Solo orangutan in Borneo rain forest, in the Malaysian state of Sabah

It had been a day of firsts for me at Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre. I’d attended two live feedings in the jungle, where dozens of macaque monkeys and at least six orangutans had emerged from the jungle canopy to avail themselves of the fresh fruit. But the best experience of all occurred after the final feeding ended and everyone else had left the viewing platform. I rested on a wooden bench, listening to the raucous bird calls from every direction, trying to spot birds in the dense canopy. A brief flash of orange crossed my vision as I scanned the foliage. Had I imagined it? No, something was there.

I walked slowly forward, hoping for a better view. Suddenly, the jungle opened up and there he was. A solo orangutan, sitting placidly on a branch. With mouth half open and unfocused gaze, he seemed to be deep in contemplation. I wondered what he was thinking. I wondered if he even knew I was there. I wished I had eyelashes as pretty as his. Or, given those gorgeous thick eyelashes, maybe it was a “her.” I will never know. I took a photo, lowered the camera to check out the image, and when I looked up again, he/she was gone. I hadn’t heard a sound. If I hadn’t taken the photo, I’d still be wondering if it really happened.