The feeding platform at Camp Leakey

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A wildlife photographer share more about the feeding platform for the orangutans

The staff of Camp Leakey feed the wild and semi-wild orangutans daily at a feeding platform. This is to provide additional sustenance to make up for the difficulty of finding an adequate amount of food in the depleted rain forest. This routine has given the public a great opportunity to learn about orangutan conservation, and to see how their behavior is uncannily like ours.

Upon arrival at Camp Leakey in your klotok you dock at the entrance and walk through the camp to the feeding platform with a guide accompanying you the entire time. The guide is mandatory so that you do not get lost, and because you might encounter orangutans on your walk. The walk is on level terrain, but you will be stepping over large tree roots as you walk the paths to the platform.

Watching them being fed is a popular tourist activity. (Image courtesy of Carl Palazzolo, DVM, MBA)

Watching them being fed is a popular tourist activity. (Image courtesy of Carl Palazzolo, DVM, MBA)

The food consist of bananas and pineapples with milk.

The food consist of bananas and pineapples with milk.

There is an orangutan “food hierarchy” at the feeding platform at Camp Leakey, and it starts with Doyak, the resident dominant male. He is there mostly as a show of his power and to assess which females are receptive to him; the food is not his primary reason for making an appearance.

We were warned to give him wide berth because he takes his role seriously and can inflict severe harm with his tremendous strength. He weighs 300 pounds and has the strength of 8 men, so we heeded the warning and pulled out the medium telephoto lenses to photograph him from 20 yards away at least.

Doyak “hangs out” at the tree next to the platform in order to be first in line for food.

Doyak “hangs out” at the tree next to the platform in order to be first in line for food.

This setup is a wildlife photographers dream since the orangutans are relaxed due to their habituation with this feeding method and you can get relatively close.A medium telephoto lens (70mm-200mm) works well for wide angle and close up shots at this distance.No flash is allowed which is routine for large primates like this, so photographers need to plan accordingly with the proper lens and camera settings.

The first order of business for Doyak is a long stare of intimidation.

Once that is complete he uses his bulk to commandeer the food and eats at a leisurely pace, keeping a wary eye open for any orangutan that dares come on the platform.

After Doyak leaves the juveniles swoop in for their share. Some jump on the platform and grab the bananas and pineapples, while others hang from the trees and sneak food with their long arms. Either way, they stuff their mouths with bananas and climb back up into a tree to eat.

You need to be away from the feeding platform when Doyak decides to leave.

You need to be away from the feeding platform when Doyak decides to leave.

Once the juveniles are satisfied, a new batch of food to feed the females with their young is brought out and they jump on the platform with youngsters in tow (usually on their head). Everyone gets to eat, so there is minimal conflict amongst the different age groups or social ladder.

In part II of the feeding platform at Camp Leakey story you will see these juveniles and females with young during their turn to eat. I will also go over the logistics of setting this up for your rainforest trip some day before it is gone. At the current pace of deforestation in Borneo that is going to be sooner rather than later.

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