Exploring Biodiversity and Meeting an Orangutan on a Rainforest Field Trip

By Riduwan, Environmental Education Field Officer

Yayasan Palung/GPOCP hosts a variety of field trip activities in the Gunung Palung National Park area and one of our favorite locations for this is the Lubuk Baji Environmental Education camp. This beautiful camp site and structure were built by Yayasan Palung/GPOCP in 2005 as an overnight environmental field trip destination where students could learn about the region’s biodiversity through an immersive experience. The facility, located in the Sukadana Hills section of Gunung Palung National Park, is now managed by the National Park and can be visited by the general public, including students.

At the end of 2023, from December 6 to December 8, 2023, we held a field trip for high school students from SMA Negeri 3 Simpang Hilir District, accompanied by Yayasan Palung/GPOCP staff and Bentangor Volunteers for Conservation (REBONK). This high school in Simpang Hilir District is located in a village where Yayasan Palung also supports their Village Forest (hutan desa) program. Fieldtrip activities in Lubuk Baji have been included in the Cooperation Agreement (PKS) between the Explori MemGunung Palung National Park Office and Yayasan Palung/GPOCP.

The field trip participants in front of Lubuk Baji camp.

This 3-day field trip was a great way to end the students’ semester for 2023, with Yayasan Palung/GPOCP offering instruction and running activities. A total of 15 students accompanied by 1 teacher came on the field trip. In addition to enjoying the natural beauty of Gunung Palung National Park and Lubuk Baji, students also had educational experiences including a nocturnal animal observation activity led by REBONK Volunteers, a forest survey and plant morphology lesson delivered by the author (Riduawan), and biodiversity lessons. Students gained insights into the environment in their own backyard and even explored lunar cycles through a lesson delivered by our Environmental Education Coordinator for Kayong Utara Regency, Simon Tampubolon.

High school students make observations of forest animals and vegetation

There was a very special and rare moment during this field trip where the group got to encounter orangutans directly! Since orangutans are semi-solitary and fairly shy, this does not happen often on our field trips. The group saw an orangutan male who had large cheekpads (a flanged male) and was eating durian fruit right behind the Lubuk Baji camp. The students were thrilled to finally meet orangutans directly. One day earlier during a discussion between students and Yayasan Palung staff, students were asked about the purpose of a field trip such as the one they were on. A student named Chelsea answered first – she wanted to see the beauty of Gunung Palung and especially to see orangutans directly because, as she explained, orangutans are rare animals and are difficult to meet. Her wish was granted and Chelsea, along with the other students, got to observe a male orangutan.

Field trip participants gather to get a good look (bottom) at an orangutan (top left) we encountered. We also saw orangutan nests in the canopy (top right), more evidence that orangutans regularly use this habitat.

During animal watching activities the students encountered monkeys, turtles, several species of frogs, flying lizards, chameleons and insects. They also saw the nest of an orangutan and learned about how researchers classify nests by position in the tree, construction elements, and age. The students were invited to discuss their ideas and thoughts about orangutans and the environment.

Student sharing their observations from their exploration and practice of field techniques in the forest.

For me as a leader on this trip, this was my second time encountering an orangutan in Lubuk Baji. The first experience was during a field trip with students from Ketapang in 2021. The encounter happened on the way home. We saw an orangutan female with her offspring climbing a tree.  Lubuk Baji thus provides an important refuge where orangutans can play, climb, sleep, and look for food. Together, we need to protect this area and preserve all of Gunung Palung National Park for orangutans and the other creatures that live there.

Group photo of the field trip participants from the scenic overlook at the top of the mountain.