Ben Fogle has embarked on yet another adventure, this time to South-East Asia. The professional globetrotter has been mingling with orang-utans in Sarawak, on the north-east coast of Borneo which, along with Sumatra in Indonesia, is the only place in the world where orang-utans still live in the wild.
Ben, 39, spent two days at the Matang Wildlife Centre observing its 24 orang-utan inhabitants. Many of the great apes had been orphaned or kept as pets. The younger ones are gradually being taught how to live in the wild.
PHOTO BY SHARON L.SAGAN
“They are going through a rehabilitation process, rather like schooling,” explained Ben. “There’s a little kindergarten, where they have lessons, and each orang-utan orphan has a human foster carer, who carries them around on their backs.
“They start their education programme in an enclosure, but as they become more confident they go out for day trips into the jungle, and then night trips, and eventually they spend a weekend there.”
Three years ago while filming in the Peruvian rainforest he caught a life-threatening, flesh-eating disease, mucosal leishmaniasis, and had to undertake chemotherapy. But this experience didn’t spoil Ben’s enthusiasm for the Malaysian rainforest.
“It’s such an exciting place,” he said. “There are so many noises, you can’t even imagine what’s making them – it buzzes, it hums, it sounds like children screaming at times.”
Ben, who is father to Ludo, three, and Iona, 19 months, joked, “the orang-utans were the same sort of age in terms of their development, although slightly hairier versions. They had tantrums, threw themselves down and refused to move.”
The dedicated dad, who is based in London with his wife Marina, explained, “The hardest thing about my career is the absence, the missing and the longing. I have a mantra for my children when I go away, which is ‘Daddy always comes back’ and my little boy repeats it when my little daughter cries. It’s my way of trying to make it easier for them.”
Although he tries to limit time spent away his family to no longer than ten days, his next journey will see him away for a prolonged period as she attempts to swim the Atlantic. He was originally planning to attempt the 3,000-mile, 100-day swim from the US to Cornwall this year, until he realised he wasn’t sufficiently prepared and postponed it until next year.
The explorer said, “I think as a child I always wondered if it was possible. A lot of people out there don’t think it is, but that’s part of the attraction. If everyone thought it was very achievable it wouldn’t be a proper challenge, would it”
For exclusive video footage from Ben’s trip to Sarawak, download !’s iPad edition, available from Apple Newsstand