A safari in Sumatra is about far more than just the Orangs. I visited Gunung Leuser National Park in the northern part of the island and I enjoyed spotting all the various forms of wildlife. Obviously, I didn’t see any of the critically endangered Sumatran tigers or Sumatran rhino, but I was also perturbed that my guide didn’t get to show me any of their droppings, either!
I have always loved the rainforest, and much of it in Sumatra is protected, so in a small way you can be sure that you are participating in sustainable tourism. I went on a 3 day tour with Expedition Jungle, and although I was travelling solo I still joined a couple of couples for this tour into the rainforest. As we ventured deeper and deeper into Gunung Leuser National Park, we were all becoming more and more enchanted by the scenery and topography. The clearwater streams (seemed more like rivers to me, but our guide insisted they were just streams) with green foliage all around, while a cacophony of noise emanating from the rainforest added to the isolated atmosphere we faced. Some of us even white water rafted down these “streams” as part of the tour!
Admittedly, the main reason people come to Gunung Leuser is for the famous orang-utan rehabilitation centre at Bukit Lawang. There are guided tours through the jungle to see these amazing creatures in a semi-wild habitat, and the guides coax them out of the dense foliage with food so that we can experience them close up. There are also feeding platforms located in specific locations in the area, where some people can even get the chance to sit with the orang-utans as they eat.
The jungle here is also home to gibbons and macaques. As usual, just as in other places in Asia, the macaques were always up to no good, and they are attracted to human presence in their quest to find easy food. Many monkeys here now avoid hunting naturally, as they now know there is a consistent flow of tourist traffic passing through the jungle where they may snatch a piece of fruit, or parts of a small meal, if they are lucky.
Further north from Bukit Lawang is the elephant sanctuary at Tangkahan. I had the opportunity to ride the elephants, and I enjoyed washing them in a stream with the rest of my group. They are such gentle creatures (and the elephants, too! Ha!).
In addition, there are of course countless water monitors crawling along the jungle floor and in streams wherever you look. The largest one I saw must have been around as long as a man (6ft-ish), but they are usually uninterested in human presence. Luckily, there were no snakes to be seen (I am sure they were there, I just didn’t spot them). I can remember seeing a huge python in Ulu Temburong National Park over in Brunei Darussalam that was still digesting its recent meal. I was glad I didn’t get to see anything similar over here!
The Gunung Leuser ecosystem is also home to Thomas Leaf Monkeys and other langurs, which have small heads, medium-sized bodies, and long tails. These were among my favourite primates from the area, although we didn’t see too many. One little animal I was hoping to see more of was the slow loris, which is probably my favourite animal of all. I only saw this shy creature – often referred to as “the gremlin of the jungle” – one night as we headed back to camp. They are hunted and sold on black markets in Jakarta, and many people ill-advisedly like to keep them as pets, despite the harm this does to the slow loris itself.
So how did this trek through Gunung Leuser compare to my later trek through Tangkoko over in Sulawesi? Well, I think I preferred this one, as I have a bit of a soft spot for Sumatra, although it was amazing to see the tarsier in its natural habitat (as opposed to a zoo somewhere). I also strangely lost nearly 3kg in weight in the few days here at Gunung Leuser, which is pretty extreme as I’m sure you’ll agree. This was my first ever major jungle expedition, and maybe I was suffering from a lack of fitness or a lack of hydration. By the time I got to Sulawesi, I was more knowledgeable and experienced in what to expect and how to deal with the humidity and other issues that crop up in the jungle.