Terry Pratchett's Jungle Quest

When Terry Pratchett, best-selling author of the 'Discworld' series of Science Fantasy novels, invented the much loved character of 'The Librarian', he could not have imagined that it would be the beginning of a personal quest that would take him into the jungles of Borneo.

The books began Terry's interest in and concern for orangutans; he even became a trustee of the Orangutan Foundation.  Terry realised that he knew very little about these close cousins of humans and planned a boat trip, up the Sekonyer River from Kumi in Borneo to meet orangutans in the wild.  His travelling companion was Ian Redmond, a primatologist who worked with Diane Fossey and the gorillas of Rwanda, and who now wanted to photograph orangutans for his latest book.  Ian too was visiting Borneo for the first time.

Almost on his arrival, Terry encountered his first orangutan - in a cage!  It was an ex-captive, baby orang, victim of the trade in orangutans as pets, waiting to be returned to the jungle.  Keeping orangs as pets used to be an Indonesian tradition.  Now, with just 300,000 left in the wild, it is illegal - catching the babies often involved killing the mothers.

Terry’s mission had an aim beyond encountering orangutans in their natural habitat.  He also hoped to make contact with the legendary Birute Galdikas, a contemporary of Fossey's who has been working with and studying orangutans in Borneo for over twenty years.  When he tracked her down at her remote base at Camp Leakey he learned that Birute regards orangutans as ‘another kind of us’ - they share 98% of their genetic make-up with human beings, as well as an intense curiosity, a sense of fun, and a liking for human company in small doses.  He also learned that despite her efforts to protect the rain forest from the loggers, Birute fears for the future of the red apes as even the National Park is steadily reduced.

At Camp Leakey Terry discovered for himself the importance of a place where people and apes can share the world with no bars between them. And he achieved his aim of getting ‘close’ to orangutans when a huge male known as Kusasi emerged from the jungle, sat for a few minutes just feet away from Terry and Ian, and then quietly returned to the forest.