This article is part of a series of journal entries by Natural Encounters Supervisor, Amanda Daly, on her recent trip to visit the Kinabatangan Orangutan Conservation Project in Borneo.
22 May 2009: Goodbye, Danau Girang.
We heard Phoebe’s reassuring croak a couple of hours before dawn. Maybe little Pisang was having a bad dream. Maybe she dreamed about macaques.
The sun rose to the now-familiar sound of bearded pigs chomping sengkuang pits. Hoping for one more glimpse of Phoebe and Pisang, Martina and I slipped out of our bunks and went outside to scan the trees from the path in front of the cabin. The macaques were arriving from their sleeping trees at the river, blithely crossing the path and making their way around the cabin to get some fruit. Up in the highest branch of the sengkuang tree, we could see an indistinct rusty brown shape broken up by the leaves. Orangutans are big animals. It’s amazing how well they blend in.
It was hard to tell for sure from a distance, but this orangutan looked too small to be Phoebe. Also, we weren’t hearing any Pisang noises. Rachel Henson had told us the previous day that Phoebe was often followed at a distance by an adolescent daughter. After several minutes, Martina, quite sensibly, went back to bed. Orangutan freak that I am, I stood peering over the cabin for at least half an hour until the orangutan slid down her branch and I could get a clear look at her. Yes! She was just the right size to be a young female and she definitely wasn’t carrying a baby. I watched her negotiate the macaque-filled branches to leave the sengkuang tree and melt back into the forest. Our third wild orangutan and we hadn’t even made it to Sukau where we were actually expecting to see orangutans.
We had breakfast: noodles and Nescafé. Malaysians tend to eat the same dishes for breakfast as they do for lunch and dinner, all of it good. And Nescafé is huge. It’s practically synonymous with coffee. It was our last morning with the researchers and staff of Danau Girang sitting family style around a long table and I felt sentimental. We listened to Rachel Hensen and her fellow research assistant, Chloe Parker relate their adventures with a wild rat that had taken to breaking into their cabin and shredding Rachel’s – only Rachel’s – clothes. As animal lovers and conservationists, their options for dealing with the rat were more or less limited to excluding the rat from the cabin or relocating the rat far away, neither of which had worked so far.
College undergraduates from Cardiff University, Rachel and Chloe are the first research assistants to work at Danau Girang. As their school year was drawing to a close, it was clear that they had set high standards for the next year’s assistants to live up to and had gained great insight into how field research is conducted.
Two more orangutans over the guest house, a mother and small baby, younger than Pisang! No one had seen them before! No one could believe our luck! Our wet clothes packed away, we filled the interval between lunch and leaving standing out in the long grass by the guest cabin with Marc’s binoculars, Min experimenting with her new camera, snapping photos of the pair. One more orangutan and sengkuang tree would have been even with the collection at the Houston Zoo!