Monday, September 16, 2013

How I met your OH

For the 15 days after our arrival, Indonesia was on holiday, so we were by ourselves at Cabang Panti. It was really up to us to run everything, including camp logisitics like cooking, cleaning, laundry, turning the generator on, etc. And we would be doing all of the fieldwork as well. Tim and Cheryl, who were here with their kids Russell and Jessica, were both working on their own projects: Cheryl was reviewing research logistics and Tim was doing some photography work for National Geographic. We also needed to collect project data in the absence of the workers. Jenn was doing the data collection, and I would help with the tree tagging and gps tracking. 

We spent a few days following Codet, Bibi, and Barani in the swampy part of the trails. My first couple days following, I realized what long hours we work here: a regular day of following usually lasts from wake-up time at 3:30am, until the OH (short for orang-hutan) makes their nest around 6:00pm. That's almost 15 hours straight, and keep in mind that the workers usually do this five days in a row (and only get one day off in between). After being here for a while, I think regular 9-5 jobs begin might begin to sound like a joke. The bright side of it though? We get to be outside all day, chasing after orangutans. No complaints here. 

The pace of the day can change in an instant: sometimes the orangutans are up in the same tree, feeding on the same fruit, for like three hours...and minutes can feel like hours. Other times, you can be on an intense chase behind a retreating orangutan, bushwacking your way through vines, climbing up rocks, crossing rivers, going down mountainsides, trying to keep up...and here, hours seem like minutes. No days are the same. It always pays to be on the lookout though, becauae you never know whn something interesting is going to happen. Everytime I'm out there, I hope to witness something special, like a mating, a male coming down to the ground, food-sharing, some cultural behavior like leaf-matress building, or agression between male orangutans. There are so many things we don't know about orangutans, but if you follow them long enough, you might see them do something that no one has ever seem them do before. 

That's what makes orangutan following so special to can exciting at times, boring at times...but you get to witness these crazy cool insights into the life of an orangutan, and see things rarely seen by other people. You begin to notice that different orangutans have different personalities, different tastes for food, who they like to spend time with, who they dislike. They each have their own personal lives, connections, and dramas. Everytime you follow, you get to learn a bit more about what their lives are like, and you start getting attached to them, the same way you get attached to the fictional lives of the characters in your favorite television drama. For a time, you get to be part of another world, different from your own. And what an interesting world it is.

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