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Full Circle

Day 106: Sandakan

Michael Palin - Full CircleA small, five-year-old orang-utan makes her painstaking way toward the bowls of milk and piles of bananas on the feeding platform at the base of the tree. She looks like a ninety-five-year-old baby, hair patchy, her body almost shockingly thin. She's followed by others, their skins the colour and texture of coconut husks. Most ignore the thirty-strong crowd of spectators, apart from one called Alice, who, Sylvia tells me, likes hand-bags. Now the stronger ones are appearing from the trees, swinging down the ropes with a hypnotic agility that makes thirteen-year-old Romanian gymnasts look like Frank Spencer.

When I suggest to Sylvia that they seem tired and a bit sad, like hospital patients, she says this is exactly what they are. It is a long, slow business returning them to the wild, and they only know they have been successful when the orang-utans they've looked after for so long finally disappear into the trees and never return.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Full Circle
  • Day: 106
  • Country/sea: Malaysia
  • Place: Sandakan
  • Book page no: 151

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