Month: November 2012

Orangutans of Borneo

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On a trip like this you can spend countless hours watching our early ancestors in their daily routine. In Tanjung Puting NP the wild orangutans are given food daily at feeding stations. This gives you a golden opportunity to observe their behavior. In this video you get to meet Doyak, the dominant male in this area. Keep in mind you are seeing him at his more “docile moment”, and you need to stay away just in case you cross that invisible line where he feels threatened. He has the strength of 8 men in case you decide to challenge him. You will learn more about Doyak later in this page.


My first trip to Borneo was in 1991, working with Dr. Galdikas at Camp Leakey. This trip is already chronicled on this web site. At that time I never dreamed I would go back, but in October of 2012 Dr. Galdikas gave me and my three travel companions permission to work with the orangutans at the Orangutan Care Center and Quarantine.

This center is closed to the general public, so it was a special treat to be able to go there and help out as a volunteer and veterinarian. On this October trip I spent a significant amount of my time photographing and documenting the work done by the dedicated workers and volunteers at the Orangutan Care Center and Quarantine, along with the orangutans at the feeding stations on the way to Camp Leakey.

My goal is to illustrate the plight of the highly endangered orangutans and show how you can help in this time of tremendous need to save one of the great apes from extinction. Click on any photo to see it in much higher resolution. Only then will you get the full impact of these intelligent and beautiful primates, along with the beauty of the rainforest. A primary problem is the tremendous pressure put on the rainforest habitat by the palm oil and timber industries in Indonesia.

The rainforest is being depleted at an alarming rate, and without this habitat the orangutans are doomed. Before you continue on this page that gives details of my trip, and the work I did with my fellow travel companions at the Care Center, you need to learn much more about this problem and how you can help.

The Orangutan Care Center and Quarantine cares and feeds over 340 orangutans on a daily basis, and does this solely through donations. Everyone can help by donating money to Orangutan Foundation International. In addition to the tremendous cost of caring for and feeding the orangutans at the Care Center, money is needed to protect and restore critical habitat. You can learn how you can help by reading more about the Rawa Kuno Legacy Forest. All of this information can be found at the  Orangutan Foundation International web site.

Present day Borneo

Borneo, the 3rd largest island in the world, is made up of 3 countries; Brunei, Malaysia, and Indonesia. Indonesia is the largest of these 3 countries. The Indonesian part of Borneo is also known as Kalimantan. Borneo is on the equator, so there are no seasons like we are used to (except rainy and rainier), and it is hot and humid all the time.

I sometimes get blank stares when I tell people I went to Borneo. Here is a big picture map for the geographically challenged!

This map shows the 3 countries that make up Borneo. The green arrow points to Tanjung Puting National Park,  where we spent all of our time

We were in the southern part of Kalimantan near a town called Pangalan Bun. We stayed with a Dayak family just outside of Pangalan Bun in a smaller town called Pasir Panjang. We stayed here because it was across the street from the Orangutan Rehabilitation and Care Center and we could literally walk there in 5 minutes.

This map shows more details of the area and Tanjung Puting National Park:

From Jakarta we flew into Pangalan Bun (you can see the airport symbol).

We stayed at a house in Pasir Panjang (PP on the map) for 2 weeks

I took 2 boat rides up the Sekonyer river, past 2 Feeding Stations (FS) and all the way to Camp Leakey (CL)

In Borneo you will encounter many Dayaks, people that have a profound understanding of the rainforest. All are exceptionally friendly. When walking down any street they will shoot past on their scooters (sometimes a family of 4 is on one of these scooters) and yell “hey mister”. It does not matter whether you are male or female, everyone gets the “hey mister” scoot-by.

Some things in Borneo are a constant over the decades:

  • You better like rice because it is served at almost every meal
  • You will be barefoot when indoors (and most of the time in general) because all shoes are kept outside
  • It is hot and humid all the time, so plan on being wet or damp continuously. Your body will start adjusting within a few weeks, although it is draining, and you will move slower just like the local people.
  • Its better to be there in the dry season (late spring to early fall) because there are less mosquitoes, less leeches, and less water to slosh around in when walking in the jungle. On my current trip there was a drought during the summer so we encountered few mosquitoes, which means less chance of exposure to malaria.
  • You are on the equator, so bugs will be a part of your life. They are a fascinating part of life on this planet if you are not squeamish. Do not go to the equator if you find insects icky.

This praying mantis found our fan a convenient place to hang out one night

  • Scooters are the mode of transportation. They drive on the left, although they are reasonably conservative drivers, far removed from drivers in Naples, Italy, where driving is a high speed video game.
  • Fuel is rationed due to a lack of refining capacity, so lines at gas stations are long and it can take up to 2 hours to fill a small scooter tank.
  • Prices are very inexpensive compared to what we are used to. An hour at an Internet café when we tried to reschedule our flights cost only 40 cents. The room at Pak Sia’s house, which included 3 meals per day, was $100 per person for 2 weeks.
Rupiahs are the local currency. This 50,000 rupiah note is worth a little over $5 US.  To get the best rate exchange your money at the airport in Jakarta.

Pasir Panjing is populated mostly by Dayaks, almost all of whom are related. Whenever any community event is involved everyone is invited, including us. In our 2 weeks we went to two going-away parties and one wedding. Children can walk the dark streets at night without any concern.

We stayed at Pak Sia’s house in Pasir Panjing and were welcomed like we were family. He welcomed us with refreshments upon our arrival.

His family provides room and board for volunteers that work at the Care Center across the street. These are usually young students or young conservationists, and they pay for this on their own.

His knowledge of the area and the orangutans (he can look at a picture of any orangutan from decades ago and tell you its name) is impressive.

This extensive page has many photos broken down into several major summary sections. Within each of these major sections are links to much more detail on that section:

  • Do you really want to fly this far?– the logistics of getting in and out of Borneo
  • Klotok ride upriver– taking a boat into the rainforest and seeing the wildlife along the way while visiting feeding stations. This section has a special link on the proboscis monkeys and the gibbons, two other primates in the area.
  • Camp Leakey– the final destination on the klotok ride. This is where Dr. Galdikas did her seminal work starting in the 1970’s, and where I spent all of my time over 2 decades ago
  • Doyak and Tom– the dominant males that hang around (pun intended) the feeding area
  • The orangutan care centre and quarantine– this will give you an idea of the tremendous care given to the orphans and other orangutans. Do not miss this section because of the babies!

This time I brought professional digital camera equipment that was not available in 1991. For you photography fans here are my tools:

  • Canon 5D Mark III- used for most of the static photos, especially the babies at the Care Center and some of the orangs at the feeding stations
  • Canon 1DX- used on the klotok ride upriver, the feeding stations,  and any time I anticipated action shots
  • Canon 24-105 mm f/4 IS lens- used mostly with the 5D Mark III and mostly at the Care Center and somewhat at the feeding stations
  • Canon 70-200 mm f/4 IS lens- used mostly with the 1DX at the feeding stations and on the klotok shooting wildlife along the river
  • Canon 100 mm f/2.8 IS macro with ring flash- used mostly with the 5D Mark III for portrait and insect shots
  • Canon 400 mm f/5.6 lens- used only on occasion and with both cameras to shoot wildlife
  • Canon 1.4X teleconverter- used on the 70-200 mm f/4 IS with the 1Dx on the klotok rides

Do you really want to fly this far?

Getting there is an adventure in itself.  Borneo is over halfway around the world from California. This is the second time I have flown Cathay Pacific and I find them to be outstanding. The flight leaves Los Angeles at 1:30 AM and arrives in Hong Kong 14 hours later (don’t forget you cross the international date line and lose a day).

Even though it is midnight, the anticipation of our upcoming trip has us smiling for this photo. From left to right my travel companions are Jade Chang, Ann Ichikawa, and Natalie Hipskind.

The airport in Hong Kong is beautiful, busy, modern, and filled with high end perfume and clothing stores. When you arrive you walk past a nurse with a surgical mask holding a thermometer. She is there to take your temperature if you want. Interesting custom to say the least. After a 3 hour layover in Hong Kong its another 5 hour flight to Jakarta. We spent the night at the Sheraton in Jakarta before continuing on to Borneo and Pangalan Bun the next day.

We had an interesting time finding the gate to our flight from Jakarta to Pangala Bun then next day. We had an even more substantial problem when our flight back 2 weeks later was cancelled. For more details on this and to understand how crazy things can get in Borneo click on this link.

Klotok ride upriver

Even though we stayed  at Pak Sia’s house directly across the street from the Care Center, we did not go to the Care Center for 5 days due to quarantine protocols. We took advantage of the time and took a 3 day klotok ride up the Sekonyer river to Camp Leakey (I took a second klotok ride a week later). This camp is where I spent all of my time when I was last here 21 years ago to the month.

Taking a klotok upriver is the usual trip for most tourists to watch the semi-wild orangutans being fed and see the wildlife along the river. Many tourists from all over the world take the klotoks up the Sekonyer river to Camp Leakey. Even though it is touristy, the 2 night 3 day trip is worth it, and a must see for any trip to Borneo.

My klotok in 1991 as we left the port of Kumai and approached the Sekonyer river mouth

The current ones are bigger and nicer

The engine room of the Klotok, with its twin 1,000 horsepower Detroit Diesel engines

 The wildlife along the Sekonyer river are elusive and move very rapidly. I had to be in front, on the alert, and ready to shoot, to be able to capture the photos you will see on this page.

An interesting animal we saw along the river was the proboscis monkey

Beautiful bird life abounds along the river, including this stork-billed kingfisher

You might even get to pull the tail of a long-tailed macaque as you motor slowly by in the klotok

This is your first chance to see a semi-wild orangutan

When an orangutan approaches keep an eye on your possessions because their philosophy is “your possessions are for the taking”

As the sun sets you get your chance to see the flying foxes (huge bats) and even get a firefly show

Click here to see more details of life aboard a klotok and wildlife along the Sekonyer

Camp Leakey

In 1991 I spent all of my time at Camp Leakey and did not go to the Care Center. Much has changed since then, and even though research is ongoing, it is geared more towards ecotourism. It is quite popular for tourists to watch a feeding put on by the park service at the feeding stations. Put this on your bucket list because it will give you a firsthand look at what is going on in the rainforest, and some of the proceeds help the orangutans. This trip is ideal for children, and will educate the upcoming generation as to the value of the rainforest and all of its inhabitants.

That bridge in the distance is the current entrance to Camp Leakey

Camp Leakey is popular, and if you do not get there early you might end up in a klotok jam!

The welcoming committee on the dock at Camp Leakey in 1991

This time we were welcomed with a big smile

Keep an eye on those guys in the hairy red outfits- they are sneaky!  Oh sure, they look innocent hanging on to a tree and pretending not to notice you

They wait patiently, and when you are distracted they put their plan in motion

How cute you think, and you look for your camera to take a picture. That’s the break they are looking for! While you are looking for your camera they make their move….

…..and scope out where the pineapples are stashed

They are career thieves, and the getaway only takes a few seconds

Another group of of sucker tourists robbed by the “pineapple connection”

After all the planning, anticipating, flying, and a few klotok rides, we made it to Camp Leakey!

Click here to see lots more of Camp Leakey and the orangutans that are there

Doyak and Tom

Over the course of 2 klotok rides I encountered the 3 dominant (and rival) males in the area; Yani, Tom, and Doyak. We spent the most time with Doyak at a feeding station, although we had an encounter with Tom who decided he did not want us in his territory. We saw Yani as we walked past him while he shook a branch at us in defiance. Our guides are familiar with all of the orangutans and creatures, and give you a family-safe firsthand encounter with them in the rainforest at all the feeding stations.

This is Doyak.  Click on his photo below to see him in action at the feeding station

Tom is below, click on his picture for more pictures, and also a video of him escorting us out of Camp Leakey

Orangutan Care Centre and Quarantine

The orangutans at the care center range from young to old, and are here for a multitude of reasons. Some have chronic disease and will not survive in the wild. Others are orphans and need a place to call home in the deforested rainforest. Many are only a few years of age. Their mothers were killed because they wandered into the wrong area (usually a palm oil plantation), or their mothers were killed because some citizen wanted a baby orangutan in their house (which is illegal). When this baby is discovered (usually a neighbor rats them out) it is confiscated by the authorities and brought to the care center. The Care Center is not open to the general public.

Some of the babies here are so young they are still in diapers.

The dedicated workers know each one by name and individual personality

They are taken into the forest often to practice their orangutan skills and hopefully be released back into the rainforest

Getting them into the forest is the fun part (Its fun til you have to pick them up and move this load)

They play for hours, socializing with each other and gaining important skills in the trees

When they are not playing they come right up to you and see where you are hiding the peanuts

This is also where they hone their robbery skills for when they graduate to stealing pineapples. At this stage in their career they start with water bottles. A water bottle is never safe around them, no matter how secure it is in your backpack. They consider any of your possessions to be theirs-you have been warned!

They don’t want to drink the water, they want the pleasure of bursting it open in front of you

The goal of this game is to tease you into thinking you can get the bottle back

You better be good a good tree climber if you want your bottle back

They have strong clinging instincts and are quite powerful for their size when they don’t want to let go. This one was just bottle fed and decided she was not going to let me get away.

Its an understatement to say that working with these babies is an unbelievable experience

The above picture reminds me of one from my first trip

If you are ready for lots more baby pictures, including videos of them in full baby modeclick here and hang on to your possessions.

All good things must come to an end

Hopefully we will all meet up again some time!

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Tom (the king)

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Tom is the orangutan that displaced Kusasi, the reigning king for many years. Kusasi has quite a story about how he overcame adversity and had the personality needed to be the dominant male. Rumor has it that Doyak is displacing Tom, which is the natural course of mature orangutan males.

We did not expect to encounter Tom the way we did. We had seen other dominant males, notably Yani and Doyak, as we spent time at the feeding platforms and they appeared for a snack. Tom appeared when I was on my second klotok ride and looking at the building I stayed at on my first visit to Borneo 21 years ago. As we were leaving to go back to our klotok a determined Tom appeared and headed right for us.

Our alert guide warned us to move rapidly away because we are in his territory and he considers strangers like us a threat. One look at Tom’s arms and shoulders and I decided our guide was giving good advice. After seeing just how strong those baby orangutans were at the Care and Rehabilitation Center it didn’t take much to realize none of us were a match for him. Couldn’t resist taking photos of him though as I rapidly walked backwards and stayed out of Tom’s way.

Our timing was perfect because he appeared just as we were leaving. I did not notice him because I was looking the wrong direction, and turned around to quickly take this photo as our guide warned us of Tom’s presence and told us to get moving.

He is not fast moving (as long as he just walks) so I was able to keep on shooting as I walked backwards

His arms are huge!

Tom finally stopped pursuing us when he smelled food from the kitchen where the park rangers eat

Our last shot of Tom when we walked past him as he settled down and made sure we left his territory

This movie shows Tom walking towards us. Focus is not good because I was concentrating more on my footing, but you will get the idea.

TomWalking

He stopped by a building to peek inside which gave me time to set the focus this time

TomKitchen

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Orangutan Care Center and Quarantine

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The orangutans at the care center range from babies to adults, and are here for a multitude of reasons. Some have chronic disease and will not survive in the wild. Others are young orphans and need a place to call home in the denuded rain forest. Their mothers were killed because they wandered into the wrong area (usually a palm oil plantation), or their mothers were killed because some citizen wanted a baby orangutan in their house (which is illegal). When this baby is discovered (usually a neighbor rats them out) it is confiscated by the authorities and brought to the Care Center.

These babies are oh so cute, and act like human children. They are so similar to us that in your mind you easily mix them up and think you are dealing with homo sapiens and not pongo pygmaeus. Looking into their eyes you get a fascinating insight into our evolution. It takes time to absorb the fact you are looking at a common ancestor that goes back millions of years. Your mind reels with the profound implications in all of this.

When you view this page you better appreciate what it is like trying to take photos with one hand, while these babies are trying to jump on you, search every part of your body for peanuts, or grabbing your camera strap and trying to drag your camera into the forest.

Do not go through this page without clicking on these pictures to see larger versions!

The local people that work at the Care Center are the unsung heroes. Here a just a few of them showing their dedication

The volunteers are just as dedicated and devote at least 6 months of their time without any pay


After a busy day we spent social time with them learning Indonesian and appreciating their warmth and dedication to their cause

The babies are taken out into the jungle around the Care Center to socialize and gain strength and coordination as they play in the jungle gym and climb trees. This time spent with them while playing could easily be the highlight of the trip, so I will show you lots of pictures and include a few short videos at the end.

There are several ways to get the babies the jungle gym and forest. Some hitch a ride on your back…..

…..while others jump on the red bus and get wheeled there. They sit peacefully knowing that soon they will get their chance to act their age!

As long as they sit still it easy to balance the wheel barrel. When they start wiggling its tough not to tip over because they are heavier than they look

If you make it this far without tipping them you are almost there

Once they arrive its a definite free-for-all at the jungle gym

Upon arrival some hang around the gym area

Others prefer to play in the trees

Some decide you are more fun than a tree so they jump into your lap or pull at your pants until you play with them

While the others played this little guy named Turbo sat by himself seeming to pout and decided to put this bag on his head. Turbo is surrounded by caretakers at all times to make sure the bag stays only on top of his head.

He just sat there sucking his hand

It took a while but eventually I was able to touch his hand

Now that we were friends he moved the bag slightly off his head and took the peanut I offered

He gently chewed it with his prehensile lips

No self respecting orangutan is going to eat just one peanut, so he asked for another

It started to rain, so with the peanut still in his mouth he decided to utilize my umbrella. I could barely take these photos I was laughing so hard!

He pulled the umbrella completely over his head….

…and looked skyward until it stopped raining.

I had to bribe him with another peanut to get my umbrella back

When the rain stopped he decided that the salty peanuts made him thirsty so he asked for a drink

Brodie’s dedication to working with Turbo every afternoon paid off, because after these photos were taken Turbo started interacting with the other babies a little more- yea Brodie!

If you want to see a few short videos that show some of this in action here is your chance to be entertained like we were with these babies.

Peanut eating time

EatingPeanut

 Wes walking with me to the jungle gym

WesWalking

Its not easy to film them with one hand while fending off attacks with the other

Babyattack

If you have any peanuts on your possession they will look everywhere (and I mean everywhere) to find them

Peanutsearch

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Feeding Stations

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 Time to eat!

When going up the Sekonyer river to Camp Leakey you pass several feeding stations where the semi-wild orangutans are fed twice daily. Once the large and dominant males like Doyak, who eat first, leave the feeding station the other orangutans, pigs, squirrels, and gibbons move in for their feast. They are not afraid of you and offer some great photographic opportunities.

The guides start calling the orangutans as the rangers bring in the food

This is Doyak showing who is the boss and taking his time while the others wait. Click on his photos to see more of him

The other orangs patiently wait in the trees until he leaves

Then its their turn!

They have various styles on how they obtain and eat their food

They stuff their mouths with bananas and eat them in the trees

Gibbons commonly make an appearance at the feeding station. Their phenomenal speed as they swing through the trees, jump on the feeding platform, and then escape back to the trees, tests the skills of any wildlife photographer.

They hang in the trees waiting for just the right time

You never know when they are going to jump from the trees onto the feeding platform, so your next shot is of them already eating on the feeding platform

Once they give you the stink eye you know they will be off any second, so now is your big chance.

Within the next 1-2 seconds they have run to the end of the platform and are landing in a nearby tree

These two short movies gives you a feel for how fast a gibbon can move through the trees. This method of locomotion is called brachiation, and the gibbon does it the best of all the primates.

In this first movie the gibbon is brachiating through the trees:

GibbonBrachiating

In this second movie it is jumping on to the feeding platform, scaring the orangutan for a second, ignoring the park ranger, and then jumping back into a tree and climbing it with one hand loaded with bananas. You can hear the guides calling the orangutans in the background.

GibbonJumping

Once the orangs are done feeding they are quite relaxed and let us approach them, including the females with young

When the coast is clear and everyone has gone the squirrels move in.

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Camp Leakey

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Much has changed in Camp Leakey since my last trip. This is not surprising due to the decades that have passed, the major changes in the rainforest, and the tremendous pressure put on the environment by the logging industry and palm oil plantations.

If you haven’t already checked out the web page on my 1991 trip now is the time to do it for comparison purposes.

A side view of where 12 of us stayed in 1991.The bathroom is in the distance at middle of the picture, the entrance is to the right of the bathroom.

When you first arrive you might find this guy “hanging around” the kitchen. Any idea what it is?

Its a gibbon, the most acrobatic primate in this rainforest

A stop at the visitors center is a must to see the rich history of the area and to understand the challenge faced in trying to save the rain forest and its creatures

Its possible to encounter an orangutan at any time when walking around Camp Leakey. Your guide knows every orangutan by name, and will be with you at all times.  The orangutans are relaxed when the guides are present and will walk right by you.

If you encounter a dominant male like this little guy (his name is Tom) you give them wide berth. Click on his picture to get an idea of how large his shoulders and arms are.

To get to the feeding station you walk through the jungle. The ironwood boards are there to help navigate the terrain during the rainy season when you might not be able to see the ground (not a good time to go).

Along the way you encounter interesting vegetation. You need to be careful what you touch because some of the plants cause a bad rash, yet do not bother the native dayaks. The biggest danger in this jungle is not the animals, its the risk of falling tree branches hitting you.

These are pitcher plants (insect eating) just after a rain

The black sap we are pointing to is from the rengas tree and is highly irritating to our skin

The nutrients do not go deep into the soil, so the roots of the large trees establish their footing by going more lateral

The root system can be extensive and go across the path

Its a rainforest so there are fungi aplenty

Camp Leakey (and the other feeding stations) is a popular attraction, so be prepared to be around visitors from all over the world. This European family was traveling together in one klotok.

 Their mandatory guide is the dark haired man at the right

It is hot and humid, and even though you walk at an easy pace you need to stay replenished. Your guide will carry a backpack filled with bottled water.

At the feeding stations (Leakey, Tanguii, and Ambung) the semi-wild orangutans (those that were in captivity and have been released back into the wild but still hang around) are given nutrition. This is important because the forest is changing and they need help to survive.

The orangutans and various other freeloaders are fed milk, bananas, and pineapples in the morning and the afternoon. The park rangers carry this heavy load in a backpack as the orangutans start congregating. Once they see him its a free-for-all, unless the dominant male is around.

Click here to see lots of close up photos of orangutans, gibbons (and other critters), at all the feeding stations including Camp Leakey

This dominant male, named Doyak, usually arrives on the ground in contrast to all the other orangutans. When the sun hits him you can see how red he is. Click on his picture to get a better feel of how large he is.

He climbs on the feeding platform and lets it be know to all the other orangutans that are in the trees watching that he is the boss

Doyak put on quite a show of dominance. Click here to see him in action.

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Doyak

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This is Doyak in all his splendor (oops, wrong Doyak, this is a guide at the feeding platform pretending to be Doyak)

The real Doyak!

Males this size range between 250-350 pounds. They are comparable in strength to 8 large men at least, and are not intimidated by much in their jungle. They have a powerful bite they use when fighting each other.

Here are some pictures of him at one of the feeding stations as he came in to get his share of food and confirm his place in the hierarchy. His territory does not encroach on Tom, the other dominant male in the area, and the one who is the king of all the male orangutans at the moment. Rumor has it though that Doyak is taking over Tom’s role.

Doyak hangs around the feeding station until the ranger brings the milk, which he then hoards. He keeps the other orange away by an intimidating look, and for the juvenile that approached him, a motion of his long arm warning not to come any closer. Watching his face and body language as he puts on his show of intimidation is fascinating.

Light conditions were constantly changing, and you will see that reflected in the color of his haircoat. I use the Canon 1Dx and the Canon 5D Mark III for these shots, and even used flash on several occasions.

Approaching the feeding platform

He is the only orang on the platform when the ranger brings the milk

He hoards the milk with his huge arms and menacing stare

When he is done with the milk he starts on the bananas and pineapples

This juvenile in the tree had to wait his turn

Eventually the juvenile decided to test Doyak’s tolerance of his presence. Doyak chased him away with a wave of his arm and the juvenile retreated. The younger male tried again a little later and this time Doyak tolerated him.

Doyak continued his munching at his leisure with his arm still sticking out as a warning to others that get too close

Every few minutes he would give his “Doyak” stare

Sometimes he would get up and stare down the other orangutans. Intimidation is a big part of what he does, and he has the bulk to back it up.

A few final stare before he decided to leave and let the others eat


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Proboscis Monkey

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21 years ago when I first cruised down this river my camera equipment was modest compared to what is available today. I used a Minolta XG-M camera that was manual everything; focus, film advance, and exposure. This camera had slide film at an ASA of 400, which was fast film at that time. It  was small and light and the battery would last for months.

At the time I used a 500 mm mirror lens to shoot the proboscis monkeys from a canoe. A mirror lens is a lens with only one f-stop, in this case it was f/8. Why this limitation? Because the lens is very small and light and relatively inexpensive compared to a regular 500mm lens.

The following 3 photos are digital scans of the original slides from 1991. The quality difference between them and the digital photos to follow will be apparent.

This is Mr. Uil, a dayak who was born in the jungle and my personal guide to find proboscis monkeys in the trees in 1991

Here are the photos of the proboscis monkey 21 years ago when I went for a canoe ride with Mr. Uil

Almost all of the proboscis monkey photos captured on my current trip were taken with a Canon 1Dx camera and a Canon 70mm-200mm f/4 IS lens. I sometimes used a 1.4X TC. I included the EXIF info on each photo for your viewing pleasure. Be sure to click on them to see them in larger resolution.

Our first order of business is to find the proboscis monkey. Lucky for us they tend to stay along the riverbank so the klotok will give you access to them in many situations.

This is an adult female

ISO 1000, 1/200th, f/5.6

This is a young female; notice her long tail and big stomach? These monkeys eat vegetation that is not digestible by them. The bacteria in their gastrointestinal tract do the digesting, and need a big fermentation vat to do this.

ISO 1000, 1/60th, f/5.6

This is the dominant male. The large size of his nose (proboscis) compared to the female is obvious. He is also much larger.

ISO 1000, 1/1250th, f/5.6

This is a younger male

ISO 1600, 1/3200th, f/4

ISO 1600, 1/3200th, f/4

The challenge with the proboscis is to shoot them (with the camera that is) when they are jumping from tree to tree. The first problem is the fact they stay behind the foliage. Next problem is being ready for their instantaneous jump.

To help increase my odds of nailing them on the fly I sat at the front of the boat with my camera and constantly scanned for any movement. I would continuously prefocus every 50 yards in order to help my autofocus have less searching to do when they jumped.  I also tested my exposure constantly since one side of the vegetation might be in shade while the other side is in the sun. Using the Canon 1Dx was a big help, and its hard to think of a better camera when you want to nail one of these guys in midair.

The lighting was terrible for my first attempts. I was shooting upwards and into a bright sky. I had to increase my exposure by almost 2 stops . I used the 1.4X TC for the following 3 photos shooting at 280mm.


ISO 1000, 1/6400th, f/5.6

ISO 1000, 1/6400th, f/5.6

ISO 1000, 1/6400th, f/5.6

When the light got better they stayed behind the foliage. I only got this one when he finally jumped and I had no branches in the way.

ISO 1000, 1/640th, f/5.6

ISO 1600, 1/8000th, f/4

With patience, persistence, better lighting, better anticipation, and a little luck, I was able to get a complete sequence

ISO 1250, 1/500th, f/5.6

ISO 1250, 1/500th, f/5.6

ISO 1250, 1/500th, f/5.6

ISO 1250, 1/500th, f/5.6

ISO 1250, 1/500th, f/5.6

ISO 1250, 1/500th, f/5.6

ISO 1250, 1/6400th, f/5.6

ISO 1250, 1/6400th, f/5.6

ISO 1250, 1/6400th, f/5.6

The large male even gave me a few keepers. You can tell it is him by his larger size and white patch at his rump. He is secretive and stays behind foliage until he is ready to jump. Because of this I only got him halfway through his jump and landing.

ISO 1600, 1/8000th, f/4

ISO 1600, 1/4000th, f/4

I would love to go back and spend a few days just proboscis shooting and bring the 1Dx again.  Next time I will bring the Canon 300mm f/2.8 II IS and show these monkeys a thing or two!

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Klotok Time

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Klotoks are a wonderful way to travel the Sekonyer to Camp Leakey. They are called klotoks due to the unique sounds of their one cylinder engines. They travel at just the right speed to get you to your destination, while at the same time allow for wildlife viewing and photography in the vegetation along the river.

This is the engine room of the klotok

Click on the link below to hear its unique sound for a few seconds

Klotok

The four of us spent 3 days and 2 nights on this klotok as we cruised the Sekonyer river upstream to Camp Leakey, stopping at feeding stations along the way

Some people still live along the river and eke out a basic living

Many different kinds of powerboats navigate the Sekonyer as they move supplies and people back and forth to Kumai

The Sekonyer river has an abundance of wildlife. Many birds, large crocodiles (which is why swimming is not allowed any more), garials (fish-eating crocodiles), macaques, and proboscis monkeys to name just a few.

This is a stork-billed kingfisher

This is a male proboscis monkey

Click here to see a full page of proboscis monkeys jumping from tree to tree

This is a rainforest, so when it rains, it pours. This brings out the birds to catch the hatching insects. We were there at the end of the dry season, so it only poured a short period of time. In the rainy season it can rain nonstop for days.

When the hard rain comes we have to “batten down the hatches” and ride it out

This movie below shows the birds that catch the insects that have hatched due to the rains

AfternoonDownpour

Before you get to your final destination of Camp Leakey there are several stops along the way at feeding stations for the semi-wild orangutans. They feed the orangutans (and other critters that show up) a combination of milk, banana, and pineapple. These animals are having a hard time finding adequate nutrition in the devastated rainforest, so this supplemental feeding is highly beneficial to them.

Depending on your specific itinerary, the first feeding station is Pondok Ambung

The next one is Pondok Tanguui

This is the equator, which means around 12 hours of sunshine and 12 hours of daylight every day since there are no seasons. As the sun sets around 6 PM its interesting to hear the night sounds of the rainforest and see the fireflies and nocturnal animals.

Before we went to bed our first night at Pondok Ambung we went on a jungle night walk

We met a cute frog

He took a liking to Jade and jumped on her

You sleep on the klotok on comfortable mattresses with mosquito netting. Even though we chatted away, and even sometimes played cards, most people went to bed early since you would be up early as the gibbons did their morning serenade.

It was still hot and humid at night when we went to sleep. Portable fans were a big help

Before we went to bed a sociable Praying Mantis made friends with Jade and then promptly fell asleep on her hand!

Our boat captain got up early to do some fishing (to no avail that day)

After our early morning yoga class it was time to continue upriver to Camp Leakey

 The tranquil morning waters gave a perfect reflection on the klotoks docked from the night before

Its interesting to be in a rain forest in the early morning, seeing the mist, and listening to the hoots of the gibbons

Other klotoks were returning from Camp Leakey as we proceeded upstream

The river narrows significantly as you approach Leakey

Camp Leakey! Hard to believe I was here 21 years ago to the month. Click on the photo below to learn much more about Camp Leakey

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Back to Borneo

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Dateline: October 2012

In 1991 I went to Borneo to work with the orangutans in the rain forest at Tanjung Puting National Park. It was a fascinating trip that I have chronicled on this web site already. Reading about this prior trip will allow you to get a good perspective when you read this page on my recent trip. You can access my 1991 trip by clicking here.

Hard to believe it has been several decades since I examined this little guy, or should I say, he examined me!

 In 1991 I never dreamed I would go back, so my trip in October of 2012 was part nostalgia and part new adventure. I am glad I went back to see the changes and experience it all over again.

 What I encountered on this trip were a group of dedicated individuals taking action to help this highly endangered species.  Most were local Indonesians, the rest were volunteers from all over the world. They are putting forth substantial time and effort to save the orangutans in the face of strong palm oil and timber interests that are devastating the forest and all the creatures that live there. The future for these creatures is not good and they need help from all of us.

Since several people have asked, this is the same place that Julia Roberts went to in 1997 when she made her Camp Leakey video seen on TV. The dominant male at that time, who physically accosted her, was Kusasi. You have to wonder why the director let her get anywhere near this powerful animal and risk physical injury.

Present day Borneo

Borneo, the 3rd largest island in the world, is made up of 3 countries; Brunei, Malaysia, and Indonesia. Indonesia is the largest of these 3 countries. The Indonesian part of Borneo is also known as Kalimantan. We were in the southern part of Kalimantan near a town called Pangalan Bun. We stayed with a Dayak family just outside of Pangalan Bun in a smaller town called Pasir Panjang. We stayed here because it was across the street from the Orangutan Rehabilitation and Care Center, and we could literally walk there in 5 minutes.

Since I sometimes get blank stares when I tell people I went to Borneo.  Here is a big picture map for the geographically challenged!

Borneo is on the equator, so there are no seasons like we are used to (except rainy and rainier), and it is hot and humid all the time

This map shows the 3 countries that make up Borneo. The green arrow in Tanjung Puting National Park points out where we spent all of our time

This map shows more details of the area and Tanjung Puting National Park:

From Jakarta we flew into Pangalan Bun (you can see the airport symbol).

We stayed at a house in Pasir Panjang (PP on the map) for 2 weeks

I took 2 boat rides up the Sekonyer river, past 2 Feeding Stations (FS) and all the way to Camp Leakey (CL)

In Borneo you will encounter many Dayaks, people that have a profound understanding of the rainforest. All are exceptionally friendly. When walking down any street they will shoot past on their scooters (sometimes a family of 4 is on one of these scooters) and yell “hey mister”. It does not matter whether you are male or female, everyone gets the “hey mister” scoot-by. Click on the 6 second video below for an idea of how friendly they are as we walked around.

HelloMister

Some things in Borneo are a constant over the decades:

  • You better like rice because it is served at almost every meal
  • You will be barefoot when indoors (and most of the time in general) because all shoes are kept outside
  • It is hot and humid all the time, so plan on being wet or damp continuously. Your body will start adjusting within a few weeks, although it is draining, and you will move slower just like the local people.
  • Its better to be there in the dry season (late spring to early fall) because there are less mosquitoes, less leeches, and less water to slosh around in when walking in the jungle. On my current trip there was a drought during the summer so we encountered few mosquitoes, which means less chance of exposure to malaria.
  • You are on the equator, so bugs will be a part of your life. They are a fascinating part of life on this planet if you are not squeamish. Do not go to the equator if you find insects icky.

This praying mantis found our fan a convenient place to hang out one night

  • Scooters are the mode of transportation. They drive on the left, although they are reasonably conservative drivers, far removed from drivers in Naples, Italy, where driving is a high speed video game.
  • Fuel is rationed due to a lack of refining capacity, so lines at gas stations are long, and it can take up to 2 hours to fill a small scooter tank.
  • Prices are very inexpensive compared to what we are used to. An hour at an Internet café when we tried to reschedule our flights cost only 40 cents. The room at Pak Sia’s house, which included 3 meals per day, was $100 per person for 2 weeks.
Rupiahs are the local currency. This 50,000 rupiah note is worth a little over $5 US.  To get the best rate exchange your money at the airport in Jakarta.

Pasir Panjing is populated mostly by Dayaks, almost all of whom are related. Whenever any community event is involved everyone is invited, including us. In our 2 weeks we went to two going-away parties and one wedding. Children can walk the dark streets at night without any concern.

We stayed at Pak Sia’s house in Pasir Panjing and were welcomed like we were family.

Pak Sia welcoming us with refreshments upon our arrival

His family welcomes worldwide volunteers that work at the Care Center across the street. These are usually young students or young conservationists, paying for this on their own, so Pak Sia charges them a minimal price for room and board.

His knowledge of the area and the orangutans (he can look at a picture of any orang from decades ago and tell you its name) is impressive

Being a veterinarian, and having been there before, I had access to orangutans at the Care Center that is not available to most people.  This page will show you many pictures of orangutans in the wild and at the Care and Rehabilitation Center outside the park.  Pace yourself, because there is a large amount of information on this page if you follow all the links.

For kicks I will at times contrast photos from my most recent trip to those in 1991. This will give you a good idea of the quality of digital cameras, and illustrate the changes that have occurred over 21 years.

This extensive page has many photos broken down into several major summary sections. Within each of these major sections are links to much more detail on that section:

  • Do you really want to fly this far?– the logistics of getting in and out of Borneo
  • Klotok ride upriver– taking a boat into the rainforest and seeing the wildlife along the way while visiting feeding stations. This section has a special link on the proboscis monkeys and the gibbons, two other primates in the area.
  • Camp Leakey– the final destination on the klotok ride where Dr. Galdikas did her seminal work, and where I spent all of my time over 2 decades ago
  • Doyak and Tom– the dominant males that hang around the feeding area
  • The Orangutan Care and Rehabilitation Center– do not miss this section. Make sure you click on the links for additional photos if you want to see babies, babies, and more babies.
  • Orangutan Foundation International– how to contact them for more information on how you can help the plight of the highly endangered orangutans

This time I brought professional digital camera equipment that was not available in 1991. For you photo fans here are my tools:

  • Canon 5D Mark III- used for most of the static photos, especially the babies at the Care Center and some of the orangs at the feeding stations
  • Canon 1DX- used on the klotok ride upriver, the feeding stations,  and any time I anticipated action shots. I paid off when shooting the proboscis monkeys jumping from tree to tree.
  • Canon 24-105 MM IS lens- used mostly with the 5D Mark III, and mostly at the Care Center and somewhat at the feeding stations
  • Canon 70-200mm F/4 IS lens- used mostly with the 1DX at the feeding stations and on the klotok shooting wildlife along the river
  • Canon 100mm macro with ring flash- used mostly with the 5D Mark III for portrait and insect shots
  • Canon 400 mm f/5.6 lens- used on occasion and with both cameras to shoot wildlife
  • Canon 1.4X teleconverter- used on the 70-200mm f/4 IS with the 1Dx on the klotok rides

Do you really want to fly this far?

Getting there is an adventure in itself.  Borneo is over halfway around the world from California. This is the second time I have flown Cathay Pacific and I find them to be outstanding. The flight leaves Los Angeles at 1:30 AM and arrives in Hong Kong 14 hours later (don’t forget you cross the international date line and lose a day).

Even though it is midnight at LAX, the anticipation of our upcoming trip has us smiling for this photo. From left to right my travel companions are Jade Chang, Ann Ichikawa, and Natalie Hipskind.

The airport in Hong Kong is beautiful, busy, modern, and filled with high end perfume and clothing stores. When you arrive you walk past a nurse with a surgical mask holding a thermometer. She is there to take your temperature if you want. Interesting custom to say the least.

After a 3 hour layover in Hong Kong its another 5 hour flight to Jakarta. We spent the night at the Sheraton in Jakarta before continuing on to Borneo and Pangalan Bun the next day.

We had an interesting time finding the gate to our flight from Jakarta to Pangala Bun then next day. We had an even more substantial problem when our flight back two weeks later was cancelled. For more details on this and to understand how crazy things can get in Borneo, click on this link.

Klotok ride upriver

Even though we stayed  at Pak Sia’s house directly across the street from the Care Center, we did not go to the Care Center for 5 days due to quarantine protocols. We took advantage of the time and took a 3 day klotok ride up the Sekonyer river to Camp Leakey (I took a second klotok ride a week later). This camp is where I spent all of my time when I was last here 21 years ago to the month.

Taking a klotok upriver is the usual trip for most tourists to watch the semi-wild orangutans being fed and see the wildlife along the river. Many tourists from all over the world take the klotoks up the Sekonyer river to Camp Leakey. Even though it is touristy, the 2 night 3 day trip is worth it, and a must see for any trip to Borneo.

My klotok in 1991 as we left the port of Kumai and approached the Sekonyer river mouth

The current ones are bigger and nicer

 The wildlife along the Sekonyer river are elusive and move very rapidly. I had to be in front, on the alert, and ready to shoot, to be able to capture the photos you will see on this page.

An interesting animal we saw along the river was the proboscis monkey

Beautiful bird life abounds along the river, including this stork-billed kingfisher

You might even get to pull the tail of a long-tailed macaque as you motor slowly by in the klotok

This is your first chance to see a semi-wild orangutan

When an orangutan approaches keep an eye on your possessions, because their philosophy is “what is yours is mine”

As the sun sets you get your chance to see the flying foxes (huge bats) and even get a firefly show

Camp Leakey

In 1991 I spent all of my time at Camp Leakey and did not go to the Care Center. Much has changed since then, and even though research is ongoing, it is geared more towards ecotourism. It is quite popular for tourists to watch a feeding put on by the park service at the feeding stations.

That platform in the distance is the current entrance to Camp Leakey

The welcoming committee on the dock at Camp Leakey in 1991

The greeting this time was a little more vocal

Keep an eye on those guys in the hairy red outfits- they are sneaky! Oh sure, they look innocent hanging on to a tree and pretending not to notice you.

They wait patiently, and when you are distracted they  execute their plan

While you are looking for your camera they make their move….

….and run behind the klotok

…..and scope out where the pineapples are located

They are career thieves, and the getaway only takes a few seconds

Another group of of sucker tourists robbed by the “pineapple bandit”

Click on the photo below to see lots more of Camp Leakey and the orangutans that are there

Doyak and Tom

Over the course of 2 klotok rides I encountered the 3 dominant (and rival) males in the area; Yani, Tom, and Doyak. We spent the most time with Doyak at a feeding station, although we had an encounter with Tom who decided he did not want us in his territory. We saw Yani as we walked past him while he shook a branch at us in defiance.

This is Doyak.  Click on his photo below to see him in action at the feeding station

This is Tom, click on his picture for more pictures and even a video of him escorting us out of Camp Leakey

Orangutan Care and Rehabilitation Center

The orangutans at the care center range from young to old, and are here for a multitude of reasons. Some have chronic disease and will not survive in the wild. Others are orphans and need a place to call home in the deforested rainforest. Many are only a few years of age. Their mothers were killed because they wandered into the wrong area (usually a palm oil plantation), or their mothers were killed because some citizen wanted a baby orangutan in their house (which is illegal). When this baby is discovered (usually a neighbor rats them out) it is confiscated by the authorities and brought to the care center. The Care Center is not open to the general public.

Some of the babies here are so young they are still in diapers

The dedicated workers are intimately familiar with every baby

They are taken into the forest often to practice their orangutan skills and hopefully be released back into the rainforest

Its fun to hang with them in the forest and watch them play

This is also where they hone their robbery skills for when they graduate to stealing pineapples. They consider any of your possessions to be theirs-you have been warned!

At this stage in their career they start with water bottles. A water bottle is never safe around them, no matter how secure it is in your backpack. 

All they want is the pleasure of bursting your water bottle open in front of you

The goal of this game is not to drink the water, but to tease you into thinking you can get the bottle back

You better be good at climbing trees if you want to get the bottle back

They have strong clinging instincts and are quite powerful for their size when they don’t want to let go. This one was just bottle fed and decided she was not going to let me get away.

Its an understatement to say that working with these babies is an unbelievable experience

This  picture reminds me of one from my first trip

If you are ready for lots more baby pictures, including videos of them in full baby mode, click here and hang on to your possessions.

Some of our group at a going-away-party for the lady in the center who had been volunteering for 6 months. Hopefully we will all meet up again some time!

Orangutan Foundation International (OFI)

It is run by donations and always in need of monetary support to help fend off the palm oil and timber interests. Click on this link to learn more about them and how you can help.

If you have a group that wants a personal slide show on this trip, with photos in much higher resolution than can be shown on this web site, call or email:

562-434-9966

vet@lbah.com

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Do you really want to fly to Borneo?

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After flying to Jakarta from Los Angeles through Hong Kong on Cathay Pacific we spent a night at the Sheraton Bandara in Jakarta. Its a nice and reasonably priced hotel (for a Sheraton) close to the airport.

 The next day we took a one hour jet flight (it was not a jet in 1991) to Pangalan Bun in Borneo. On my prior trip in 1991 I was warned that this final leg of our journey, from Jakarta to the airport at Pangalan Bun, can be quite unreliable. It will probably take off late, might not take off at all, or might even leave early. Our current flight did leave a few hours late, but that was not a major problem. The fact that we could not quite find our gate is what made things interesting.

Our flight was scheduled for 9:50 AM as you can see from this screen when we checked our bags. When we got to the security area a different screen said the flight was leaving at 8:30 AM. So it was leaving early after all! We scooted to the gate that had our flight.

As you can see from this picture our Trigana Air flight number 708 was gate C3.

We got in line and started boarding at gate C3. When we got to the front we were told our tickets were not for this flight, even though the gate said it was. It was at this time that Jade noticed she had a different flight number on her boarding pass than the rest of us. When we told them of this discrepancy they said “no problem”, and just proceeded to write over the ticket with a pen and tried to turn the 9 into an 8. We shook our heads at each other and said “welcome to Indonesia”!

We are still smiling and enjoying the novelty of our predicament

After one more aborted attempt to board a flight that left an hour later, the ticket agent came up to us and told us that our flight was next. This time we flew a 737 jet, compared to the small propeller plane I flew in 21 years ago.

We made it!

Last time it was not a jet that flew us there, so things have improved (somewhat)

When we arrived we were given a warm welcome by Cas, who arranged transportation for us to Pasir Panjing

That’s Cas on the right. She is a Brit and of course talks in that funny English. She is at the end of a 10 month stint working with the orangs at the Care Center. She had two going-away parties while we were there- a fun one with us (and a few bottles of illegal beer) at Pak Sia’s house, and a formal one with everyone present, including Dr. Galdikas who gave Cas recognition for her dedication.


A note of interest in regards to that flight (the picture of the prop plane above) over two decades ago. When we landed in Pangalan Bun, Borneo in 1991, and were greeted by our hosts, they asked how the flight was, knowing the nature of the flight from their own personal experience. They gave us an interesting fact to allay our fears. As it turns out the mechanic that works on the airplane is require to fly on the flight. Sounds like a good idea to me!

The flights in and out of small airports like Pangalan Bun are unreliable, so plan accordingly when setting up your international flight out of Jakarta by giving yourself an extra 1-2 days to leave Borneo. The late flight and incorrect gates on the flight from Jakarta to Pangalan Bun on the way in was a minor inconvenience compared to our return flight.

When we went to the airport in Pangalan Bun two weeks later to fly back to Jakarta we found that not only was our scheduled flight not flying, but the airport was closed also. Since there was nobody at Trigana Air to talk to it was time for plan B.

Our driver, whose name is Pepper, was a big help and took us to the Trigana Air office in Pangalan Bun. After lots of smiles, blank stares, a few extra rupiahs, and help from Pepper in his broken English, we scheduled a flight from Pangalan Bun back to Jakarta 2 days later. So, back to Pak Sia’s house for 2 more days. They were not surprised to see us return knowing this was not an uncommon occurrence.

Being delayed in leaving Borneo for 2 days of course meant that I missed my Cathay Pacific international flight from Jakarta to Hong Kong and then home. This was where the real problem was. Poor phone service made it difficult to reschedule this flight on Cathay Pacific. Texting saved the day because I was able to contact my staff and they contacted the airlines to reschedule after many conversations and explanations- yea Sandra!

Moral of the story: Even though we had a plan B, and gave ourselves a one day fudge factor in leaving Borneo, in reality you need a plan C, with a 2-3 day fudge factor. Its all part of the travel experience and makes for a good story to embellish when you return home. Thankfully I had my portable computer to start working on the pictures of this web page.

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