The name Orangutan can be translated to “man from the forest”. In the Malay language (the official language of Malaysia and Indonesia) “orang” means man and “hutan” means forest. Today the orangutans are only found on the islands of Sumatra and Borneo, but once they probably inhabited all of South-East Asia. Their natural habitat is the rainforest, and in contrast to other great apes they spend most of their life in the trees.
The Gunung Leuser national park is covering an area of about 9.000 sq km, and Bukit Lawang is today the main point of access to this impressive habitat, which wildlife includes tigers, rhinos, tapirs, elephants, gibbons, reptiles and of course the orangutan. There are more than 380 species of birds and a huge number of flowers, trees and other plants.
Bukit Lawang is a pleasant getaway from the polluted streets of Medan. The village sits on the eastern outskirts of Gunung Leuser National Park, a huge sanctuary for the flora and fauna of the region, but BL is maybe most famous for the Bohorok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center. These attractions has made Bukit Lawang one of the most popular destinations in northern Sumatra, and today the town exists almost only for the purpose of serving the tourists.
The Bohorok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center was started in 1973 by two Swiss zoologists, Regina Frey and Monica Boerner, and funded by Frankfurt Zoological Society and WWF. The intention was to help orangutans that had been displaced due to land clearing or recovered from captivity. In the first years they had great success in the four steps of rehabilitation; removal from captivity, a quarantine of at least three months, release into the forest around the center and finally taken deep into the rainforest to be released into the wild permanently.