Indonesia & Orangutans

19th of Oktober: Orangutans, some last words

This is (maybe) my last post about the research about orangutans that there will be. Most of it was written one week before I headed to Sweden:

My time on Borneo is coming to an end. From counting down the days until I could leave because I miss Sweden, I now count down the days because I know how precious my last days are.

 

Lately I’ve been following Juni, Jip & Jane and Jane continues being ridicolously cute as she holds on to her mother while the mother is swinging from tree to tree. Jip came really close to me the other day. I guess we should have backed off but he wasn’t really interested in me at all, rather he wanted to eat some leaves close by and showed no signs of stress. He would just hang up side down, feeding on leaves in the most relaxing way.

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The camp has started to get empty of people as a lot of people are getting finished with their research and the new people hasn’t arrived yet. Now at the end I just got sick. I woke up feeling nauseous and an hour later I was vomiting like crazy. It would go on the whole night mixed with diarrhea.

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The Indonesian friends gave me some local treatment of the Dayak people. They heated a tiny bowl with a lighter and put it on my back. While the thing was cooling on my back it would create a vacuum and suck my skin into it. The Indonesians took the thing of with a hard pull which hurt and repeated this procedure about 50 times until my back was totally soar. I don’t know if it really worked, but I won’t complain since I’m still alive! Although..for a moment I was scared, what if this is bad? If things escalate – it escalates fast. You really don’t want to get sick here – then you’re in bad trouble. There is an airplane that can land on the river and bring you back quickly to the hospital, but that is if you can reach them. I’m doubtful they will answer during the night. Anyways I’m all good now.

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There was an orangutan party with Juni & Co the other day too. Jip got to play with the teenager Mawas while Mindy and Juni who previously been fighting a little bit were more tense in their body language. All five orangutans were feeding in the same tree – something that rarely happens (first time for me). Also, the kids playing is something I’ve not seen much of so it’s fun to see now when I’m getting ready to leave.

The time with the orangutans have made a big impact on me. The challenging work in combination with the amazing experience of being here, with the orangutans in a tropical heart of Borneo. The orangutans are all intimate, fierce, boring, funny and daydreamers, but most of all they all have their own personality making every individual unique to follow. Everyone of them are different from its neighbour, just like a person. They are complex. And wonderful.

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Back to today in Sweden:
To come home again has been a great change. Some things I miss, while some things are good to have once again in Sweden. The toilet paper felt more like sand paper after not using it for a long time, but to have some good food is probably the nicest thing. I’ve had two exhibitions with pictures from Borneo since I came home, and now I’m heading off to Zambia on Tuesday, for photography and relaxing.

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Jip feeding

Jip feeding

15th of August: Feeding technique; Akar Kuning

One of the most popular fruits in this orangutan camp is the Akar Kuning, which is a liana that climbs up the trees with grape like fruits.

Feeding on Akar Kuning

As you might know, my main focus are the feeding techniques of the orangutans, so I thought therefore it could be interesting for you to see what an orangutan looks like when feeding on fruits, how they might do it differently and what I’d note down.

From the pictures you may see for example that they feed directly from the branch, and not picking each fruit separately. That is one thing that may differ between individuals. Also you can see on one picture that the orangutans feed on many of them at the same time. They often keep AkarKuning in their mouth for about five minutes to suck on. They are a bit like lichen fruits but way slimier and it’s hard to get all the pulp of the seed. I’d also note down which hand they are using, position in the tree and any unusual behaviour (of course). Preferably however, I just video tape it when it’s interesting so nothing is overseen!

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10th of August:Eating Orangutan food on Borneo

Seemingly, the fruit season has finally started here on central Kalimantan! from eating only about the same thing all the time, the orangutan diet now all of a sudden varies a lot! And it felt like it happened over night. The national geographic team who were here about one week ago thought that the green beans were all they were eating here in Tuanan.

My harvest well documented, not my illness

My harvest well documented, not my illness

This means of course for my own part that i will be able to taste a lot of new funky fruits! Most of the fruits which orangutan eats are fine for humans to eat as well. However, there seems to be a limit for how much of these fruits that can be good to eat…

I’ve already tested some fruits of course, I like to taste new plants and fruits. My favourite happens to be the same as the orangutans favourite; Kamunda. This is what all of the orangutans have been feeding on every day for hours. So one day when I was out searching orangutans I found a fallen tree with a lot of lianas with kamunda fruits – an excellent opportunity to make a kamunda salad I though! I picked some young leaves and a bunch of beans and went back to camp and ate it.

I can tell you now – this was a horrible idea! I got so much gases in my stomach I was worried it was gonna burst! I suppose you all know how it feels, this is something we’ve all had sometime, but this pain was just so intense and it wouldn’t go away. I also had diarreah of course. From the positive point of view I’ve learnt my lesson…maybe!

Kamunda bean

Kamunda bean

8th of August:Flying trees

A pretty cool thing you see when wandering around in the forest following orangutans are the trees hovering above ground. It’s dead trees of course. They are hanging down from the tree tops without roots or any attachment to the ground! The tree has just got stuck in some really strong lianas in the canopy. It looks fantastic!

Hoovering tree

Hoovering tree

5th of August:Metal blue spider

A collage of the blue jumping spiderDuring the days searching for the orangutans I find peculiar and strange things; for example this jumping spider! If anyone would have any clue of the species it’s highly appreciated. Couldn’t find anything like it on google!

31st of July: Orangutan Finding

I started to lose my confidence in the search for orangutans for a while, since I couldn’t find any for a long time. BUT NOW FINALLY I just found my first one; beautiful Gismo! For about one year he wasnt seen around camp at all. He is a flanging male, and regarding his size it seems like he’s gonna be a really dominant one.

Gismo with his mouth full of food

It’s fun to follow the orangutans who come to the ground to drink and forage on termites. You suddenly come so close, you realize how vulnerable you are and that you are there on their premises. Gismo would always try to make sure to have a distance of 10-15 meters once on the ground, but the forest is so dense that you can’t let him go much further than ten, otherwise he might get lost, which he also eventually did. After a long time in the forest now, I must say that Gismo is one of the most beautiful orangutans I’ve seen!

Gismo in the rain

28th of July: Kings of the Swamp Forest

Although the the orangutans are big and fierce, they are not the kings of this jungle.

No, the dominants here are the ants. There is no escape from them, where ever you look you’ll see ants. During a walk in forest for one day, you may see more than you would do on other places in a life time.

Some species are pretty cool, and some are pretty painful. The fire-ants are the worst when it comes to pain as the name implies. They are small and can easily sneak inside your sweater causing bites like wasp stings. Actually one member of the national geographic team got a severe allergic reaction due to ant bites making his whole body swell. I have’nt brought any anti-histamines with me but I suppose I should always carry some  – since you never know what might cause your body to react until you’ve been bitten/stung by it. He did alright on the histamines, but it took more than 24 hours for his body to be back to normal again.

Then we got the world’s largest ant here, Camponotus gigas. It measures around 2.5 cm! They are not very aggressive and uncommonly bite, so they are quite alright to deal with. It is fazinating that a fungi is parasting this ant species. It consumes the ant’s brain while the ant climbs a small bush and bites on to a leaf to provide the optimal dispersal position for the fungi. Therefore I sometimes find dead ants in the trees with a big hole in the head.

The worlds biggest ant

Here I also found the most beautiful ant I’ve ever seen:

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As you can see they shine in golden color, and got cool hooks. The negative part is that it can sometimes get painful when I put my hand on a tree and I get those six hooks into my hand, but it only happened three times so far.

A fun fact: the estimated number of 10 000 trillion individuals of all ant species together weight as much as all humans on earth combined (Holldobler and Wilson, 1990).

 

 

19th of July: Danger! Flee from the falling tree!!

Lately I’ve been following flanged males a lot. These muscle pumped creatures are really astonishing, it can’t be said enough. During these follows I got to experience my first long call, as well as a snag crash which could have put my life to an end.

As I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, males are way bigger than orangutan females (although some of the females also appear as huge). But the size is not all that differs the sexes apart. Males have their flanges which makes their head look like a plate, and then there are the long calls which males roar out over the forest.

Maybe no the picture to die for? Otto just spotted a tree to push over me.

Maybe not the picture to die for? Otto just spotted a tree to push over me.

I was out following a big flanged male Otto. The day started off as usual – green beans for breakfast and then some green beans for lunch. He seemed like a pretty calm fellow, except for the long calls which he made all the time.

I didn’t expect a long call to take my breath away, but the force and power they use is amazing. It starts with some grumbling sounds which you bearly notice, but then they get up, jump to the next tree and call with an immense force over the forest. The male make long calls as a sign of power in strength and rule. It’s a way of males telling each other where they are, so they can keep out of each other – or find each other to fight.

Many of the males really doesn’t like to be photographed. They will hide away behind bushes and branches just to avoid the paparazzis. But just like it is for any celebrity, there comes a time when they put their guard down and show their face while calmly resting. I saw my chance of taking a photo of Otto here. To be honest I had no clue that he disliked the camera so much – this was my first possibility of a face shot.

So I took a photo of him, but he looked away.

Damn, I thought as he started to move again. Apparently he doesn’t like the camera. I took the camera and watched the photo I had taken to evaluate if it was any good. I watch the colors…the sharpness…and then I heard a cracking noise over my head.

I lifted my head for a second, but then started to analyze the photo once more. Sharpness…

Then I heard this little doorbell in my head: What was it that people had told me? …Watch out for the males…hmm.. when they push dead trees over you!

I looked up and saw Otto ten meters right above, trying to push this huge dead log over me. My heart skipped a beat! Where should I run?

Where doyou run if you got a 500-1000 kg of wood falling right over you? When imagining this, it seems easy, you obviously run to the side. But the bush is dense with liana snares everywhere – the easiest way to run is back where you came from. Of course this was just in line with the tree.

Otto was too slow with the “snag crash”, and I escaped with an adrenaline rush. Once he had fallen the tree with a boom, he long called, and pushed another dead tree over. It was crazy.

Henk having a relaxed time in the nest after a long day.

Henk having a relaxed time in the nest after a long day.

I was also out one day following another male Henk. His snag crash wasn’t bad either. When a tree, about 1,5 meters around the trunk and 15 meters long, falls at your feet, the ground shakes like an earthquake and you realize that you better keep a watching eye on the orangutans even when they are at rest.

04th of July: Camp Kalimantan

When the evening comes and the heavy raindrops falls heavily like frogs, people gathers closer under the roof. A blue centipede with a venomous sting, climbed up on the dinner table. It wandered across the landscape of plates and cutlery. Yann grabbed the matchete and cut it into three pieces. While front part was still running forward, I curiously poked its back with the painful spines. Unaware of the danger that it could still sting me, I luckily avoided the quick strike from the headless creature.

A puff faced water snake (Homalopsis buccata)

 

It might seem cruel to chop it, but we don’t want to take any risks (although I obviously did). Afterwards we had some nice birthday cake to celebrate Yann who celebrated his 32nd anniversary. The evenings are nice at campTuanan.

We had some snakes another evening coming to camp. A puff-faced water snake (Homalopsis buccata) swam through the water in the flooded camp, trying to catch catfish. It was hard to get a good photo of it, since it’s black like ink in the forest after 6 pm.

A flying squirrel sometimes shows up at night to lick some minerals at the laundry-place. I wonder how it ever can be healthy (or taste good) to lick up washing powder but I guess it knows better what it needs than I do.

A flying squirrel that comes to camp. It's freakin big!

Other interesting animals coming to camp are of course insects! Some hornets (wasps) in the size of a (big) lipstick! I haven’t dared to try flashing it with my camera yet.

For people who doesn’t like spiders or bugs, this is not the place to be. Spiders persistently makes new nets when you remove them, so you’ll constantly walk into them. They are quite big to be your free-walking-spider-pet and have a painful bite. The positive part is that they catch and eat a lot of the other things that may come into your room (As writing this I just saw a huge spider catching/fighting a 1.5 cm beetle).

One of the house-spiders caught a big grasshopper

 

It’s also not recommended to get here if you don’t like mold and sour, yeasted stuff. Sometimes when I open my lunchbox at around noon, the food which was cooked 10 hours ago, has already yeasted. The buildings are full with mold and the clothes are hard to dry due to the humidity during rainier periods.

The closest village by the camp, Trampung, lies just next to the water. It doesn't consist of much more than you see...

Electricity hours are 16.30-21.30. This means you always have to wake up and prepare the last things in the night with a headlamp. There is no phone connection inside campus. A little bit outside you may get signal but only if no rain is incoming. As you hear, things are rustic, but my intention is not to complain. The other way around, I think that things are getting better and better with time, but the living conditions might not suite everyone.

This horned beetle comes sometimes to camp at night time due to the lights. They are much nicer on the ground than flying around your head! :)

Mosquitos are a pain – of course, like anywhere in the world. The other day I woke up with a new itchy bracer around my hand-wrist. However, other parasites are quite rare. We had one guy with a worm in his foot a week ago, and I did get a few leeches, but nothing too serious…or actually if it was serious I wouldn’t have a clue about it yet… it seems there is nothing to serious!

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We also have orangutans coming close to camp sometimes. We have Niko, who I already introduced you to, and then we got the male orangutan Ted. He is friendlier than Niko (who usually charges people) and likes to hang around and eat some berries while we watch him. As you can see, he has not developed any flanges yet, even though he has been mature for a long time. He and Niko lives close to each other, which might be the reason why.Till galleri 100% kvalite (26)

07:th of June: My Orangutan family: Photo model Joya and mother Jinak

Most of my jungle time, I’ve spent with orangutan Jinak and her baby boy Joya. Joya is a real photo model when he is looking between the branches and twigs, with the sad-happy-gorgeous face he is making all the time. It’s kind of pleasant for photography.

Joya making one of her poses

Joya making one of his poses, picture in property of TORP

Mother Jinak doesn’t exactly have the most female traits. Take a look at that long facial beard! And her body heavily robust. She is like this person in your class or at work who is nice, but you don’t really know anything about. And for photography Jinak is terrible. She enjoys sitting 30 meters up in the impenetrable canopy, preferably with her back turned on you, silently feeding on some beans. I’ve had more rewarding friendships! (please no misinterpreting – there is no direct interaction)

Mother Jinak and her baby Joya

Mother Jinak and her baby Joya, picture in property of TORP

Since it is low fruit season in the jungle, the follow days can be far from eventful days! Although following the orangutans of course is an amazing experience, after 12 hours in the forest during a hot afternoon, tiredness is soothingly creeping up on you. And while Joya is the most adorable little fellow you’ve ever seenI’m not directly jumping out of excitement to see the next been-skid fall to the ground…

However, I am on Borneo – and the forest always delivers one way or another! On one of those Jinak-days we found a beautiful bronze-backed tree snake (Dendrelaphis formosus) which we could thankfully focus on instead for a little while. I couldn’t find anything about how venomous, so I guess not!

Elegant bronze back tree snake (Dendrelaphis formosus) found in the bushes

Elegant bronze back tree snake (Dendrelaphis formosus) found in the bushes, picture in property of TORP

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24:th of May: Orangutan search

The last period of time I have been searching the forest for orangutans, instead of following them.

Sitting in the hammock, squeezing out the soaked socks after stepping into a mudhole

Sitting in the hammock, squeezing out the soaked socks after stepping into a mudhole

It’s easy to get tricked by all noise the forest evokes. Wind blows, and water drops from last nights rainfall reaches the ground with a “plupp”, a very similar sound to the one the orangutans make when they eat beans. This has made me walk many kilometers in vain in the swamp forest, and also given me plenty of mud in my boots.

The sun shining through in the morning on the boardwalk

The sun shining through in the morning on the boardwalk

On one of the days I was searching I suddenly heard a forest machine.

It was coming closer and closer, quite rapidly. Then the bushes in front of me started to shake. And then I could hear more sounds. It came from animals “Gruh gruh, gruh!” The animals were running and the bush was shaking. I thought that hell would soon break loose!

The day before Yann had seen two orangutan males fighting – and if this was anything like this, I wouldn’t like to be in the middle of that fight! My blood got pumped with adrenaline.

I moved aside, tried to get out of the pathway of what was approaching me. The forest machine sounded louder than ever.

As I was moving, the animals heard me and changed direction. The forest machine stopped. Then, I see the a group of wild boars (Sus barbatus) just ten meters away while they were running.

I was totally busted!

Of course it was the sound of pigs squealing and not orangutans! And the forest machine was just a cicada, playing higher and higher over time. Actually, some of the cicada species here do sound very alike machines, but still – imagine how silly I felt. I tried to fetch the camera but just to annoy me even more – I could only capture a blurry picture of an ass. Not one of my prouder moments. It was nice to see some wild boars at least!

The wildboars butt

The wildboars butt

The last week in camp has been tough I’ve been searching and searching, but haven’t found any new orangutans! I’ve been looking everywhere, trying to use my stealth and hearing to the maximum to find them, but sometimes I guess that is not enough.

However, the searching days are kind of nice; you get an extra three hours of sleep, you don’t have to stress with the two minute sampling and you can take time whenever you feel like it. It’s just that it’s not as interesting as following the orangutans.

Most days in the forest offers you something interesting. It can be everything from wild boars, to some funky insects, to snakes (and of course orangutans!). As usually, the dragonflies and dameflies are my favourite animal for photography.

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I like there fasette eyes, colourful looks and alien face. This one was hunting over some nice flowers and got a wolfspider.

After about one weeks of searching, I had found nothing! But Julia found a new non-habituated orangutan, with her baby and juvenile! I took a video of them:

As you can see, they are quite stressed out, and the mother is displaying for us. We tried to stay out of the picture, to avoid stressing it but it wouldn’t work. She wouldn’t even make a nest for the night and the next morning she was gone again – so we just had to start all over again!

A funky creature inhabiting the forest is the Trilobite Beetle. The pictures below are apparently a larval stage, which the females never leave. I think they look cool, but also kind of evil, no? A mouth like breathing fire, and eyeglobes almost coming out – as if they were straight from hell!
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And last I will share a picture of this waterspider, hunting on the surface! It attacked me right after this photo, taking a 20 centimeter leap! Note the mirror image 🙂

Spider sitting on the watersurface, waiting for prey - which was my hand apparently

Spider sitting on the watersurface, waiting for prey – which was my hand apparently

 

20:th of May: Orangutans – the research of my life?

Orangutans are one of the humans closest relative – and yet they are drawing towards extinction. And there is only one, clear thread why this is happening.

To be here, on Borneo, and helping in the research of orangutans is for me truly amazing. It’s a chance once in a life time.

Me and Niko on the board-walk to camp

Me and Niko on the board-walk to camp, photo by Julia and picture in the property of TORP (Tuanan research project)

I have now spent about one month here in Tuanan on Kalimantan. The jungle is just as you might expect, stunning, and the unexpected may lure behind every tree. A colorful snake, a deer or an orangutan mother, holding her playing baby with care.

A scarlet rumped trongon (harpactes duvaucelii) that has caught a tasty meal!

A scarlet rumped trongon (harpactes duvaucelii) that has caught a tasty meal!

On a free day, I went bird watching some with the Indonesian friend and assistant Suwi. He got a well trained eye, adapted to the poor light-conditions in the forest. We spotted many nice birds such as a nightjar and bee-eaters. He showed me some berries in the bush which we ate for some time, until the sun was burning too hard.

Later that day, just by the place where you can get phone connection, orangutan Niko snuck up behind me picking some jack-fruits from a tree. He was only 3-4 meters away! I got such an adrenaline rush, that I almost had to swear for myself! He took three huge fruits and I watched him sitting on the boardwalk eating. It was amazing! Julia came by with her camera and took some shots of us two.

 

Niko shows his flanges

Niko shows his flanges, photo by Julia and in the property of TORP

Niko is famous/infamous coming up to people, sometimes very close, which might seem threatening considering his size and muscle power. When this happens, you are supposed to stay calm, just pretend that you have no clue about a huge testosterone pumped orangutan next to you. More easily said than done! However, Niko has never harmed anyone (and no orangutan has been recorded to ever harm a human in the wild), so I guess he just wants to show you who’s the boss.

Fortunately he didn’t come that close to me, but I still pretended as if I wasn’t interested of him most of the time, just to be on the safe side! Me myself only had my mobile camera, which can’t have more than 0.01 megapixels regarding the image quality it provided under decent circumstances – so no good pictures from me!

An asian paradise flycatcher (Terpsiphone paradisi) found in the morning

An asian paradise fly-catcher (Terpsiphone paradisi) found in the morning.

As you can see, Niko got big flanges. Flanges of orangutans are thought to be a sexual trait, represented on the dominant males. It can take very long time until a male develop flanges, long after they reach sexual maturity. The flanges make the dominant males look more intimidating and bigger. As you can see – Niko has a pretty big, plate-formed head!

I still have three months to go here, and I’m looking forward to get more close experiences with these majestic and fragile animals.

10.05.14 Jane being cute (14)

This is lovely Jane, which I have been working with for a few days. Picture in the property of TORP

The red thread to their ongoing extinction leads to you and me. It’s due to our ignorance of what we consume. Palm oil. It’s due to our need for overconsumption. The extinction of the orangutans will be a crime of all of us, cause they are in our hands, solely depending on which road we choose.

Please, remember that you can help. Sending money to SaveTheOrangutans or WWF is important to slow down the process of extinction, and of course to hopefully stop it.

OBS! And, don’t forget: You can help me to spread and inform about the orangutans by SHARING, REBLOGGING, LIKING ETC. By spreading this to one other person, your impact and help to the orangutans will double!

 

Here are links to both the organisations I mentioned:
http://www.savetheorangutan.org/
http://www.wwf.se/insamlingsportal/fadder/orangutangfadder/1464965-orangutang-start-b (swedish)

My kindest regards,
The Biotrotter
Wilhelm

17:th of May: Me and The Orangutan Family

With tired eyes and mind, I enter the forest at 04.00. There are logs to dodge, roots to jump and rivers to balance over before you can start the follow of the orangutans.

The first thing we do in the morning is to collect poo, and if we are lucky we get some pee too! The jungle is a mentally hard place, but for sure it also gives plenty of rewards!

I’ve seen 19 orangutans on central Kalimantan so far. Doesn’t sound much maybe, but remember that they are solitary animals unlike many other primates. The area where I live is actually considered as one of the most orangutan-dense areas on Borneo! Some of the orangutans I’ve just passed by, or caught glimpses of, while others I have followed for days. This is an introduction for you to my orangutan family – and we start today with Inul – the mother of Orangutans…and her poor kids!

Inul with her baby boy Ivan

Inul with her baby boy Ivan, Picture in the property of TORP*

The mother of orangutans. That’s what I think she looks like at least with her long face and understanding expression. Inul is thin, with her long hair she will on a bad hair-day, look like she came from a mental institution, while on a normal day she has just stared into the well of wisdom. Actually, she is not just a mother, but a grandmother (Her adult daughter Desy has a baby, unfortunatley I haven’t seen her). Right now Inul has two kids which she is taking in her custody

When Inul sees a person she often kissqueak. This is an orangutan sound, which they make to show that they don’t like your presence altough to us it sounds more like they are kissing. In the beginning when we started following her just a couple of days ago, she was doing this all the time, but it seems she is getting used having a person investigating her.

Her daughter, Ipsy, is the cockiest orangutan I’ve seen so far and resembles more a toad (it’s not a compliment). Although she is still kind of a child, and still follows her mother in the jungle, she loves to display her muscles to you. She approached me several times and gave me a fierce look, before ripping off a small branch, evoking a small explosion of leafs. However, she often fails to break the branch, and I can almost see her blushing of embarrassment, shamefully climbing behind a bush in the tree, out of sight.

Ipsy giving me a cocky look

Ipsy giving me a cocky look, picture in the property of TORP*

Ivan is the youngest and smallest orangutan I’ve seen so far. Only about six months old, he holds on to his mother for his dear life, and mother Inul seems to think he is an old plaster, ready to fall off. At several occasions he has almost fallen to the ground, where upon he just manages to hold on to a small lump of hair with one hand, hanging over a 10-15 meter drop, screaming. Though looking like the Mother of Orangutans, meanwhile Inul just continues feeding. What a caring and loving mother! Leastways, he learns life the hard way early on!

Ivan hanging on for his dear life

Ivan hanging on for his dear life, picture in the property of TORP*

I am holding rests of Lewang fruits after Orangutans have been feeding on them.

I am holding rests of Lewang fruits after Orangutans have been feeding on them.

To follow Inul & Co is fun, but also means long field days. Remember that we’ve been up since 3 AM, and Ipsy likes to stay up longer than many other orangutans. While some for the orangutans are nesting at 14.30, Ipsy can stay up ’til dusk around 17. The day doesn’t end there, once back in camp it’s time to go through data, take care of samples, take care of all equipment and prepare for tomorrow morning! To be honest it has taken some time to get used to, but by now when things are starting to work on routine it’s easier! And hold on – more orangutans are coming within a few days!
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*TORP=Tuanan Research Project

3rd of May 2014: Canopy climbing with centipedes

Both the weather and time this morning was more humane then yesterday. I woke up at six, ate some rice and tofu for breakfast. Anna (my supervisor), Tono (Indonesian assistant) and I headed off to search for trees with nests possible to climb. It’s a science to know which tree’s you may climb and which you can’t. All trees with nests could possibly hold for a human, if they hold for an orangutan – but they are also of course more skilled distributing their weights on the tree. Trunk thickness is not all that matters, some species breaks more easily than others and to a large extent Anna (and I) rely on the local assistants’ knowledge on this matter.

Orangutan in the forest

In the footsteps of Anna, I avoided the worst mud-traps, letting me stay almost dry. Dry from water that will say. Sweat was pouring like rain instead. However everything was fine ‘til we got to the tree which I was going to climb.

Me climbing up the tree, photo by Anna Marzec

Anna first gave me an instruction-climb, explaining me how to do things safely. All that is needed is a harness, three sling-ropes of about 1 meter and a few carbines. Two slings gets attached to the trunk, one for the harness and one for the foot (see picture of the sling rope attached to a pole). Then you just pull yourself up, easy!

In this slingrope we attatch harness or put one foot to push ourselves up.

No, seriously. This was one of the most exhausting things I’ve done. I was pushing, and pushing, and…I was 1-2 meters up. The height of the tree to climb was about 20 meters, and the higher I got, the more the trunks started to swing back and forth to my movements.

Halfway up I notice something vigorously twisting and turning just next to my hand. A decimeter long centipede.

Although centipedes are one of those animals which I’ve always wanted to see, that is under the circumstance that I’m not 8 meters up hanging, forced to grab it with my bare hands to prevent it from crawling in under my shirt. I just DON’T want to get stinged. Many centipedes, especially in tropical regions, have a powerful poison which will cause an awful pain.

Actually I managed to blow it off the trunk, as the coward I am. I continued upwards, stronger by the adrenaline in my veins. At this point the trunk was dividing in two, one to climb for me and one for Anna. This way I could watch her as she dissected the orangutans sleeping nest (In most cases, orangutans does not reuse their nests, so this is not disturbing them). Anna climbed the tree about 20 minutes, while it took me 150. Two and a half hour of full concentration, I was truly exhausted but I had only come halfway, next I had to go down. However, to sway in the canopy with view over the swamp forest is truly a reward. The wind blew in my face and I could get a moment of relaxation as Anna was resting in the orangutan nest while waiting for me.

 Nice heart shaped pitcher plant in the forestAnt surviving on a wing of a beetle in pitcher plant

The nest got dissected and we found that it contained a nice pillow and a mattress. Awesome!

Climbing down was less time consuming and easier but when I was finished, I was more soaked from sweat than after a bath.

Now I will get a resting day, since every part of my body aches! It might take a few weeks until my next post will be ready to put up.

Me and Anna in the tree at the same time, photo by Suwi

28th of April 2014: Orangutans, the first encounter

As I woke, the rain was smashing hard against the metal roof and the cicadas were playing high. It was my first night in Tuanan Research station and. I wondered if I had overslept. I could impossibly have heard any of my alarms in all this noise.

1. View when going to the research station

No, the time was 2:40. It was time to get up in 20 minutes. I sat on the bed edge and started to search for my headlight in the black room. To go up 3.00 in the night/morning is nothing that I am used to in. When I was in school I always overslept, things might get tough for me here, I thought as I put my headlight on. After a quick breakfast, we headed off in the rain, walking only in socks due to the slippery boards. We balanced through the night and I had to keep fully concentrated not to fall. And yet I fell – several times.

There were four of us arriving at the nest before dusk. Me, here as a volunteer, Julia and Eva, both doing her masters work on orangutans, and Idun, an Indonesian assistant. The heavy rain lightened with the sun, and I could for the first time in my life see an orangutan.

Lovely Kondor and Kahiyu

Actually, they were two. Kondor and Kahiyu, mother and daughter, swinging in the lianas. The sully, weak rain continued for many hours. Mother Kondor went to a tree with big leaves and pulled a branch until it snatched. In her hand she now had an umbrella, which she put over her head.

Towards midday the rain fully stopped. Relaxed and undisturbed by our presence Kondor climbed down to the ground. She stood just meters away with her baby daughter on her back.

She grabbed a log and broke the dead wood into pieces sucking out termites, while Kahiyu curiously watched. She took a small piece from her mother, trying herself but she wouldn’t get a hold of the technique yet and she spat the wood out on the ground. Suddenly Kondor raised up on all four, took a few steps behind a big plant, then she was gone.

As orangutan followers, we are supposed to follow then from dusk until dawn. We spent hours searching, but she was lost. To see an orangutan is fascinating. Although it’s the obvious truth, which I’ve known for years, reality is always better.

Spider taken by ants

As I came back to camp I was soaked. My new, expensive rain jacket wouldn’t keep the rain at bay even a little. The forest is tough and challenging, and I walk with trouble over the water and leaf covered ground, where deep holes of mud are hiding where I least expect it.

Me at the research station

I was exhausted towards the evening as I got back in camp. With rashes all over, insect bites and soar, wet skin, I went to bed. But the challenge of working with the orangutans has just begun. In the next post, I will examine the technique orangutans’ builds their nests, by climbing the tree canopies.

 

 

17th of April: IT BEGINS – The adventure on Borneo starts!

A couple of months ago, I was bored. I was waiting to go to Indonesia for three months. Now I am on Borneo, and to be honest – it is rather awesome!

For the next 130 days (until end of august) I will do research in the central Kalimantan on the Bornean orangutan. Together with a small research team, I work here to help finding out more about the species. Every two minutes, 12-14 hours per day, I will note what they are doing. I will note if they are eating, pooping, swinging in lianas or making love.  They will literally be a part of my life during this time and I will be a part of theirs.

A spider trying to catch prey in a flower

A spider trying to catch prey in a flower

How would you prepare yourself for an expedition to the peat swamp forest? I promise, it easily happens that to forget to buy some things. If it is not the vaseline, it’s the de-worming pills. I have kind of done similar things before, but in smaller scale so I still miss t a lot of stuff. For example I forgot to check the glue in my boots – the acid swamp can apparently dissolve many types of glue due to the pH-value. At the moment the water levels are supposed to be pretty high in the peat swamp forest – so I might just as well wear my running shoes instead. However, I can’t buy new shoes here since I got too big feet x). Size 43…I’ve loaded up with 12 bottles of mosquito repellant, new camera equipment and about 1000 caramels in preparations. I hope that will be good enough! (1000 caramels / 120 days = 8.3 caramels/day)

Eating fruits before going to the forest is a good idea, since there won't be on the menu there!

Eating fruits before going to the forest is a good idea, since there won’t be on the menu there!

I have previously been describing what I will be doing briefly with the Orangutans, but I will give you some more details about why this is interesting!

Orangutans are one of the great apes, closely related to humans. They currently are in great danger due to the ongoing deforestation and the making of new palm oil plantations. There are two species of orangutans; the Bornean and the Sumatran orangutan.

The orangutans are using tools, they are building nests and have many other fantastic abilities. However, unlike the other great apes orangutans are not particularly social. They live solitary most part of their life (though the females bring up their young for ca 7-8 years), so the possibilities for learning and interact between individuals are few.

I will work as a research assistant for Anna Marzec from Poland. My part of the research will be to collect and administrate data of how the orangutans build their nests, what they eat and how they are eating it.

The burning sky was taken in the evening in Palangkaraya

The burning sky was taken in the evening in Palangkaraya

And here comes the cool stuff: Some orangutans pour water over their fruits before eating, some use leaves as napkins or gloves and some use sticks to “fish” termites. The orangutans eat differently and build their nests for several different reasons and design their nests differently. They can make nests for sleeping as well as for sun shading. They can make bridges for walking between trees even! They make nests with pillows and some may roll a little ball of leaves to hold onto at night like a little teddy bear. Isn’t that awesome? But all orangutans cannot make these different nests. The nest-building skills are highly personal and the two orangutan species are differently advanced when it comes to making nests etc. So, what we are aiming for is to identify cultural units in orangutans.

Currently there are 8-10 people working in the remote little camp: My supervisor Anna Marzec, Wendy Erb who does research on the male orangutan long calls, Julia and Yann who are research assistants like me and about five Indonesian assistants I haven’t had contact with yet.DSC08252

So now I am finally here! The first thing I did arriving to the island was to go to a traditional Borneo-wedding. I met some Finnish guys on the plane, and long story short: They knew a guy, who was related to a guy…and he suddenly had to go to a wedding! Since we were all sitting in the same car, we were all invited! We were a popular attraction on the wedding for everyone, and we were all asked to take pictures with the new married couple and danced the traditional dance of Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo).

Notably, Im not a wedding photographer!

Notably, Im not a wedding photographer!

I will now head out in the field with the orangutans in a day or two. Here on Borneo, the geckos are squeaking in the roof and cicadas are playing in the trees. Bats gives me wind in my face as they fly around my head, while trying to capture a tasty meal with their sound waves. The locals are friendly and generous who gives me meat although I am vegetarian. (I know I have to suit myself, they really are super nice!). Soon I will be in the dwindling heart of Borneo together with its soul – the orangutans.

Become a godfather and help in the work of saving the orangutans. http://www.wwf.org.uk/what_we_do/safeguarding_the_natural_world/wildlife/orang_utan/ Photographer: Jimmy Syahirsyah, thank you!

Become a godfather and help in the work of saving the orangutans.
http://www.wwf.org.uk/what_we_do/safeguarding_the_natural_world/wildlife/orang_utan/
Photographer: Jimmy Syahirsyah,  a big thank you!

 

// Wilhelm

P.S Here you have a small galleri with more pcitures I didnt fit in:

 

13th of April 2014: Biotrotter in Jakarta, a culture shock

To come from Sweden to a city like Jakarta is a cultural chock. I am not thinking in terms of food, language or similar bagatelles, no I am thinking in terms of traffic. If you think about traffic as a running stream of water – Jakarta is a glacier (maybe everybody doesn’t know that, but glaciers are “flowing” really slowly).

DSC07949
However, it’s for sure great to feel the hot tropical winds blowing your mind once again… However, however they lost my luggage in Amsterdam.
It didn’t bother me that much though…It is easier to walk around without a house on your back while trying to find your way to a new hostel. However I missed the opportunity of cleaning myself in the evening after the long flight and a blanket to cover my body from the mosquitos in the night time. The hostel was a little sketchy, so I moved quickly to a couchsurfer!

Its said that when you find these larvea in the water it means good water quality. I wonder if you find them in your room if it means good room quality :)

Its said that when you find these larvea in the water it means good water quality. I wonder if you find them in your room if it means good room quality 🙂

The process I am going through in Jakarta isn’t really the most interesting thing to read. I am getting permits a little bit here and there. I need to get approval from RISTEK, then I need to get my SAPP, and of course my KITAS. Ah…and from the Forestry!

Oh, do you have no clue what I am talking about? Well to be honest, neither do I. There are so many permits it just becomes some kind of blurry mess. But they seem to have strickt ruels for doing research. A lot of people need to give their ok and that takes time…

I went outside of Jakarta and saw some insects

I went outside of Jakarta and saw some insects

As I mentioned I was couchsurfing. For the first time in my life I was getting hosted by someone. Couchsurfing.com is a webpage made so people from different countries can stay in local people’s home for free, while everybody gets a nice cultural experience and of course gets to meet new people. That’s the idea at least. A lot of people do it plainly for the money and my last experience hosting people was bad…

jakarta 2

Now I stayed with a lady and mother called Yenny, with her two kids. We went to the mountains together and were practicing photography, but unfortunately it was raining most of the time. We spotted some huge moths (moth= the hairy butterflies living at night) and ate some great tofu marinated in ketchup (!?) and tempe which are fermented soya beans.

All in all, the process in Jakarta is going on for about one week.

Me photographing view (Photographer: Yenny Adella)

Me photographing view (Photographer: Yenny Adella)

My next blog post will be about my arrival Borneo!

Sampai bertemu lagi! SEE YOU!!

 

6th of April: Before flying away: three European vipers

I am now sitting at the airport on my way to Indonesia! It wasn’t clear when I would go until Friday so it has been very stressful these last days! Now it is also clear that I will be a safari guide in Africa the upcoming fall.

Just after my last post I found three common European vipers (Vipera berus) in Uppsala. I just wanted to post some pictures of them before I leave Sweden! I am sure more snake pictures are coming and hopefully better – since I’ve just bought a sigma 105 mm Macro lens for my camera. However this is taken with the standard lens.

 

First I will go to Jakarta where I will have to get a 5-6 permits before I can continue to Palankaraya on Borneo, where I will try giving you a post before I continue to the jungle with the orangutans!

//Wilhelm

 

3d of April: Finally, my spring ends abruptly

The spring is coming to an end for me and it is finally time to kick off from Sweden and go to Borneo! My visa is ready after being delayed for more than a month. I just hope now that the process in Jakarta will go swiftly (it may take 1-3 weeks).

When I work with the orangutans I will give reports through Save The Orangutans and WWF-Sweden, and hopefully I can help them to forward the message why the Bornean Orangutans are so important to save from palm oil plantations and raw slaughter.

I’ve spent my time the last month photographing some, but the spring is surprisingly slow going. Flowers which came up one month ago in Germany are just starting to show their colors in Sweden. These are some pictures that I’ve taken lately:

 

And I will finish off with a poem about a vole I found:
DSC05730-2

Some say, mr Vole is bad
However, he is a nice little lad
although he is too, afraid of the cat
he is neither mouse nor rat,

Sunday morning and mr. Vole is awake
Showing himself on a hiking break
Come now, come out from the shade
Mr. Vole, you shall not be afraid,

Mr. vole wants to go and find a tasty leaf
He is kind and happy, bearing no greif,
So now please, come out mr. Vole
Come out from your little hiding hole

19th Feb 2014: Borneo coming up!

Finally I have received my research permit to head of to Borneo to work with the orange little fellas climbing trees! It was almost 2 years now since I blogged about the trip the I did to Africa together with my friend Joel.  I will head to the rain forests (and palm oil plantations), on the Indonesian part  of Borneo for 6 months to work with wild orangutans as part of a research project. Just like the orangutans, I will be hanging around in the trees to see how they build their sleeping nests! :) It will be a little bit sad to leave Uppsala in the middle of spring but hopefully an epic adventure!

Im holding a millipied in Tanzania

Im holding a millipied in Tanzania

During the time on Borneo I will try to update information about my travel and about all the different species here which I will see, and also what I do in the field work! Hope you will enjoy the pictures and the reading!!

cropped-img_01181.jpg

//Wilhelm

 

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