islands in a 48-hectare jungle valley where these disabled animals can live out their days in optimal welfare conditions.

The goals are for them to serve as “ambassadors” for their wild counterparts through face-to-face contact with the public and to develop an education resource promoting animal welfare, species and ecosystem conservation, and sustainable development.

Entrance fees from visitors will help fund the operation and their experience will help people better understand and relate to the impact their daily decisions may have on orangutans and the other wildlife species sharing their habitat.

You can see more about this ambitious and far-sighted project in the video below and via this link https://www.sumatranorangutan.org/our-work/creating-new-wild-populations/orangutanhaven/

The Orangutan Haven is progressing well and when it is ready for visitors it will become an important part of our REAL North Sumatra-Java Tour.

See more about the Orangutan Haven project and some of the issues involved in securing the future of these critically endangered great apes in this video published in 2017.

 (7min 23secs)

Bukit Lawang village on the Bohorok River - jungle trekking centre for the Gunung Leuser National Park

A short and easy jungle trek to seek out Orangutans and much more

At Bukit Lawang we will join an expert guide for an easy three-hour jungle trek through beautiful primary tropical rainforest to see orangutans in the wild and the odds are high that we will be successful.

But even if we are not, we will see other rare and unusual Sumatran wildlife like Siamang (black-furred gibbons), Thomas Leaf Monkeys, long tail Macaque, and varieties of exotic Sumatran birds. It will be a memorable experience regardless.

On some jungle treks visitors have the option of completing our trek on foot or by floating down the pristine Bohorok River accompanied by guides on a raft of large inner tubes – different and fun!

It's one thing to float down the stream but someone has to get the raft of giant inner tubes to the starting point - pic www.cheekypassport.com

Regardless of the wildlife, Bukit Lawang is a wonderfully authentic destination for anyone interested in nature, beauty and the environment.

The massive jungles of the Gunung Leuser National Park are among the most biodiverse regions of the world and home to many species including tigers, rhinos, elephants, leopards, pangolins (scaly anteaters) and cobras.

But we are most unlikely to meet any of these face to face – which may be a good thing!

UNESCO listed Gunung Leuser as a world heritage site in 2004 as part of the Tropical Rainforest Heritage of Sumatra.

The suspension bridge over the Bohorok River to our Eco Lodge accommodation - one of many at Bukit Lawang

Across the Bohorok River by traditional suspension bridge

To reach our Bukit Lawang accommodation we have the option of crossing the Bohorok River to the village and our hotel via a classic suspension footbridge (yes, it sways a bit, but it is perfectly safe) or by a small boat used as a punt.

We stay at the Bukit Lawang Eco Lodge – a rustic but highly rated and authentic three-star cottage hotel overlooking the river and designed for its environment – certainly not luxury but very clean and comfortable with touches like showers where you can see the stars.

It’s a place to relax and absorb and enjoy the sights and sounds of the jungle night and the staff will treat you like family. See more about Bukit Lawang Eco Lodge and this beautiful area in the video below.

The Lodge’s striking Kapal Bambu Restaurant (it means bamboo ship) Is constructed of  bamboo and clays from the local area. The menu includes good Indonesian, fusion, pasta and other Western  dishes or you can try one of the other eateries in the nearby village o

Cottage-style accommodation at Bykit Lawang Eco Lodge
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All visitors to Bukit Lawang must pay a camera permit fee of about AUD$5 as well as the entrance fee to go towards supporting the rehabilitation centre. If you are part of our group we cover both in your package.

The beautiful Bohorok River cloaked by the jungle of Gunung Leuser National Park

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More useful and interesting information

North Sumatra is packed full of real and authentic places of interest that are only now being discovered by international travelers. That’s why our REAL North Sumatra – Java Tour allocates 9 days and nights to exploring this region. For more descriptions and images of our tour program destinations click the links below.

More to explore in North Sumatra

Lake Toba, the world’s largest crater lake, ranks up there with places like the Grand Canyon, Uluru, the Great Barrier Reef, Hainan Bay and the Niagara, Victoria and Angel (Venezuela) falls as one of the great natural attractions …

The Batak people are a fascinating and highly successful Indonesian minority from North Sumatra and the Lake Toba Batak community provides an opportunity for us to learn about their customs and traditions  …

It is big, boisterous, cluttered, crowded, noisy, heavily trafficked and often gritty and untidy – yet Medan is steeped in history from both pre-colonial and colonial times with a remarkable mix of ethnic groups and cultures …

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