The places that changed my life: Leif Cocks, orangutan conservationist


VENICE, ITALY

My wife and I were backpacking around Europe before I started a short-term job in the Netherlands, settling a group of orangutans into a new habitat I’d helped design. We didn’t have much money, so the best we could muster for dinner along the canals was an Italian loaf of bread and a bottle of cheap red wine – and it was wonderful. Give me bread, wine and your company and I’m in heaven.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND

I was working in Chester Zoo in the north of England, settling in their new breeding male orangutan I’d brought over from Australia for their girls. On my day off, I took the train up to Liverpool and went on the Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour on the Mystery Tour Bus. I loved seeing the Cavern, Strawberry Fields – and there was even a “blue suburban sky” when we drove through Penny Lane.

LAS VEGAS, US

There is simply something magical about the light and space of the desert. There is a wonderful old film clip of Jim Morrison travelling in a 1968 Shelby Mustang through the Nevada desert in The Doors’ classic, Riders on the Storm. So travelling along the US interstate through the Nevada desert from Las Vegas to Los Angeles, with The Doors as my co-pilots, was pure magic.

KALIMANTAN, INDONESIA

I was several days up the Mahakam River in East Kalimantan, witnessing both wildlife and an amazing Dayak tribe that had been retreating from the constant encroachment of “civilisation” and is still, to this day, living traditionally in long houses. Afterwards we had to get back quickly, so we hired a small motorised canoe and travelled throughout the night down river to the next major town. Travelling along the winding river through the jungle at night, with thunderstorms flashing in the distance, was truly sublime and wonderful.

YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, US

We were on the way from LA to San Francisco on my North American book tour for Orangutans: My Cousins, My Friends. We had an extra day on the road trip, so diverted to Yosemite. Standing in the valley enveloped by the pure majesty, one could not truly describe the experience without acknowledging the deep spirituality of nature. I do not believe in God, however, when I went to Yosemite, I think I saw her.

Former zookeeper/curator Leif Cocks founded The Orangutan Project in 1998. It supports orangutans through protecting, restoring and regenerating their habitat, working with local communities and trusted conservation partners.

Leif Cocks is one of the special experts on Traveller Tours’ one-off journey to Borneo, in conjunction with Wendy Wu Tours. The 16-day trip departs Australia, September 3. 





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