Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Orang Utans

Hi everyone,
On Monday and Tuesday we toured Tangung Puting National Park, visiting three of the camps in the park to see the famous orang utan rehabilitation activities.  We travelled on a klotok "houseboat", about 50' long, on which the four passengers had a deck to ourselves.  We went with Anne and Graham from sv Kakadu.

Heading up river
We departed around lunchtime on Monday and travelled downriver a mile or so before turning up a tributary of the main river which is a boundary of the National Park.  We soon started to see interesting animals - various colourful birds, macaque monkeys and proboscis monkeys.  We also saw a 1m+ lizard swimming in the river.

A gathering of klotoks
At about 2pm we reached the first camp, Tangung Harapan.  On stepping ashore we found a large male orang utan swinging around in the nearby trees.  Amazing animal.  He eventually climbed down to the ground and walked through the group of tourists.  They glide over the ground silently, unlike moving in the trees where they can be quite noisy.

Orang Utan
We saw about 8 orang utans during the feeding at this camp.  Staff place bunches of bananas on a raised platform and the orang utans come down, usually one by one or mother with young.  Sometimes they squabble over access to the bananas.  Usually the smaller ones hang around in the trees nearby, so a group is visible throughout the session.

From the first camp we continued upriver, seeing many more monkeys in the trees along the riverside.  They like to sleep near the river and go into the jungle during the day.  We moored at the side of the river (by throwing a couple of car tires on lines into the riverside reeds.  With the engine and generator off the noise of the jungle was spectacular.  Coincidentally I'm reading the book "Heart of Darkness" at the moment.  The Lonely Planet guide mentions it as a book which captures the feel of travelling up this river.  I agree.  Happily we didn't encounter Kurtz!

Proboscis monkeys

As the sun went down the flying bugs were many and some of them large.  Well coated in repellant we settled down for an evening of Scrabble which was very enjoyable.  Then we retired to our mosquito net protected beds.  The nets worked extremely well.

The following morning we resumed travelling up the river to Pondok Tangui camp.  Here we saw the best array of orang utans of the three camps.  Note - that's just our experience on these two days.  The dominant male was first to appear, and he did so by materialising from the rear of the platform rather than noisily descending from the trees.  He made a great entrance, then proceeded to strike poses not unlike human body builders!

Big daddy, plus interloper
Who's watching who?
Mum and baby
On the road to population recovery? 
From the second camp we went further upriver to Camp Leakey.  This is up a further tributary where the water changes colour from muddy to tannin-stained but quite clear.  The river narrows considerably and we saw many crocodiles, more monkeys, amazingly colourful kingfishers and various other colourful birds.

At Camp Leakey we saw another group of orang utans.  The feeding was joined by a gibbon which demonstrated its amazing aerial agility, and by a family of bush pigs.  The smaller orang utans were clearly wary of the pigs, which didn't dare climb the platform but stalked around it.  One of the orang utans dropped a bunch of bananas to the ground to decoy them away so he could come down from the platform to get to the tree he wanted to climb.

After Camp Leakey we travelled back to Kumai.  The return took 4 hours, about half of which was after sunset.  We saw one orang utan, several crocodiles and kingfishers, and many monkeys before sunset.

After dark we were entertained by countless fireflies.  In large groups in trees these looked for all the world like Christmas tree lights.  Their light pulsates, sometimes synchronised, sometimes not.  One visited us and we established each is about 5mm in length.  Amazing how much light each emits.

All in all our tour was a marvellous experience.  The orang utans were amazing to see up close & personal.  The other wildlife was spectacular.  But the overall experience of travelling up and down a tropical river was actually the highlight for me.  Some take a one day tour which use small speedboats - my advice is take the time for an overnight tour!

Today we're going ashore to the markets and hopefully our laundry will be returned.  Then we plan to head downriver.  We may anchor overnight outside the bar, or if we still have plenty of daylight we'll continue out into the Java Sea.  We prefer to cross coastal waters in daylight due to the many fish traps and nets.  Either way our next destination is an anchorage off the NW coast of Belitung island.

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