Kutai National Park : Just Need a Better Management

Kutai National Park is located near the town of Sangatta in East Kalimantan province (between Samarinda and Berau). It has been pretty much damaged during the past decades, yet it is still a very safe bet to spot truly wild orangutans as well as proboscis monkey in Borneo.

Do not expect extensive primary forest though. I understand that the main reason wildlife is easy to spot there is because it is concentrated in small patch of intact forest.

The main issue is that the management seems to be mostly concerned about getting as much money as possible from visitors. The amount we are talking about are not very high either but it really pisses me off the be forced to pay for something useless.

Making the trip to Camp Kakap

Camp Kakap is both a visiter center and a research station located about 20 minutes upriver from the corporate village of Kabo Jaya. Another reserach station (Mentoko is located further upriver but I’m not sure that it is open to visitors).

It is a good place to see orangutans, gibbons as well as tarantula but not Proboscis monkey.

There are other places open to tourism in the park (this post is old, but still contains lots of useful informations).

It is better to pay a visit to the national park office first in Sangatta (or at least call them), to make sure the barrack in Camp Kakap is not full.

There are 2 rooms there (large enough for many 4 people each) and they have enough old mattress for about 6 people. You could easily camp in front of the camp or sleep on the terrace (I did that because rooms were full).

There is a kitchen with cooking gear and gas, as well as running water. The idea is that you bring your own food and water, and then you cook it there.

From Sangatta, take an angkot heading North and ask the driver to drop you in Kabo Jaya (paid 20’000Rp for the ride). Get dropped in front of the Kepala Desa (village head) house.

They directed me to Pak Willis who lives 50m behind. Villagers provided transportation to Camp Kakap using longtail river boats. Price is fixed (300’000Rp for the return trip), get your boatman phone number to arrange the ride back, you have signal in Camp Kakap (you are not far at all, you can hear the mosque from Kabo Jaya).

A boat can take up to 6 passengers I guess. The ride is only 20 minutes. You pass through fields and small patches of devastated forest. Eventually you reach a jetty in a much more forested area. It’s secondary but not as bad as I expected.

In Camp Kakap, you will meet the lead ranger (Supiandi) or any other guy around. All the staff in Sangatta or Kakap are adamant that it is stricly forbidden to enter the forest without a guide, that people already got lost, GPS signal doesn’t work …

First of all this is pure bullshit, the forest around Kakap is not that large, and anyway it is bordered by a large river that you could easily find back even if lost.

But on top of that, there is already a trail system with clear marks and maps already in place !

Only a couple of sections could be confusing but it would require very little work to add signs at these places.

So what if I take a guide ? Beware, because some game is played about prices. When I when to the office in Sangatta, they told me a walk was charged 200’000Rp and that a guide could be hired for 500’000Rp for a full day.

Turns out in Camp Kakap, Supiandi was charging 100’000Rp per walk AND per person. A walk is a 2 hours hike following the forest trails.

This is an absolute nonsense (since when a guide charges more for the same thing because the group is larger ?), so I said I would simply paid 20’000Rp per walk (because we were 5 people in the group). Given that I got rather pissed off by both the staff in Sangatta office and Kakap ; I only spent a night there and left the next day. So I only did one guided walk. Supiandi seems pretty happy that I was leaving early and didn’t even bother to argue about the price so I ended up not paying the walk.

Supiandi didn’t wasn’t very talkative during the walk (I was the first day of Ramadhan though, maybe he was tired). I pointed out the first orangutan myself ; later we would see lar gibbon high in the canopy he didn’t even bother to show it to the other members of the group.

When asked about something he seems to be quite knowledgable about the wildlife but would only answer in Indonesian.

I think that this is way exagerated (in 2018 the minimum wage for East Kalimantan province is about 2’500’000 IDR) ; so I left and won’t probably return, contrary to Gunung Leuser National Park.

Is it worth a trip ?

Easy wild orangutans spotting is almost guaranteed. Other wildlife can also reasonnably be expected, like tarantulla or gibbons.

The rangers in Kakap usually offer this :

  • A walk from 7 to 9
  • Another one from 14 to 16
  • A night walk from 19 to 21 to spot tarantulas

You should expect to pay :
– 150’000Rp/day for the NP ticket (maybe 225’000 on the weekend but I’m not sure).
– 150’000Rp/person/night at the Kamp
– Food and water > bring yourself from Sangatta.
– 200’000Rp per 2h guided walk / 100’000 per person. There is lots of game played about this price so clarify everything in advance to avoid arguments.

As you can see, even with the price of the guide included, it is not exactly unaffordable either.

But contrary to whatever the National Park staff might say, a guide is absolutely not required to follow well marked trails. I don’t mind paying 150’000Rp per day as an entrance ticket (when local are charged 5’000Rp just saying…) but being forced to hire a unnecessary and rather grumpy guide on top of that is very annoying.

This is actually a poor strategy from the NP. I would personnaly have stayed easily 2 or 3 nights (so paying 2 more days of NP tickets, as well as accomodation) in the park if I was let alone to walk the trails. I wouldn’t be bothered too much either to have to hire a guide on the first day to introduce me to the trails.

Right now, the current situation is profitable to the rangers but not to the park. The place doesn’t seem to get more than 100 visitors per month at best (when I arrived, there was 4 other visitors, the next day 2 of them left with me after only one night in the park, and no new visitors came).

I think that Bako National Park in Sarawak could be a very good model for Kutai.

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