Long range reconnaissance patrol. Bob, centre standing.


We all have vivid memories of our time in the military. 
Many of those memories are for differing reasons. Based also from the senses of sight, sound, smell, hearing, touch and the all important sixth sense.

One of the best memories I’ll ever take from the world’s tropical rain forests (the jungle) is one that occurred in the mid 1970s when I was patrolling as a lead scout on a long range recce patrol in the jungles of Borneo.

We were half way through our day’s patrolling. Our senses have been naturally reaping havoc all day. Looking through the trees, not at them. Looking for man made sign on the ground and on the vegetation around us. Listening for man made sounds, talking, coughing, chopping with an axe or machette etc. Smelling for smoke from fire, food, cigarettes etc. All in the day’s work and constant, constant constant.

Jungle noises differ from the time of day. You have the dawn chorus of birds and insects, to monkeys in the trees alerting all of your presence. A real bummer when you think that you’re being really professional and quiet in your patrolling. Then in the evening before last light, the birds and insects all screaming away again before signing off for the night.

However, there are signs of danger, and that sign comes in the form of silence. If there’s a predator around or any form of danger, amazingly the forest will eventually go silent and let you know.

It’s now silent, but where’s the predator…or is it us?

I was uncannily aware of the silence…I stopped in my tracks, took a knee, looked back at my patrol buddies and cupped a hand to my ear.

As I looked forward, about 10-12 yards to my front a large male orangutan stepped out from behind the buttress of an ageing tall hardwood tree. Followed by the heads of the female and children peering around the buttress.

The male was calm but inquisitive and stood his ground. I had moved forward a couple of yards, and from an angle could see the improvised mattress of rubber plant leaves providing their comfortable nest between the buttress’s.

I again looked back at my patrol…they looked as astonished as I was.

The commander who was right behind me now as second man, rightly indicated for us to make a box movement to our left and skirt around the family.

That we did, remaining as silent as possible, which was difficult given that every creature in the vicinity had gone quiet. When we moved back beyond their nest and back onto our line of march, we all took a look back…the male had returned to the nest and was sat with the mother and kids…looking quite the settled family.

After a few minutes the jungle noises got back to normal…and so did our patrolling.

For the next 20 years, sadly I never got the chance to see another orangutan living freely in the jungle. Given that most of our training is in far off primary forest with a tall thick canopy, and well away from any human habitation, roads or navigable rivers that’s alarming.

I write this with much sadness in response to the news stories of orangutans losing their natural habitat on a daily basis…so fast that eventually they’ll be gone forever.

Big business and Governments shame on you!

Published by: bobshepherdauthor

Bestselling author Bob Shepherd has spent nearly forty years operating in conflict areas around the world. A twenty year veteran of Britain’s elite 22 SAS Regiment with nearly two decades of private security work to his credit, Bob has successfully negotiated some of the most dangerous places on earth as a special forces soldier and a private citizen. Bob comments regularly on security issues and has appeared on CNN International, BBC, SKY News, and BBC Radio. He has also authored numerous articles and books including the Sunday Times Top Ten bestseller The Circuit. In addition to writing and lecturing, Bob continues to advise individuals operating in hostile environments. For more of his insights on security and geopolitics visit

Categories Uncategorized11 Comments


    1. Before its too late, men of your calibre need to go back to these forests and eradicate all involved and put a stop to it for greater good of mankind and every animal that lives here with us!

  1. Just today Bob, a friend of mine who is also ex forces and now lives in Jakarta shared a story on his Facebook page. Being urged to buy a caged monkey from a street vendor. Having fought the temptation of “rescue” he went on; to buy one would only mean another being taken from its natural habitat to be sold in its place. Urging others not to buy them also.

  2. Yeah some special moments and sadly disapearing because of the plague we have called humans, a South African guy called Andy, (No more info) was taking us on a nav ex in Brunei on the ISP phase, and he stopped the patrol whilst about 10 Black faced gibbons came hurling passed, I think the phrase from Andy was in his strong South African accent “You can’t pay for this shit” or words to that effect!

  3. Your story pleasently reminded me of a trip to Sarawak around 2009 where Sharon and I attended a natural preserve for orangutans. Seeing the alpha mail at the feeding station was intimidating enough (since there are no barriers for visitors). So I can certainly understand the ease with which you remember that event. I also recall learning for the first time that Indonesia had tried to take over Sarawak from Malaysia in the late 60’s and that their army on the island had been decimated by a proportionately small number of men with the SAS. Now there is another story I think is very interesting (if it is now a matter of public record), more so by you being part of it.

    1. Great experience for you both Wayne, that’s awesome. Yes, the men from the Malaya/Borneo days were my instructors…they lived and breathed the jungle. So lucky to have been a student at that time, and have the chance to pick up their great skills.

  4. A great story of your encounter with the great Orangutang. My grandfather used to take me to a zoo as a boy. He was a retired RAF squadron leader and doctor. As soon as we would enter the zoo’s gates I would head for Adam’s enclosure, he was a giant of a Male Oraung I’d what seemed like hours stay with him, admire and chat before taking my Grandad by the hand around the zoo, but always returned to stay good bye to ‘Adam’ before going home.
    So for you to have had the experience of meeting a Male like Adam at home in the wild must have been more than a lasting memory especially given the circumstances too.
    I enjoy reading your stories as they give such insight to each situation your writing about.
    Over the years I have had a keen interest in SF’s but none more so than 22.
    Thank you to you and those like you.

  5. A memory that will stay with you forever Bob. And a story to pass onto those who will never experience this. Sadly zoo will be the only place they can be seen in the not too distant future. And the zoo will become the perception of their natural concrete jungle! How can we as a race be so selfish ??

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