Frustration, Delays, and Orangutans
Base Camp Manager Ian Blessley describes the highs and lows of the second week in-country
The last few days have been very frustrating for the team out here in Borneo. Poor Tim and Martin have spent days dealing with immigration red tape and an official who was perhaps a little over zealous which has meant that we have been delayed for a few days. Whilst we have been stuck everyone has been making good use of their time.
The Science team, (Dale, Rusty, Tim, Lara and Holli) have been working through their methods, revising their species identification and working on the research schedule. Dan, our IT and electronics guru, has been revising the power plan and fretting over Martin’s growing addiction to his battered old laptop.
On my part I have been stressing over how we are going to get all of our equipment to base camp and how the varying packages will have to be distributed as the boats get smaller and smaller.
Water Village in Palangkaraya
In order to try to give the team a break Martin decided to take us to the Water Village here in Palangkaraya. Along the banks of the River Kahayan extending out about 150m is a community of houses built on stilts. The wood comes from the Meranti tree and is reported to be able to withstand rotting in the water for over 100 years. Each house is separated from its neighbor by a meter or two, an effort I am guessing to help prevent the spread of fire.
We did see the evidence of some building s that had burnt down and all that remained were a few charred timbers at water level. Several people have informed us that Dale looks a little like an Indonesian Pop star, and so within a few minutes of entering the village we were surrounded by a gaggle of about 30-40 raucous children.
This gave the team a chance to practice their basic Indonesian and with the help of our excellent Indonesian researcher Ismail Agung or ‘Ung’, we had the chance to ask questions about their views on conservation and what we are doing.
One thing that struck me particularly was the rubbish and how casually it was discarded. It clogged up the water ways and there was a constant stream floating down river. Given the “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” message that is hammered into us at home in the UK this seemed like the ideal opportunity to ask the locals what their views were.
Most of the children I spoke to were unconcerned about the rubbish although they did admit that the place would be nicer without it. They did not seem bothered that the levels of pollutants entering the water might affect the fish in a negative way as they said most people fished at sea, and did not seem to understand the links between the rubbish in the river and that in the sea.
They also asked what else they were supposed to do with the rubbish as the local government did not provide them with the resources to remove it. It seemed to show me how important education in these areas is and how investment at governmental level is vital if things are to change for the better.
In the afternoon Tim had organized a real treat for the team with a visit to the Borneo Orangutan Survival (BOS) rehabilitation centre. When I was 10 year old I used to dream of seeing wild orangutans. That was 20 years ago and the numbers of wild orangutans have crashed since then, so much so that in another 20 years there are reports that there will be none left in the wild.
We will be looking to see if the area we are going to in the Murung Raya district is suitable as a potential release site for the future. After seeing some of the juveniles in an enclosure at the center we were taken to the Island where they hold the animals before they are finally released to wild sites.
On a circumnavigation of the island by Klotoks (boats so named because of the noise the engine makes) we were lucky enough to see about 15 individuals, including a mother and baby. It was absolutely amazing to watch them swinging through the trees or climbing down the vines to collect food off the floor.
The whoops of glee from James and Rusty suggested it was a dream come true, not just for me but also for many other members of the team. One of the main causes of the decline of these magnificent animals is habitat loss, something that the data we will gather will hopefully help large organizations like the Orangutan land Trust to prevent from continuing to happen.