Climbing orangutan

© Brad Josephs

I’m six years old, standing at the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago, nose pressed up against a glass partition, feet rooted to the ground with the 1,000-pound force only a child who has no intention of moving can muster.

“NO,” I say as my mother tries to tug me away from the orangutan enclosure.

“We’ve been here for almost an hour,” she says (in retrospect, probably also thinking, “For the fourth time this week!”).

I say nothing and smile so big as she relents and lets me watch George (my name, not the zoo’s) swing around what I was certain was the greatest orangutan playground in the whole world (with all my six-year-old worldliness).

Orangutan in Boreno

© Gavin Lautenbach

Fast forward almost 30 years, and after three reroutings and an unexpected overnight in Singapore (thanks to construction at JFK, Logan, and apparently every other airport I was trying to fly through), I’ve got my feet kicked up on the side of a skiff cruising up the river in the Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary in Borneo, eyes trained on the canopy above.

Like every wildlife viewing adventure, I tried to go into this one with no expectations, but I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t have been a little upset if I came all this way and didn’t see an orangutan. That little six-year-old girl with her nose pressed up against the glass is still inside me, dying to see the “real George.”

Lost in thought and thoroughly enjoying the feeling of fresh air against my skin instead of recycled economy cabin air, I almost missed the massive dark spot in the tree top.

“There! THERE!!” My guide starts whisper-yelling and pointing to the trees.

I’m pretty sure my binoculars levitated to my face. I have no memory of holding them there but with what I can only describe as miraculous precision, the first thing I see is a massive, male orangutan lazing about in the branches.

We watched him for what simultaneously felt like forever and nowhere close to long enough before he retreated into the deeper forest away from the river. True confession: that six-year-old girl inside me is 100 percent a wildlife crier.

All in all, we saw nine wild orangutans on our Borneo nature adventure, but nothing could top that first moment, bobbing around in the river, too excited to breathe or blink, and suddenly being six years old again.

Bornean Orangutan

© Brad Josephs

This guest post was written by Natural Hab Adventure Specialist Lauren Deeley.