Monday, September 2, 2013

Tails? Do I look like a monkey researcher?

After my first day of settling into camp and organizing all of my belongings, I put on some field clothes, armed myself with a gps, a map, and a radio, and set out into the rainforest on my own for the very first time, on the search to find an Orangutan. If I found one, I was to radio camp for some reinforcements, and subsequently follow the orangutan to its night nest, which they usually build sometime around 5:30-6:00pm. 

The trails of Cabang Panti research station are very diverse, covering vast areas of peat swamp, freshwater swamp, forest lowland, and montane forest. Of course, given my love for mountains, I went straight for montane.      With my ears perked and my eyes peeled for any signs of ape friends, I must have spent about 5 hours tramping uphill and downhill through different ridges, valleys, and peaks. I even stumbled onto the river after hearing a raging waterfall from far away and following my curiosity to investigate...which led to a nice session of hopping, climbing, and scrambling, downriver on the rocks. 

While your ears can be your most powerful weapon for localizing orangutans, they can just as easily betray you. Which I learned the hard way. Twice. 

The first time, I was about 200m high on this trail, heading towards a small peak. Suddenly, I heard some branches shaking, exactly the type of sound an orangutan would make if they were brachiating from tree to tree. I went deep off-trail with sound as my compass. What did I find? Some damn tails, that's what...and Apes aren't supposed to have tails. It was just some beligerent macaques (no offense to monkeys). Now I found myself about 100m off trail, blockaded by treefalls on both sides, with nothing but some monkeys parading around mockingly. 

The second time, after returning to camp and switching my luck to the swamp, I thought I had an orangutan for sure. Again, I followed the sultry sound of shaking branches and the high hopes of finally seeing an orangutan for the first time. I see some red fur. Orangutans have red fur. This is it. One good luck up the tree with my binoculars and I have it. 

...Tails. Red Tails. It was Red Leaf Monkeys, the bane of orangutan searchers everywhere. These damn monkeys just don't have any respect. I returned to camp, wet, smelly, and empty-handed.

But as soon as I arrived, I heard some good news. Cheryl and Caitlin had found and were nesting an Orangutan. That only meant one thing: I was waking up at 3:30am the next morning. I had an orangutan to follow.

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