King Louie and the swingers

Posted on November 15, 2014

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To be able to see one wild species of ape is a privilege but to see two species (orangutans and gibbons) would be like all my Christmases had come at once.

The alarm went off at 4am and I rubbed the sleep from my eyes and stretched as best as I could in my small bed feeling a bit like Gulliver in Liliput. Getting up early isn’t a problem from me, but walking along a single plank of wet old wood in the dark for one km into the forest did not fill me with joy. Everyone here has adjusted to this way of life and their balance is impressive.

(photo taken much later!)

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Our early rise was to climb a huge metal tower that is used to record the weather. The top platform is high above the canopy and gives the most amazing views of the forest and the entire landscape. This is by far the best place to hear gibbons duetting when they rise at around 5-6am.

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As we reached the top a beautiful red sun had started to emerge from a fluffy white cloud above the mist. It is quite a spectacular sight. Scrat, myself and another researcher sat with our backs against walls of the platform with our legs outstretched and waited.

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Then at just after 0530 we heard a rather low deep grumble. I have never heard anything like it. It was a male orangutan long call, letting females in the area know where he is and to advertise his direction of travel to other males in the area. They have not been heard in this part for a while and I was told I was very lucky. Half an hour later the gibbons in three different areas began vocalising. I pinched myself. What a wonderful way to wake up and sup strong black coffee from a flask.

As we made the climbed down, we turned on our heels into the forest to actually find the gibbons. I was desperate to see them swing from branch to branch and leap from tree to tree. The field assistances always tie cotton to the apes’ sleep trees after a day of following them so they know how to re-locate them. Gibbons unlike organs do not make nests to sleep in. They find a branch and sit upright when they sleep.

The gibbons were actually close to camp, so we had to pass through it to get to the other transect. I did have a fall from grace. Of course I did, it was only a matter of when, not if. It was in front of an audience, a group of field assistants arriving at camp, ironically when the boards actually got wider. I did a classic Laurel and Hardy banana skin fall landing hard on my backside!! Embarrassed as hell I jumped up and carried on. Bless them, they had no idea how to react, whether to laugh or to pretend they had not seen me.

En route along yet more bloody planks we were blessed with a sighting of a female orangutan, Feb and her infant Fio. We stopped and lay down on the planks looking up at the sky and at the primates for 15minutes while they fed. The little one is so cheeky looking (pictures on the pro cam to come later)

The gibbons however have stolen my heart. The way they swing through the forest, with agility, speed and grace is breath-taking as well as hypnotic. I could watch them for hours. The little critters however move to bleedin’ fast you have to be super nimble to get through the undergrowth unscathed to keep up with them. But if you can following them brachiating (swinging) from tree to tree like Tarzan it is a wondrous sight!

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Hazards include jungle vines, sharp leaves from the Pandan plant which can slice through your arm if you are not careful; then there are the fallen trees to negotiate not to mention the multitude of creepy crawlies…..including my favourite, red ants. Over here they are called fire ants. They are bigger than the African ones and the bite is just as painful and they are everywhere!!

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Sadly I didn’t get to see any monkeys. Over here are Red Langurs. Here’s a pic taken by one of the researchers at OuTroup.

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Posted in: Asia