1. the recording of behavioral characteristics (i.e. jumping), so as to assess or predict capabilities in a certain sphere (or straight line from tree to tree), or to assist in identifying a particular subgroup or subspecies.
Siswi is the dominant female orangutan in Camp Leakey area where Dr. Galdikas has a hut and often works. She has released several orangutans here. Dr. Galdikas told me that Siswi’s mother was her “best friend”. Siswi was born wild and had a wild father. Dr. Galdikas is very fond of her – as am I.
Siswi is a true character. She is the Queen around here which is apparent because the staff at Camp Leakey always has her favorite fruit on hand. She absolutely loves rambutan fruit (which comes in bunches, is the size of a small mandarin and is prickly on the outside) and durian fruit (which I call “stinky fruit” because…well, it stinks!).
I met Siswi in 2009 when Theo and I were here together. She was often sitting with ‘Tom’, the big dominant male in this area. Siswi is the only female that can sit in close proximity to Tom – safely. One thing I noticed about Siswi 6 years ago, is that she is an orangutan ‘yogi’. I never actually observed her doing a “downward dog” – well, maybe with Tom :-o. But I photographed her in a position that I saw several times – including this time as well!!!!
This trip when we bumped into her in the forest, she was in a rare mood. She sat on the forest path and started pulling down small trees to strip their leaves. She then took the leaves and piled them on her lap – very methodically. This lasted for quite a while until a ranger approached and scolded her for destroying these young trees.
Every night, orangutans who are arboreal apes, make a nest or bed in the tree tops to sleep. But it is midday and we are firmly on the ground. Hmmm.
They also use leaves bunched together and put them over their heads like an umbrella as protection from the rain. They do not like rain. It actually makes a great deal of sense because the high humidity here doesn’t allow their thick hair to dry for a very long time. They can easily get parasites, fungi, etc because they do not groom being solitary apes (unless a mother has young with her). But now, it isn’t raining.
What is she doing?
Here is a short movie clip of her (50 seconds download):
Today I am flying my drone from the boat to photograph the river with its close approximation to palm oil trees. We will then either hike or take a motor bike almost 10 kilometers (over 6 miles) to a huge area where primary forest burned down. My forest guide Aidi was on a team there working to put out the fires. In the end, we took motor bikes. That would have been a L-O-N-G walk in the forest. It was fun riding through the rain forest – and much cooler….
…but upon arrival to the rainforest’s “new” edge, the fun was short lived. I was able to get some images from the drone that were interesting and disheartening to all of us.
The fires were more devastating than anyone knew. When I finally showed these images to Dr. Galdikas, she was shocked and quite upset.
Anyway, after flying we decided to go to a feeding station where the forest rangers put out bananas and cassava for the habituated Bornean orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus) that were released at some time earlier (either as a result of the illegal pet trade or translocation). One big male cautiously came to the site – he was not the resident dominant male in this territory and approached cautiously. After he scattered the females and their young that were feeding, he sat and fed for a long time. All of a sudden, he started to make the “long call”. It is a sound unlike any other – Theo mentioned this in his post about Kusase. This male then jumped off the platform and went after a young female. To my utter surprise, he raped her in front of us. She didn’t try to fight him off (maybe there was no point as he was HUGE?) and when it was all over, they sat and fed together quietly.
If you have a chance, please look at my previous blog about Sumatran orangutans to compare the photo of the Sumatran dominant male that I posted. They look so different. This dominant Bornean male has big flanged cheek pads on the sides of his face and a large pendulous throat sack under his chin. The shape of his cheek pads also differ from those of the flanged Sumatran male. Also, the Sumatran males don’t have the throat sack. You can visibly see the difference between these two species.
Orangutans LOVE bananas. They don’t get them in the primary or secondary forests here and so they are a favorite treat at the feeding platforms:
Today has been a day of highs and lows (literally) with the drone – but the faces of these wonderful animals keeps me focused on why I am here – to ignite the fire to fight against the palm oil companies. It is becoming increasingly more clear every day that I MUST stop buying products with palm oil as the ingredient. It is the most important thing that I can do to reduce the demand for this insidious product.
The next day I flew to Jakarta, Java and changed planes for Pangkalan Bun, the capital of Central Kalimantan, Borneo. The fires have ravaged Central Kalimantan. They recently stopped burning (for the time being) after tremendous efforts from the Borneans and various organizations. A state of emergency was declared but little has come from that – except that the palm oil companies are completely off the hook for liability since a state of emergency removes fault. I have received different numbers for the fire damage. One account said that over 6,000 hectares (approx. 15,000 acres) were burned while another said that well over 9,000 hectares (approx. 23,000 acres) were incinerated. Devastating.
The most important aspect of my time spent here in Borneo (besides photographing the orangutan and the palm plantations) is to meet a women whose work (and in whom) I have admired for years: Doctor and Professor (as she is known here) Birute Mary Galdikas. I mentioned in a previous post that she is one of the three primatologist women who was trained and mentored by the famous Dr. Louis Leakey. These three women including Jane Goodall (chimpanzees) and Dian Fossey (mountain gorillas) are referred to as the “Trimates”. Birute Galdikas’ work strongly continues here in Borneo. Early on she established a Care Center (larger than the quarantine center in Sumatra). I have been in contact with Dr. Galdikas (Birute) and due to the fires, our correspondence went dark the past few weeks. I had no idea if she was going to be able to meet with me while I was here all though earlier she indicated that she would.
I learned upon arriving that she was out in the forest on the Sekonyer River where I was going. What luck!! She was staying at a lodge there and had a meeting with officials from Jakarta (the capital of Indonesia). We stopped by the lodge and she came out to meet me. We spent about half hour together and she invited me to meet her on Sunday – in two days. She is a very interesting lady and it was a thrill to meet her. To me, she is a celebrity in conservation. Her work is very important. I look forward to seeing her again on Sunday. This has been a most successful start to my time here.
My forest guide here is named Aidi. He too is also gregarious. It will be nice to work with him as he is very enthusiastic as well as entertaining.
I will be living on a house boat called a ‘klotok or kolotok” for the next 10 days with a crew of 4 – pretty nice. These boats are called “klotoks” because their engine makes a sound like “klok klok klok”.
Here are some images of my new home on the river for the next 10 days:
I woke up on my last morning in Bukit Lawang early – ready to depart on a small mission unrelated to the story that I am working on. I am going to meet a team of scientists and park officials in the Sikundur field office to release a slow loris (Nycticebus coucang) – or “Kukang” in Indonesian. Slow lorises are a group of primates found in South East Asia. They have a round head, narrow snout and big eyes. Interesting fact: they also have a toxic bite. They lick a gland on their arm. The secretion from their saliva activates the toxin when mixed with their saliva. This loris was another animal confiscated due to the illegal pet trade and they are on the IUCN Red List of endangered animals. They have become very popular in South East Asia as pets – apparently there is a video (on YouTube) of a loris “pet” and this video has virally exploded. I find it despicable that this video glamorizes the illegal pet trade. I will look for it when I have time and get internet again. Check it out and let me know.
After an almost 4 hour drive (due to rains and muddy roads), we took a dug out boat (with a motor) up the Besting river through dense forest. The boat ride took well over an hour. The loris was in a cage on our boat accompanied by Yennie, a veterinarian who works at SOCP and several national park officials. Apparently, this was a big deal. When we landed, we hiked a short distance to find a constructed and open enclosure or pen of sorts, made to keep the loris safe for a few weeks until it had time to adapt to its new natural surroundings. Without much fanfare, the cage was opened inside the enclosure. Only one park official was inside the enclosure. Before I could say “boo”, I saw that the slow loris was in fact not slow at all. I barely had time to get my lens up and the little bugger was already climbing quickly up the tree and engulfed with vegetation. I didn’t fire off a single shot. Sorry. This is a long story with no visual payoff. But it cost me a full day and so I had to include it here. Please check out the web to find a photo of a slow loris.
Being somewhat disgruntled that I was asked to join this adventure for the purpose to photograph it and NOT being able to get off a single round from my camera – I begrudgingly got back on the boat to make the long return. However, instead of returning to the point of origin, I was dropped off at an elephant patrol training camp where I was to spend the night. This is a camp of park rangers who patrol on elephant back. At this camp, they had 4 elephants in training. They spoke little to no English but I was able to learn that they bathe their elephants every morning. They agreed to let me fly my drone over the elephants while they bathe them in the river. Now that would be fun!
After dinner, I fell asleep (in the clothes I had worn all day) in a very primitive hut – no running water, electricity, etc. I learned the next morning that they do have electricity, but it had gone out due to earlier rains. I slept as well as I could manage considering the hut had closed windows and doors to keep the mosquitos out. It was nothing less than sweltering.
The next morning, after a breakfast of nasi goreng (a yummy rice dish with an egg), the mahouts mounted their elephants and walked them down to the river. I went ahead to set up my drone. I armed and launched the drone and was able to take some aerials of the mahouts bathing their tusked mounts. OK, now this was fun…if that water had been a bit cleaner, I may have joined them!!!!!
When the elephants (and their mahouts) were sufficiently clean, it was time to make the long 5 – 6 hour drive back to Medan to check into a hotel by the airport. The torrential rains started again just in time as we pulled up to the hotel. I have an early flight out for Pangkalan Bun, Borneo in the morning. When my bags were being unloaded and brought into the hotel, I noticed some movement on my green duffel bag. It was a worm. After one second of recognition, I noticed that there was LOTS of movement. Worms were ALL OVER my bags!!!! Lots of them (maybe over 100?). After I knocked off the first few on the shiny white tile floor, I realized that I had best take my bags back outside to finish the job. Worms were everywhere – under the straps, hidden in the zippers. It wasn’t the end of the world, but I truly didn’t want them INSIDE with my clothes and taken up to my room. After some time and extra attention to every crevice, I removed the worms. I only discovered one or two tricky ones when I finally reached my hotel room. An end to my time in Sumatra.
The next part of this adventure begins.
Doing field work sometimes means doing forest work. To enter the forest, we had to cross the river by zodiac boat. My tracker was carrying my camera gear with him which is a luxury that I am unaccustomed to. When I am traveling with Theo, he has to contend with his own camera gear. It’s “every man (or girl) for himself” when you are in the bush.
Working in a rain forest is amazing (as Pete knows only too well living in Ecuador) and is filled with wonder and surprises at every turn. A rain forest is so full of life. Occasionally one must become overly acquainted with life in the forest. Like yesterday, when leeches became my most intimate friends. But today I had hundreds of mosquitos who fell in love – with me. I did not return their affection however. But they are more often than not a necessary inconvenience – especially when measured against a really good looking red head with a beard. After we crossed the river, we went into the forest and walked and listened and walked until we were rewarded with a great crashing coming from above. Is it a troup of gibbons or macaques? Or are we lucky enough to find a Pongo abelii – a Sumatran orangutan? What an exciting moment to see a hairy blotch of red in a sea of green. This golden bearded hunk was my greatest hope today – and there he was – hanging in front of me in all of his hairy red glory.
What can I say. I am a sucker for a guy with facial hair! I mean, just look at him! Is he hot, or what?
We were also lucky enough (with a tracker and the skills of Darma) to find a full grown dominant male with the big cheek flaps. He was a lazy bugger and moved as little as possible. He barely lifted his massive head to follow my movements below.
When it became apparent that the King of this forest was not going to move – at all – and that the clouds WERE moving very fast, we decided to make our way (QUICKLY) out of the forest and back to the village. When the heavens open up here, everyone runs for cover. I have never experienced walls of rain that make you feel as though the world is coming to an end – the noise is deafening and it’s a wonder that anything is left standing at all. The orangutans hate rain. It’s no wonder. It’s so wet and humid here that clothing and even your hair never dries. Orangutans easily get parasites because their fur can’t dry out, and being solitary animals, they don’t groom the parasites from each other.
When we got back to the village, I dropped off my camera in my hut and barely made it to the restaurant (perched on the river) when the clouds gave way and a deluge of water dropped en mass. Wow. Because Theo and I live in the high desert of Santa Fe, New Mexico, we are thankful for every single drop of rain. There I sat with my icy cold glass of Coke Cola and marveled at the green, the hairy red, the torrent of water and the goodness in so many people.
~ Jami Tarris
One of the best times of the day – morning coffee. Let me describe where I am having my coffee. My bungalow is built into a hillside on the edge of one of the last remaining rainforests on Sumatra – Gunung Leuser National Park. I am sitting in an open-aired cafe which is connected to my bungalow. The cafe and this little village are all perched along the side of the fast flowing Bahorok river. I can hear the rush of the rapids and I need to speak a little loud to be heard above the surging river when I order my coffee with (hopefully) milk. No such luck again. No milk here…at all. Oh well. It’s not a HUGE deal. Semi-huge only :-(.
We had a HUGE rain last night that woke me up. We are in the wet season. Here in the rain forest, the rains don’t just come every afternoon. They can come at any time. The problem is that, with my forest guide named Darma, I have to cross this river in a small zodiac to get to the national park. The rains raise the river and can make the crossing impossible. Darma will be here in a few minutes and I will find out if we can cross.
This is Darma:
He is quite a character. He reminds me a lot of the macaques. He talks a lot, laughs a lot and moves a lot. He seems to jump from one spot to the next. He is extremely amiable and chirps happily until he starts talking about the orangutans and conservation of the forest. Then his outgoing happy-go-lucky personality changes and he loses his smile. He is a forest ranger as well as a guide, and like the people I have been working with so far, his entire life and heart are dedicated to saving the last vestiges of the Sumatran forests and the animals that live within them. Darma has a little saying that he feels describes him best. He told me, “I’m not useful, but I am not useless!”. This is such an understatement of course because I cannot begin to tell you of all the projects that he is involved in to plant endemic trees, save primary forest and to save orangutans. I just hope that some day I can borrow this saying from him.
Today I will search for a large male Sumatran orangutan. I want to photograph this guy with his gorgeous long beard which is one attribute that differentiates him from his Bornean cousin. Another sip of coffee….ahhhhh…sort of. This darn “elixir of the gods” is always one extravagance that I have trouble doing without. Food, showers, clean clothes, insects and the rest are not nearly as consequential as my LOVE for gosh darn coffee.
~ Jami Tarris
Today we drove over 3 hours from Medan to Sei Betung which is a part of the Gunung Leuser National Park. I am traveling with the SOCP (Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Project) team to visit their restoration site. On the way to the restoration site as soon as we left the city, we started driving through dense palm oil plantations. They are sturdy green palms that produce fruit just five years after being planted. The attraction to growing palm oil trees is that after they start producing fruit, they can be harvested every two weeks for the next 20 – 25 years!! The growers can earn income very quickly because of such high production. In addition, each fruit yields 3 times more oil than coconut oil as an example. In general, the oil extracted is 3 times greater than any other oil producing fruits.
The trees are planted in organized rows. The palms are dense and have a tight leaf structure that prohibits any ground growth beneath aside from ferns. The fruit is small and firm – about the size of a large walnut. It grows in large clusters and again, can be harvested every two weeks.
All of the paved roads are pocked with pot holes due to heavy dump trucks laden with palm fruit. I could not count the number of trucks filled with palm fruits that were being transported to the processing centers.
I am going to the restoration site near Sei Betung specifically to fly my drone over palm plantations and to visit this restoration project where a team of dedicated botanists, biologists,and conservationists are working. It has been raining during this 3 hour drive and we are expecting this to be a muddy slurpy trip. After we finally arrive at the first field station, we have to hike through the forest for about one hour to reach the restoration sight.
We are walking through deep mud that wants to suction off our shoes with each step. I am wearing Keene hiking sandals (with no socks unfortunately) and picked up a few unwelcome (but not uncomfortable at all) hitch hikers along the way. Yes, one must always expect leeches in a rain forest. They are benign organisms that are removed easily if noticed early. They managed to make their way through the holes of my Keene sandals and I had one between each toe – not unlike getting a pedicure :-o. LOL!! Anyway, it was a long. laborious hike only because the mud was so slippery and literally tried to suck your shoe off in every step. A few bridge crossings were the only relief from the thick mud.
We finally made it to the restoration site to meet an amazing team of people, a welcome cup of tea and lunch. The restoration project involving this team followed an unprecedented court case where a palm oil company was indicted for planting a palm plantation illegally in the national park. They were taken to trial, lost the case and were forced to return the acquired land to the national park. They were also required to remove the palm oil trees from the land upon return. Upon winning the case, the national park contacted the SOCP Director, Dr. Ian Singleton and asked if his team would start a project to restore 500 hectares of palm oil plantation land into natural forest. And so, in 2009 SOCP took on the monumental task of returning this land to a natural (though secondary) forest in the place of palms so that endemic wildlife and vegetation can once again inhabit and take over the forest.
This team has tirelessly been planting trees from germinated seedlings since 2009!!!! They grow the trees from seedlings at the site and plant tree by tree.
Up until now they have planted 261 hectares of the 500 with 167 species of fast growing trees. They will soon introduce slow growing trees. After several years of back breaking work, they were rewarded when they saw their first orangutan and herd of elephants in the newly planted forest.
After lunch and a short rest, we made our way back into the forest to look for a specific location where I was going to fly my drone. I was hoping to take an aerial image of recently cut down primary forest being prepared for palm oils trees. When we reached the location, I armed my drone and took off.
I flew out 1.2 kilometers (roughly three quarters mile) and couldn’t find the clear cutting of the forest decimated by palms. I reached my maximum distance and height for the drone. I have a custom setting that exceeds this distance, but I was told that the cutting was only 1k out. It was much further than we all actually thought. Instead, I took a photograph of a palm oil plantation next to the primary forest of the national park – you can see the distinct contrast.
After seeing this image, I appreciated the work of this team even more. Below is a photo of biologist Rio Ardi. He heads this project and has been there since the beginning: growing and planting 1100 seedlings per hectar plus 30% more seedlings (330) for mortality (they lose 30% of all of the seedlings that they plant). Below is a photo of Rio hugging one of his precious trees in the restored part of the forest.
~ Jami Tarris
I spent another day in the quarantine center again with the “52” orphaned and rescued orangutans. Some of the animals that live there have such sad back-stories and will have to remain there for the rest of their lives. But most will be returned to the wild when the time is right. Like I mentioned before, the team that works here is extraordinary. I never imagined that I would find this level of dedication and passion here. It puts me to shame.
After walking around and photographing so many of the little ones in different areas and in different enclosures, I went back to the nursery, got comfy on the floor and spent about an hour or more with the three that were just rescued last Monday. They were hilarious. I have to wear a mask because humans and orangutans share 97% of the same DNA, therefore we can pass along germs and bacteria to these animals that have not developed an immune system to ward off human diseases. For example, a common cold passed on to them can easily lead to pneumonia resulting in death.
The little rescued orangutans are getting stronger and stronger every day. They are now eating well (they didn’t eat at first) and are not only becoming playful, but quite feisty. One little male was so naughty and he kept torturing the youngest female by biting her. He followed her around just to get in a good bite here and there. The keeper had to pick her up to rescue her – to stop her from crying and squealing. While holding her and sitting her on his lap, he tickled her cheeks to get her to laugh.
After she recuperated from being chased by the little feisty male-beast, he put her down to find that the little brute went at it again. So, he picked the little boy up and the naughty behavior continued.My scientific deduction is complete: PRIMATE BOYS WILL BE PRIMATE BOYS !!!! 🙂