Morning at the Orangutan Care Centre

As promised, I went to the Care Centre this morning to check on progress with the cage repairs. As requested, I also gave Montana “a nod”, as well as a bunch of flowers which he devoured. To be honest, I think he was more interested in watching the workman than in eating. His neighbours, however, were watching the flowers greedily. Montana May08



Montana's neighbours

Thank you so much for everyone who donated to the repairs. The welding has been completed. The metal work is now being painted with rust proof paint which will then be covered with the standard green paint used at the Care Centre.

Cgae repairs 1

Cage Repairs 2

Cage Repairs 3

Repairs 4

Sleeping shelves and tyres will then be fitted. After which, all that remains to happen is to fill it with orangutans. And that should not be difficult. The escapees are crowded into one cage just down the line from Montana. We are hoping that once their enclosure is fixed, we’ll be able to repair the one they are now in.


The Escapees

It was good being at the Care Centre in the morning, as I could see the orangutans being taken out for their day’s exercise in the forest. As always, it was amazing to watch Mr. Laju, one of our blind assistants, leading the orangutans out. Mr Laju went blind later in life but he can still follow the forest paths and board walks into the surrounding forest, and when I say board walk I mean a single plank pathway!

Mr Laju

Mr Laju

The other incredible thing is the orangutans never mess him around. If you and I tried to take them out, I guarantee they would be scrambling up the surrounding bushes, dashing off here and there. Mr Laju does ties a piece of string around their arms but that can’t be the secret. Any self respecting orangutan could pull away from that, if they wanted to. Clearly, they don’t.

Also at the Care Centre at the moment is a female sun bear. I did take a couple of photos but, even by my low standards, they were only fit for the recycle bin! Of course, I have excuses: the bear’s enclosure is very dark; it would not stop moving around; there are too many branches in the enclosure - that's my excuse.

Sunbear 1

Sunbear head shot


There is also a gibbon newly arrived at the Centre which we’ll arrange to have sent to Kalaweit, a specialist gibbon rehabilitation centre, in the next few days. We have our hands full with orangutans, without adding gibbons into the mix.

Again, many thanks.

Palm Oil - what’s the cost?

Nancy, Cathy and Theresa, thank you very much for your donations. So far on Wildlife Direct when we have asked for your support we have always received a positive response. This is really, really appreciated. The rebuild of the “escapees'” enclosure is progressing well with one whole side already chopped away (of course, I forgot to take my camera some photos soon I promise). Brigitta delighted to know everything is all set for your trip. I will actually be in Tanjung Puting on the 9th so it is probably best if we make a date for the 10th. If you tell your boat driver to stop at Pondok Ambung I’ll meet you there. If for any reason, I have had to go on ahead to Camp Leakey just ask around and someone will point me out. I quite like the idea of videoed questions and videoed answers. I hope it works!

Now onto more serious matters, I am surprised my last post, ‘Small feel of freedom’, was considered light-hearted. I admit the story of a bunch of adolescent orangutans running amok makes me smile, but the story of yet another orphan breaks my heart. And it breaks my heart that he came from a village we know, but outside of our project area. Why can’t we work everywhere?

Late last night, Bhayu (Foundation’s Project Co-ordinator) and Teguh (The Guard Post Supervisor) got back from a trip to the Buluh Kecil and Buluh Besar Rivers in Tanjung Puting National Park, where they had accompanied a German scientist interested in studying TPNP’s peat forests. In one stretch of river, heading upstream from the Buluh Kecil post, they saw a phenomenal 26 wild orangutans.

Orangutan at river’s edge

You can just make out an orangutan in the middle of the trees.

Admittedly, ketiau trees were in fruit, which had drawn the wildlife in, but still that number of orangutans in a journey of, at most, 10km is extraordinary. Two cheek padded males were happily eating less than 200m apart. Clearly, not a lot of competition there. Next, on the Buluh Besar River, our guys encountered a huge colony of fruit bats or flying foxes (Pteropus vampyrus). Flying foxes have a wingspan of up to 1.5m (4’) and have been described as “resembling a small eagle in flight.” According to Bhayu, this colony (or camp as they are technically called) numbered well into the 1,000’s yet elsewhere in Central Kalimantan they are, or already have been, hunted to virtual extinction.

Today, I was told a story by an old friend and colleague, Fajar who does most of his work on the east side of Tanjung Puting. We are helping his team build a guard post there or, more accurately, relocate a guard post because the current site is about to be converted to a palm oil plantation. Fajar and his team were looking for a site for the new post. They went up the Baung River on day one and came back three days later. On the way up, they passed a stand of trees with long-tailed macaques and birds in it. When they came back, all the trees were gone.

Bulldozer TPNP

Deforestation happens that quickly. And it is very, very real.

Fajar GPS

Fajar taking GPS reading of an oil palm plantation's boundary.

The photo shows Fajar taking a GPS reading in front of one of the plantation’s approved markers. It is a line of trees, like the one in the background, which has now been flattened. If you look at the map (sorry it is in Indonesian) you can see Pos Baung, the post we want to move and why. Amazingly, the company (P.T.) KUCC has already exceeded its designated area, planting out in P.T. Giat’s concession.

Map - oil palm plantations East TPNP

That is a border conflict that we find amusing, but cynical me thinks it will turn out that P.T. KUCC and PT Giat will have the same holding company which means it will make no difference to anyone at the end of the day. It certainly won’t change the fact that the forest, and its wildlife, will be gone.

On the news I heard an announcement that Unilever has promised to only use “sustainable palm-oil” by the year’s end, despite their being no suitable palm oil yet on the market. Greenpeace replied “good, but what is needed immediately is a moratorium of forest clearance”. I am pleased with Unilever’s announcement – they do have the clout to drive change (and it's consumers who have brought this about), but I agree with Greenpeace. This forest clearance has to stop.

Read about Unilever's announcement in the Jakarta Post