Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Sekonyer River Cruise to the Tanjung Puting National Park

Our only stop in Borneo, the largest island in the Indonesian archipelago, was made to the port town of Kumai.  Kumai lies some 20 nautical miles up the mosquito infested Kumai River and the purpose of our visit was to see the nearby Tanjung Puting National Park.  Covering 415,040 hectares, the park was first set aside by the Dutch in the 1930s to provide sanctuary for orangutan and proboscis monkey.

Receiving between 2 and 3 metres of rainfall annually, the park is the largest tropical lowland rainforest protected area in central Kalimantan.  Besides endangered orangutan and proboscis monkey it is also home to 7 other primate species along with clouded leopard, dugong, dolphin, many fish species, 200 bird species and many reptiles and amphibians including freshwater crocodiles. Unfortunately the park has a poor record of conservation management and today much of its forest is highly degraded, with illegal logging, illegal mining, illegal clearance for palm oil plantations and wildfires said to be the major management issues.

In 1971 Dr Birute Galdikas, a Canadian primatologist, established Camp Leaky on the bank of the Sekonyer River within the park.  The camp was first set up to study wild orangutan populations and, later on, as a location to reintroduce into the wild rescued and orphaned orangutan.  The camp continues to this day as an ecotourism education centre, as a rehabilitation centre for orangutan, as well as a base for research into the orangutan and other rainforest inhabitants.

To travel into the park we teamed up with Gote and Rosalind from Veedon Fleece and contracted an ecotourism operator in the town of Kumai.  He arranged all the details of our visit, including a boat, skipper, cook, deck hand and guide, along with all the necessary permits and police clearances, and perhaps most important of all, a security guard for Mojombo.

Our river boat and home for two days, the Batavia with toilet /shower aft, upper deck for us punters and lower deck for the crew.  We slept aboard on mattresses under mozzie nets and ate wonderful meals at the table

 Travelling up the Sekonyer River we passed many Dayak fishermen and their villages.  The Dayak are the native peoples of Borneo and many live in and around the park.

African Queen style, but alas without the gin, we head up river, which gradually narrows. Moving into the park itself the jungle closes in each side and Batavia frequently has to shoulder through rafts of floating vegetation.  Nina sights several freshwater crocodiles (as did our guide – but no one else).  We spot our first orangutan nests, then several groups of long-tailed macaque and proboscis monkeys.  Landing ashore we walk through the jungle to several different ‘feeding stations’, including the now famous Camp Leaky.  These feeding locations were first established to supplement the diet of rescued and orphaned orangutan, animals that now live mostly independent lives but still have some level of human dependence.  Wild animals also visit the feeding stations, and of course these locations have become vital to the flow of tourists through the park.

The river gradually narrows while our ‘crocodile spotter’ mans her post...

... and further narrows – here passing another group of tourists – there were many boats basically of the same design as our Batavia taking groups up and down the river.

The jungle presses in on each side.

We spot our first orangutan nest – orangutan are mostly solitary
animals and make these nests each night upon which they sleep.

On shore walking to a feeding station we pass a ranger checkpoint
where Zeke and Nina pose with this gibbon.

At the feeding station more than one species can be observed observing the action...

... and this is what they’ve come for, a free feed!

Most at home in the trees ...

... their long limbed strength and flexibility
 is stunning.

Baby orangutan stay with their mothers until
they are 7 or 8 years old.

Here a large male rapidly approaching his prime displays some of his repertoire of facial expressions – is it this that provides us humans with such endless fascination?

Before we knew it our two days were up and we were headed down river and back to Kumai.  But no there was still more in store!  As the sun set the banks came alive with monkeys, and we had several remarkably close encounters with proboscis monkeys.  These endangered species are found only in Borneo and may number fewer than 8,000 animals.  As the name suggests they have the most elegant Jimmy Durante schnozzes.  What a wonderful trip!

Fading light, tiny camera, distant subject – but you can still make out that schnoz!

Rosalind and Gote, our most companionable traveling companions

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