Even more interesting than the time we awoke to the sound of a Lion underneath our Tree-Top, 3-sided lodge (so completely open to the savanah outside) in Namibia, thinking I was just snoring really loudly, was the time twenty years ago when I was literaly grabbed on the ankle by a mother orangutan in Sarawak, Malaysia on the island of Borneo.
I was on an elevated walkway and she came out of the jungle and walked along the forest floor and came right up beneath me. She looked up at me and grabbed my ankle. I could feel just how strong she was. She could have easily pulled me off the walkway. But I could also feel just how gentle she was. Knowing you are not supposed to touch the orangutans, if you were lucky enough to see one, I waited a while to see if she would let go, but she didn't, so I eventually reached down and gently tapped on her fingers. It also gave me an opportunity to do the other thing you should NEVER do with a great ape: make direct eye contact. Somehow, I knew I was not really in danger so I briefly looked directly into her eyes as she was looking up at me. This was a sentient being looking back at me. She was not human, of course, and certainly did not possess the same intelligence as a human, but she was curious, loving, kind, and in her own way, wise. To this day, that encounter remains one of the most significant transformational events in my life. I had always had an interest in wildlife conservation, but my commitment to it as one of my guiding principles grew directly out of that moment, as did my firm belief that god, whatever that means, exists in all creatures.
The picture is very poor, as this is from a first generation digital camera (it was back in 2000 after all), but I did manage to get a picture of mom and baby shortly after she finally let go of my leg and climbed up onto the elevated walkway.