People Of the Forest

tanjung-puting-national-parkThat was not the case, as evidenced by the bearer of the flaming orange coat, who now stood before us in full view. Chi-cha was one of the matriarchs of this first camp, Tanjung Harapan. Much to our delight, she was soon joined by her children – the reticent Chelsea and the showwoman Chi-na, who put on quite an act for us gawking humans. Clamber­ing up a trunk, she deftly swung from tree to tree, pausing occasionally for breath and applause, before moving on to her next gravity-defying routine. Not one to be outshined by her own daugh­ter, Chi- Cha too joined the fray, bringing with her not just an inimitable swag but also the newest of her children, the tiny, unsexed and unnamed youngster that clung to its mother for dear life. Soon enough, hunger trumped ego and games of one-upmanship were abandoned in favour of the sugarcane that was laid out on the feeding platform. After pulling the cane apart and gathering armfuls of it, each scurried away in search of a shady patch to savour the treat undis­turbed. The power play of just moments ago was already forgotten.

Humidity hung low in the rainfor­est and the trudge along the wild into the feeding station, though short, had sapped our urban bodies. The plate of freshly made banana fritters that await­ed us at the klotok, courtesy our cook Zuleha, was wolfed down gratefully. As the klotok negotiated its way further through the peat swamps, more delight­ful forest residents came to the edge of the river for a bit of people-watching. Most numerous among these were the proboscis monkeys – Tanjung Puting has the distinction of being the only natural habitat of these distinctive simians.

As we dropped anchor at nightfall, the gentle chugging of the klotoks died down and a deep silence descended over the waterways, the still night air only oc­casionally pierced by the nocturnal calls of the long-tailed macaque. Being some distance away from civilisation, boat captains ensure that they park within shouting distance of other klotoks. Leaving their guests to dine in the low watt­age, crews got busy securing the vessels for the night, amusing themselves with raucous inter-klotok banter. Our tummies full of rich Indonesian curry and minds full of snapshots from the day’s adventures, we crept inside our mosqui­to-net cocoon and were soon lulled to sleep by the gentle swaying of the klotok.

bornean-orangutan
A male Bornean orangutan

Day two was heralded by the choral songs of the kingfisher and the hornbill. Tanjung Puting is a treasure trove of all manner of fauna: 50 breeds of fish, 230 varieties of birds, crocodiles, snakes and primates, the last as varied as the slow loris, langur and gibbon. But the main draw here is undoubtedly the orangutan. And so, shortly after breakfast, we set sail to catch the morning feeding at the second camp, Pondok Tanggui. There is something to be said for an early start. Being the first to arrive, we pretty much had the place to ourselves and couldn’t believe our luck as we were greeted by a mother-son duo of lazing orangutans – Linda and little Lincoln.

Milk was being given out at the camp and, being a favourite orangutan treat, the guides were confident that at least a couple of big guys would make an ap­pearance. They weren’t wrong, as one of the first to show up was the alpha male of the camp, Doyok, cheek pads and all. In true headman fashion, he claimed the milk bowls on the feeding platform, leav­ing a bunch of females hovering tenta­tively at the edges. After having helped himself to a couple of vats of the white stuff, Doyok perched atop the tallest branch, surveying his kingdom and the two-legged curiosities on it.

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