Sunday, 16 August 2009



Does this look to you as orangutan exploitation packaged and sold as orangutan conservation?

Orangutan Foundation International and the Orangutan Foundation UK encourage tourists to visit Camp Leakey in Central Kalimantan. A growing number of people are expressing concern at the situation in Camp Leakey; concern for both themselves and the orangutans. But, year after year nothing ever changes - the question is why? How could two well known conservation organisations encourage people to visit such a place as described below?

A large orangutan that greets you on arrival at Camp Leakey? For those not familiar with the scene, this is an adult orangutan which 'famously' watched people washing themselves and clothes in the river and then proceeded either steal soap or, more likely is given it, to copy them. Nowadays it's presumably not possible to steal soap, so does someone provide it to the orangutan so that it can put on a show to visitors?

A tourist was attacked last year but I'm sure most such incidents go unreported. In my opinion it is only a question of time before someone is seriously hurt, even killed.

I read in the Sunday Times newspaper that Orangutan Foundation UK obtains £30,000 every year from tours to Tanjung Putting which it endorses.

Perhaps it's about time they spent some money on implementing and enforcing visitor rules when visiting Camp Leakey. It would not be difficult or expensive to do and definitely better than relying on countless freelance guides whose income and tips depend on visitors (not the orangutans) having a good experience, which as we can see, often means touching/holding 'wild' orangutans.

The following guidelines apply to whalewatching, therefore, are clearly not appropriate for apes, but this does illustrate what can and must be done/enforced in one specific location; they place the animals welfare as top priority. Throughout the world whale/dolphin watching companies have localised regulations, never perfect, but better than nothing.


Recent comments from visitors to

Camp Leakey / Tanjung Puting National Park

"I found your photo of Siswi in the blog , soaping her arms.It must be mentioned, that all Orangutans at Camp Leakey came to the jetty to look for soap, including the big males. During the last years and since volunteers are working far away in Lamandau Reserve, most of the orangutan have gone to the forest.

Only Siswi is all the time around Camp Leakey and she knows very well how to fool the people, especially if Klotoks (tourist boats) are at the new jetty. There were many bites in the past, (not by Siswi), caused by people themselves, because the guides didn't do their job. At the feeding places some people try again and again to touch Orangutans. The guides have to and can intervene strongly, but they do not. So sometimes accidents (orangutan bites) are unavoidable." A visitor earlier this year.

"Conditions at Camp Leakey are indeed horrendous - the place is a circus." Someone who knows the place well but must remain anon. July 2009

"I have very dramatic footage of an idiot friend of mine who decided to give Kusasi (an orangutan) his hand and was then held hostage for half an hour.

He ended up begging him for his life, The local rangers run back to camp for a thermos of boiling water. The camp was maybe half an hour away, In the end we started beating Kusasi with sticks and instead of killing my friend he let him go, We were lucky, Now the feeding sites are all kind of fenced in with a platform and benches like a football game set up. I found that very disturbing, It is now a tourist circus and I for one will never go back."

Journalist. earlier this year


A letter to a UK travel company which promotes itself as eco-friendly. The Managing Director has ignored this letter on four occasions. What does this tell us about the company's eco-friendly credentials? I mean, if they ignore this legitimate complaint, could they be ignoring other things which are detrimental to wildlife - from which they make a profit?

This same company promotes orangutan watching tours with Orangutan Foundation UK.


FAO Julian Matthews / Discovery Initiatives

Dear Julian,

I write with regard to your Borneo Orangutan Holiday.

I last visited Camp Leakey two years ago. A world - renowned photographer /investigative journalist visited the same location last year. Earlier this month I was in Pankalabun where I interviewed two people with an intimate knowledge of Camp Leakey.

From everything I have seen and been told it appears to me the tours you promote

to Camp Leakey, break your own company Code of Ethics regarding ecotourism. I am not saying the following happens on any of your tours, but such things are common and many would be impossible for your guides not to have witnessed.

Camp Leakey has no formal arrangement to protect either the tourist or the orangutans.There are no restrictions on the numbers of people visiting the Camp. On 11th April this year no less than 33 boats with an average of four people visited the Camp.

There is no attempt to educate the public about either the wildlife or how to

behave whilst at Camp Leakey.

People are known to often feed orangutans.The male orangutan which greets visitors at the jetty continues to be given soap to entertain and provide visitors with a photographic opportunity.People often want to touch or hold an orangutan, something their guide is only too keen to try and facilitate.

In the past one orangutan (Siswi) became so sick through smoking cigarettes that it had to be removed and taken into care. I'm reliably told its mother became an alcoholic through being given beer by tourists.

There have been innumerable cases of orangutans grabbing either people or their belongings. A serious accident is waiting to happen.

It is hard, impossible really, to see what benefits the orangutans derive from such tourism. The whole of Camp Leakey looks very shabby and as I say, no attempt is made to educate anyone.

To sum up: Camp Leakey provides orangutans with nothing, other than maybe the chance to catch colds etc from tourists. In return, a tourist touching an orangutan has a risk of catching any number of diseases, possibly even risking a serious injury.

Camp Leakey, for tourists, is really little more than a glorified safari park, albeit one

with less stringent regulations than in most countries.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Kind regards.

Sean Whyte