Planet of the Apes

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Winter Travel Guide 1996

Planet of the Apes

Have Banana, Will Travel
By Laura Billings

For opportunities to rub elbows with very, very distant relatives, sign on for the Orangutan Foundation International Research/ Study Tour in Borneo's Tanjung Puting National Park. Each morning, visitors on the 11-day trip make their way from Rimba Lodge down a snaky black jungle river to the research center at Camp Leakey. Here they're greeted by a welcome wagon of captive orangutans, and by Dr. Birut‹ Galdikas, the world's foremost expert on these apes. The rest of the time you'll be tracking the animals through the forest with a Dayak guide, and helping to rehabilitate apes brought here after illegal capture. (Land cost, $2,115; Bolder Adventures-Asia Transpacific Journeys, 800-642-2742.)

South China's white-headed langurs--the focus of a two-week Earthwatch research trip in the forested region of Guangxi--don't welcome visitors with the same open arms as Borneo's orangs do, but they've got a good excuse. Since they were first discovered by humans in the 1950s, 60 percent of their habitat has been destroyed, and many of the leaf-eating monkeys have been wiped out by hunters who use the animals' bones in medicines. Conservation biologist Li Zhaoyuan leads volunteers through this misty, hilly region near the Vietnam border to learn more about the langurs' endangered population (estimated at fewer than 1,400 animals total), and why this 124-square-mile patch is their only home on earth. (Land cost, $1,495; Earthwatch, 800-776-0188.)

One of the best places for bipeds to catch up with their knuckle-dragging forebears is in the mountains of Uganda, where Mountain Travel- Sobek is conducting a 16-day Ultimate Gorilla Safari. Though the tour includes brushes with other wildlife--the big game of Queen Elizabeth National Park, the giant crocs and hippos of the Nile, red colobus monkeys and chimps in the Kibale Forest--the real highlight is the two days participants spend in the impenetrable forest of Bwindi National Park tracking two gorilla family groups. (Land cost, $5,540; Mountain Travel-Sobek, 800-227-2384.)

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