Sunday, November 3, 2013

Tajung Puting... the orangutan experience

Several weeks ago, I traveled with other ASRI volunteers and the founder of ASRI to Tajung Puting National Park to see orangutans.

Our little slice of the rainforest
Early on Saturday morning, we piled into cars and made the 2 hour drive to our nearest airport. We then took a 30 minute flight to Pangkalanbun in Central Kalimantan, where we were met by drivers and whisked away to our awaiting yacht... Well, not exactly... We were headed to a "klotok" or house boat. The houseboats here resemble houseboats in the U.S. about as much as the houses here resemble those in the U.S.

There are other cool things in the rainforest
including this pitcher plant
Still, it sounds pretty luxurious, huh? Our plan was to spend 3 days and 2 nights on the boat. Anyone who has spent any time in the rainforest will tell you that one of the best ways to get around in the rainforest is to stay out of it. Rainforests are incredibly biodiverse and amazing. Unfortunately, a lot of the biodiversity is trying to kill or injure you. There are sharp plants to rip at your skin, insects that not only annoy but carry disease, leaches who penetrate clothing with a nightmarish persistence. And then there is the heat and humidity which basically makes you start to rot... But it is really pretty and rainforests serve globally important ecological functions and are home to some really cool stuff (even the stuff that hurts you sometimes).

This is a huge, dominant male.

A non-dominant male kind bummed
that he doesn't have a lady, but didn't want
to tangle with that other guy.
At another site, this non-dominant male hung out until the
dominant guy wasn't looking and then swooped in for as many
sweet potatoes as he could carry.
The wise folks around Tajung Puting have realized that the best way to get pasty, overweight foreigners to cough up good money to protect one of the last bastions of orangutan habitat is to provide river transport. The boats vary in their facilities, but are generally 2 levels with a kitchen and crew quarters below and an open lounging and sleep area for the guests.
Mom and baby... I bet a lot of human moms wish that they
could use their feet as hands

A gibbon joined us at Camp Leakey. He was
my favorite.

Well, actually, this guy was my favorite. Look
at that belly!
Guests are virtually guaranteed that they will see orangutans on these trips. The park has become home to families of rehabilitated apes... no, this is not monkey AA, these guys are usually rescued from the exotic pet trade and need to have a place where they can get acclimated to being in the wild.

One of the sites that we visited is dubbed Camp Leakey and is named after Louis Leakey, the famed naturalist. Leakey's legacy has been carried forward by three female researchers known as Leakey's angels. Most Americans know about two of them, Jane Goodall and Diane Fosse, but the third, Birute Galdikas is not as well known. Camp Leakey in Tajung Puting is the research site established by Birute Galdikas, and it was exciting to experience proximity to such greatness.
So a gibbon and some orangutans walk into a bar.... or...
One of these things is not like the others. Occasionally, the big
male would bop the greedy gibbon on the head and the gibbon would
storm off to the end of the platform and sulk for a minute before returning.
This is the face of a sulking gibbon
Each day there are orangutan feedings at several places in the park. This is a tough issue... these animals are supposed to be wild, but they are habituated and food conditioned. They are not really wild, and this is sad. However, interpretive materials at Camp Leakey indicated that feedings continue because there is not enough habitat left to support a viable population of these endangered apes. Feeding is the least horrible option.
The Gang... George, Shannon, Jaelin, Hotlin, me, Sophie, Jesse, Karen
We arose early each morning and ate a hearty breakfast on the dock where our boat settled for the night. We would then be packed up and shuttled off to a site to take a walk on well-established trails to a feeding area. We went to three of these, and the animals at each place had their own cultures. I could have spend a month there watching interactions and observing the different personalities.

Tree full of proboscis monkeys... You watch us. We watch you.
After a morning trip, we were fed lunch on the boat on the way to the next site... more orangutans, some proboscis monkeys and/or macaques on the way and then back to the boat for dinner.

The klotok jam outside of Camp Leakey
Our crew put us to bed immediately after dinner. They set up a long line of sleeping pads on the covered part of the upper deck and hung mosquito nets. As the chatter of the monkeys in the trees all around us began to die down, the boat's gentle rocking lulled us to sleep.

1 comment:

  1. Hello, I would like to know if I could use your photos for a poster I will be presenting in November at the American Anthropological Association. Please email me at