Hay: Hey Dad — I’m going to Borneo to live with some apes

So when my eldest Rotten Kid, the son one, told everybody he was going to hang around with orangutans all summer, many of them said, “I’m not surprised you’re comfortable around orangutans, I mean, look at your father!”

I was only slightly offended on account of I’ve always thought I had more of a chimpanzee-type guy, per se. Be that as it may, the R.K. has always been a budding authority on animals. By the time he was ten-years-old he could tell you that those big white airplanes soaring in formation over the Red Deer River are American White Pelicans and that they are among the world’s largest birds. And he would go on about the various interesting traits of those weird little orange-eyed creatures called Ring Tailed Lemurs that look like a cross between a hyper-active black and white fox and a confused monkey with the wrong tail.

“Did you know Ring Tailed Lemurs live only in one place in the entire world?” he would say. “Madagascar. You know, that small island off the coast of Africa?” And I would nod my head, pretending I of course knew that. And then one summer the R.K. went to Madagascar. To study lemurs. And a few summers later, he adventured to Ecuador to study jungle bugs and birds. And as if that wasn’t exotic enough, the next time it was Vanuatu, the tiny island a couple thousand kilometers east of Australia. On account of that’s where many interesting sea turtles live.

But one of the Rotten Kid’s absolute favorite creatures has always been those big wind-mill limbed reddish brown ape-dudes called orangutans, which live only in Borneo, which is where I always thought headhunters and cannibals lived. So when the Rotten Kid landed a gig assisting some British students doing PhD research on orangutans, I was very excited until he mentioned he would be living and working in Borneo for three months this summer.

Turns out Borneo is a large island consisting of Malaysia and Indonesia and it also turns out that this amazing tropical jungle Shangri-La is all about orangutans and not so much indigenous blowguns and poison darts (fingers crossed). And it also happens to be the location of the world renowned Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, where 60 to 80 of the fuzzy redheaded great apes grow up, hang around, and get into all kinds of mischief before they swing out into the deep forest to look for Tarzan and King Kong and other relatives.

It’s clear the R.K. is in his own personal seventh heaven hanging around (literally) with the likes of Bidu, Peanut, Selamat and Itin Ban, who happen to be large orange fuzzballs and his newly found favorite primate buddies. The stories, photos and videos he sends from the other side of the world are out of this world – suffice to say when one of the “risky” orangutans (Kala) sneaks up behind you and wraps all four of his massive hands around your legs, it tends to leave a significant impression. Or when a tropical storm comes and one of the beautiful girl-otans (Cinta) comes gently into the shelter and sits beside you on the bench to watch the rain for an hour, or when one of the babies does a somersault or a humongous alpha male that hasn’t been seen in seven years suddenly comes roaring out of the jungle – these are stuff of dreams.

The Rotten Kid will be back next week for year three in Zoology at the U of C. I think he might get a fairly good grade in his Primates class this year.

Harley Hay is a Red Deer writer and filmmaker.


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