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E Journal 1st May from Nyaru Menteng.

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  • Michelle Desilets
    Dear Friends of the Orangutan, My journal continues: 1 May— The BBC crews for Orangutan Diary have been here a week, and I can assure my British supporters
    Message 1 of 1 , May 3, 2006
      Dear Friends of the Orangutan,
      My journal continues:

      1 May—
      The BBC crews for Orangutan Diary have been here a week, and I can assure my British supporters that their license fee is being put to good use. Despite jet-lag, they have been getting up in the early hours of the morning so they can slog through the swamp to film the orangutans as they go out in the morning, just to bring to you the story of Nyaru Menteng!

      Steve Leonard’s crew arrived first, and they have been focusing on Kesi, Cantik, Cha-Cha and a new arrival, Ellie, named after one of the crew. On their first full day of shooting, they joined our rescue team and the Conservation Department on a confiscation. The baby orangutan had come from somewhere upriver and was being held in a corrugated iron outdoor lavatory 3 hours’ drive away. She was terrified of everyone, and refused to be held or to eat or drink. But when she arrived at Nyaru Menteng, Lone took her in her arms and brought her to some trees, which she took to straight away. Her name had been Eboy, but as she was a girl we thought Ellie was more fitting. Ellie has been climbing ever since and there are dozens of new nests all around the tree tops which have been constructed by her.

      One afternoon, 2 young orangutans arrived by airplane at the local airport, sent in by the rescue centre in Bali, where they had been for a couple of months. As they were still small, we took them out of the transport cages at the cargo centre to hold them on the journey back to Nyaru Menteng. The littlest one, Putut, drank well and sat quietly in the vet’s arms, and the older one was held by his caretaker from the Bali rescue centre. The entire journey he kept lunging at me for the opportunity to take a bite of my arm, just as a way of playing, but of course, it hurt. When we got out of the car, the caretaker handed him to me and he clung tightly, suddenly unsure of the change in surroundings. We ventured into the project, and as soon as we were amongst the trees he ripped himself away from me and took off climbing. He was climbing up and down trees with an almost frenzied urgency, using jumping down the last meter or so, then dashing to the next tree to climb that one
      and so on. And every time he came to the ground, he took a nip or two out of somebody’s ankles. We got him some warm milk and when he took the bottle, he was visibly quaking with over –excitement. He continued with this energy for about an hour, but it was becoming close to bedtime and it was clear he would have to spend the nights in a quarantine cage---he was just too boisterous for anything less. It took 4 people to get him into the cage, but once in, he settled down happily with a rice sack and some leafy branches, and tucked into his evening meal.

      Putut, being very small and quite poorly, has been sleeping in Lone’s house with 24 hour care from the babysitters. She has been running a fever and having stomach upset. The medical team are keeping a close eye on her.

      We had hoped to return Afri to the island, but it seems her throat sac infection has not entirely cleared up. We are also still keeping Rimba, with the same complaint, under observation. Today, Taruna also turned up with a throat sac infection. It has been an extremely wet and long rainy season this year, and the forest is flooded to a depth greater than I have ever seen it. This tends to contribute to a rise in incidents of throat sac infections, colds and flu’s, and fungal infections between toes and fingers, as well as malaria. So some 35-45 orangutans are being treated at any one time for any or all of the above ailments.

      Labin, an older orangutan, has had to be pulled from the island, as he has been not quite right for some time. The technicians have been trying to catch him for 2 months, but the water has been too deep, which means he could not be tranquilised, in case he fell in the water, and also the water was more than six feet deep which meant it was impossible to use a net. Finally, last week, they found him in the trees above an area that was only about 4 feet deep in water, and they were able to rescue him. He was brought to the clinic, where he stayed on IV for a few days. He is now eating and drinking again on his own, and we know he is starting to feel a bit better because he has tried to remove all the window frames from the clinic.

      The second BBC crew, with Michaela Strachen, has been focusing on Tip. Tip, you may recall, had a very bad start in life. When he was only very small, he and his mother were found starving in the cleared land slated for palm oil. The mother climbed the last remaining tree when the rescue team arrived, and for hours they tried to get a clear line of vision to her amongst the branches so that she could be tranquilised with the dart gun. The first couple of attempts missed her completely, as she always seemed to move just a second before the gun went off. The last dart was loaded, shot, and again she moved- this time the baby took the full dose of the tranquilizer. The situation became desperate. If they did not immediately rescue the orangutan and her baby, both would surely die of starvation within a day or two, and the baby needed medical intervention because of the potentially fatal dosage of tranquilizer he received. The team did the only thing they could—they cut
      down the tree. Unfortunately, the mother died in the fall, but the baby was still breathing.

      The team felt dreadful---their shot had hit the wrong target, through no fault of their own, and their last chance at rescue had proven fatal for the mother, but they had had no other choice. The orangutan would have surely died if they had not tried to rescue it.

      The baby’s eye was damaged in the incident, and he lay for days in a coma. There was very little hope. I have seen pictures of Tip when he was rescued, and I thought they were pictures of an already dead baby. He was skin and bones, with no colouring, no hair. Any creature in this condition should have been dead, but somehow Tip held on. One day he woke from the coma, and before long, he was well on his way to recovery. Today, Tip is both happy and healthy, and is in the last stage of Forest School One. He will soon graduate to Midway House.

      Today I woke at dawn to join Steve Leonard’s team in Midway School Two. We met the orangutans as they woke up in their night quarters (many had built nests and had stayed in the forest overnight), and went with them deep into the forest. This new forest area is somewhat new (bought for the smuggled Thai orangutans some time ago), and I had not yet ventured into it. I heard it was a little wet in there. Nothing could prepare me for precisely how wet!

      As one sets out into the forest, there is a system of narrow fallen branches and logs laid out to build a sort of bridge/walkway system. They lay anywhere between 10 cm and 1 metre below the surface of the water in most places, and were not fixed, which meant they rolled about underfoot. Some were floating, but when stepped upon, would sink into the swamp. The deeper one goes into the forest, and the more harrowing the journey becomes. The logs seemed to will themselves more and more slippery and rolling, and the swamp on either side became deeper and deeper. As there were usually 2 of these logs side by side (or thereabouts), one found oneself walking like Charlie Chaplin in slow motion, wishing one had prehensile toes like the orangutans who never fall off. No amount of concentration could overcome that particular evolutionary setback in the human foot, and invariably, one leg or the other, or both ended up no longer on the logs, but rather entrenched deep in the mud
      and tangle of roots and vines at the bottom of the swamp. After falling once, one loses one’s composure and confidence and tends to fall again, and in this case each misstep meant that much deeper into the swamp, until at last one found oneself up to the armpits in murky tea-coloured swamp water.

      Meanwhile 50 odd orangutans are making their way without the slightest hindrance, sweeping through the tree tops and occasionally knocking a person on the head in what seemed nothing less than a mocking gesture.

      After about an hour, we stopped. The orangutans were fed on the feeding platform and most took to the trees. We filmed for about 4 hours, all of us no less than knee deep in swamp water for the entire time, unless we climbed a tree. We got some amazing sequences for the programme, and Cantik and Cha Cha seemed to already know they had been chosen as the starlets. They made their way straight for Steve and held his hand and walked with him and generally showered all their attention on him.

      Off camera, it was a chance for me to meet up with some long lost friends, some whom I recognised instantly, and others I had to ask who they were. Longtime supporters of BOS UK will remember my tales of Martizen, Nambima, Dancow, and Sumo, amongst others. All of these came as small babies, and are now quite huge. Martizen did not know me when he saw me today, and demonstrated this by throwing sticks at me, waving branches and blowing raspberries. If I put my hand out to him, he ran away! But some hours later, he was intrigued by a game Sumo was playing with me which involved putting swamp water, leaves and algae into a bottle and pouring it onto me, and Martizen wanted a go. Funnily enough, Sumo let him, and the boys actually took turns making up the mixture and pouring it on me. (I was already so wet and muddy, I couldn’t care less!) Then Martizen grabbed my hand and stuck my thumb into his mouth just like he had done when he was a baby. And there he sat, peaceful and
      content, just sucking away gently on my thumb.

      Sumo, I must add, STILL has his fascination for boots and laces, and was able, with some determination and diligence, to undo the TRIPLE knot I had made in mine. (I suspect the algae had loosened it.) Nambima was just pure sweetness, not a harmful bone in her body. Dancow, one of the original Bandito Boys, has softened a little, but still has a devilish streak in him. He will come and hug me tightly and peer into my face and whimper if the boys try to take him away. I’d say, “It’s alright, he’s being quite calm and sweet,” and the boys would warn that he bites terribly. Dancow and I would sit nicely for a few minutes and then he would take my hand and crush it in his jaws. The boys would then guide him away, shaking their heads at me and Dancow whimpering to be allowed to come back to me. Which he did, for another cuddle, followed by another round of hand-crushing.

      Bim Bim had taught himself a good trick, which was to scoop up algae from the swamp and squeeze out the water into his mouth, the algae acting as a sponge to hold the water. When most of the water had been squeezed out he flicked the algae over at me. I guess I looked like I needed a bit more muck on me. But this was not enough to humiliate me in Bim Bim’s eyes. At one point, he reached into my trousers at the waist, caught hold of my underwear, and gave me a wedgie. He pulled so hard he tore the elastic band. A crew of 5 men remained unaware of what had just happened, as well as the dozen or so men working in the forest, but all I could think of was what to do with a broken pair of hot pink underwear. Do I pretend nothing has happened and then find it conspicuously floating around my ankle as I make my way back through the swamp? Do I remove it altogether, and if so, where? And what do I do with it?! A- ha! It’s elastic, I remember---it stretches! So I was able to
      stretch the elastic band long enough to tie a double knot to last until I got home (that was, so long as Sumo did not discover it).

      There were other highlights to the day, but you will have to wait for the series to come out---I can’t give it all away now.

      The journey back out of the forest seemed to take twice as long and I seemed to slip off the logs twice as many times. My legs were positively quaking when I got back on dry land, and at a few weeks before the big 4 –Oh, I was definitely feeling my age!

      On the trip back to have lunch, the crew debated whether we would go back into the forest again afterwards. I kept my mouth shut, but was secretly very pleased when they said they thought they had got enough forest shots for one day.


      PS. Photos should soon appear on the website (www.savetheorangutan.co.uk).

      Michelle Desilets
      BOS UK
      "Primates Helping Primates"

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