As the year draws to an end now and my favorite time of year is just around the corner; Christmas, I would just like to wish you all a very Merry Christmas. Many thanks to all the wonderful people I have met this year on my photo tours and trips. I really hope I’ve helped and inspired you all into seeing the wonderful and amazing world of wildlife that’s all around us.
Thank you all for your support during the last year, and I look forward to welcoming all my clients booked on my many trips for next year and one to ones.
This slideshow I hope inspires you to not only love nature but to spend as much time as you can among her beauty. Nature is and always will be a massive healer of the mind and body for me, my images capture what I saw my work and slideshows take each person on a journey of beauty I was privileged to see.
A major sign for me that the onset of Autumn and Winter is around the corner are the Spring Tides that happen around our coastline at this time of year symbolising the changing seasons, as we leave the Summer and enter into the lovely, warming colours of Autumn where the trees lose their coat of leaves, left exposed and bare to the elements, to the frosty Winter mornings, with the winter sunset proceeding over frozen landscapes where things take just that bit longer to awaken.
No where does this amazing spectacle happen better than on the North Norfolk coastline, an area that supports thousands of Waders, Geese, and other birds during our Autumn and Winter months.
A brief explanation of these Spring Tides is when the gravitational effects of the Sun and the Moon combine, resulting in these Spring Tides which have nothing to do with the season of spring. The term refers to the action of the seas springing out and then springing back. These are times of high high tides and low low tides. A spring tide occurs when the moon is in its second and fourth quarters, more commonly known as the new and full moon phases respectively.
You get them all year but their numbers are greater during our Autumn and Winter months resulting in this amazing experience, accompanied with the sights and sounds of nature you’ll never forget. I have spent the last three days there with clients who booked these Spring Tide/Barn Owl days I run.
Birds start to take off as the others wait on the ground for their turn to join their group and return to the sea. Peeling off , perfectly timed formations take to the air back to where they belong, the power and force can be felt as you sit in the hides. With the photograph above I wanted to convey this moment, a truly amazing site within our wonderful wildlife in this country.
Knot, Dunlin and other waders were arriving each day, their numbers increasing all the time forming their customary aerial flocks where they fly inches from each other, twisting and turning, a breathtaking site to witness. My clients captured some great images and have taken away valuable advice and tips, and techniques that I use and apply to my own photography, where I show and teach not only these but concentrate on fieldcraft, the habitat and the environment of the subject, reading what is happening around you.
All of these skills can be taken home by the client and applied to their own photography where hopefully over time they will help to increase and improve their overall photography skills, techniques and images, as this is the main aim of all the one to one/workshops that I do.
The weather during this time would be best described as a mixed bag, the sun broke through and rose in the east lighting up this beautiful yet bleak place on a couple of the mornings. We had a amazing sunset on some of the evenings, alot of the time though it was overcast but the clouds did clear after a few light showers. The light is amazing just after rain, where the atmosphere is cleansed and there is a clearer light perfect for taking photographs. The numbers of Oystercatchers were high where they like to form large flocks on the land, constantly calling with their piercing call.
I always say to clients that there is always a shot to be had so while we were waiting for the larger flocks I wanted to show and demonstrate the effect of using aslow shutter speed and what it can produce, where a sense of movement in the subject is frozen and captured giving the image a sense of impending movement. Adding a little drama to a photograph, as shown below with a flock of Knot altogether on the sandbanks. Freezing that movement, and adding movement to the image as well as making the most of the overcast conditions where the photographs look like they are taken in black and white.
There are so many different subjects to photograph on the Norfolk coastline that its a wildlife photographers dream in my eyes, and a great place to learn about these subjects and these amazing events by watching and capturing their behaviors, flight patterns and so fourth. Where all the birds are being pushed closer to the shoreline by the incoming spring tide, forcing them closer to the shore, landing, taking flight until the very last piece of land is submerged by the sea, all the time the birds fly around in vast numbers mostly for protection avoiding the raptors that work this stretch of coastline in large numbers looking for an easy meal.
It was a great few days for all my clients and I was really happy that they got some if not all of the shots that they wanted. We finished off each day at one of the many different Barn Owl sites I know in Norfolk. They weren’t disappointed with views of the female and male quartering and hunting for food. We also had a viewing of their young which was brilliant to see.
With the changing seasons, come changing wildlife, and throughout the Autumn/Winter period I will be running many different days capturing the stunning wildlife the UK has to offer during our shorter months. Mountain Hares in the Peak District, the only place outside of Scotland you can see them, Fallow and Red Deer rutting at two different sites, Whooper Swans start arriving to spend their Winters with us, these days are on the North-West Coast of the UK. Short-Eared Owls and Raptors on this coastline also. All these days and many more can be booked either through my one to ones or the workshops page seen here.
One of my clients, Steve Tucker has wrote a wonderful review I wanted to share with you. Hes a well schooled photographer in his own rights. I have had the pleasure of his company now twice and he’s had some wonderful images and encounters on both days. To read his review please click here.
I’d like to thank all my clients for your company over the last three days, its been great to show you the amazing wildlife and events that happen in this part of the UK. I will be running these Spring Tides/ Barn Owl days throughout the year so should you wish to find out more information on these amazing days or any other the other brilliant days I have mentioned here then please send me an email many thanks.
I have had a wonderful response to my talks since I added this recently to my website making it easier to book me for a talk. Have a look at the link if you wish to book me and I travel to anywhere throughout the UK to present my work. I go through how I work and my slideshows will inspire and show you the true beauty of the natural world around us.
One of my recent talks at the Natural History Museum in London can be seen below just giving you some idea what I show and go through hope you enjoy.
I’m available for talks covering a wide range of topics showing his beautiful images along with some moving music that is all geared to take you on a beautiful journey into the natural world. I have also been approached to talk aboard in Europe and further afield so if you live outside of the UK and wish to book me then check out the following link many thanks.
Over the last week I have revisited my Red Squirrel site in the North West coastal region of the UK. It was nice to be back as I hadn’t been back all year due to work. I managed to capture these most adorable mammals in better light, and capturing their cheeky nature. This whole area is managed by the wildlife trust who keeps an eye on the population of Red Squirrels that were almost wiped out 3 years ago. Numbers are slowly increasing with the hard work and dedication of the local trust and volunteers.
In this my third and last blog from my trip to Sumatra I will show you and go through a day I will never forget for as long as I walk this earth. These images have been held back until now due to national coverage over the last several days. The company that is tearing up this forest landscape is a member of the round table on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), an industry group which regulates certified sustainable palm oil according to a set of principles developed by palm oil companies.
These dramatic images have been released as evidence in time for the RSPO annual three-day conference in Singapore. Some of my images formed the evidence to support the case against this company. The following links will show you the full story- The Sun and the Daily Mail.
Orangutans are found exclusively in the forests of Sumatra and Borneo and are one of the most loved animals in the world. Yet at the hands of humans they have and are been slaughtered, reduced to a few thousand individuals, trapped and encircled by palm oil plantations. Orangutans are afforded the highest protection in law but sadly due to hunting and the pet trade along with habitat destruction many meet sad and horrific ends to their lives.
With their habitat being eroded weekly they often are seen moving at the edge of their forest, close to plantations and large open areas. In turn they become easy prey to poachers who can make huge earnings from the black market pet trade.
One of the shocking and direct consequences of this poaching is the death of the mother who is killed in the process of poaching a younger Orangutan. Shock for the baby is devastating and those that survive have a marked existence with so many crucial skills missing. Their lives of forests swapped for a life chained to a post or a cage that’s too small as they grow. Even writing this makes me sad for those Orangutans you see reduced to this life in books and on TV.
This situation is tolerated and considered normal in Sumatra and Borneo, keeping one of these guardians of the forest can elevate the social status of the person.
When they are rescued the road back to the wild is hard without their mother, this makes their independent survival almost impossible. I witnessed many rescued Orangutans during my time in Sumatra, my guide Darma knew everyone of them. Most have forgotten the pain they went through and forgiven their jailers but just hearing their individual stories sent shivers down my spine and filled me with such sadness.
From the moment we received the rescue call, the days plans changed instantly. I really didn’t know what was waiting for me, as we drove north to the providence of Ache. All I knew was that a mother and her baby were trapped, and we were heading in that direction as fast as will could. When we arrived all I saw was mile upon mile of this horrific landscape. Walking through a tattered landscape of barren red earth and alien palm oil trees, where once one of the finest rain forests in the world stood, is just impossible for me to describe. They take the best rain forest in the world and change it into a sole less landscape of palm oil within a matter of weeks, with brutal efficiency. Anything in its way gets crushed, killed and discarded.
It wasn’t until I arrived the following day that I witnessed such a shocking and inhospitable place. The wasted landscape surrounding me looked like something from a film set, it wasn’t real I said to myself. Surely humanity couldn’t do this to something so beautiful I asked myself. The colours of the palm oil crop tinted with the Orangutans blood within its deep red colours as shown in this image above.
Every way I faced and looked this landscape was looking back at me, somewhere at the base of this god forsaken land there was a tiny pocket of primary forest left. Inside were Sumatran Orangutans desperately clinging to life, encircled and cut off by palm trees. It was a site I just could’nt believe I was seeing.
There was little time for my thoughts as the HOCRU – (Human Orangutan Conflict Rescue Unit) team kicked in, led by a kind hearted man called Krishna who the night before we had all shared jokes and laughed over our evening meal. We all slept on the floor as the vet got his equipment ready for the following day.
Once we arrived the kit was checked and the vet loaded up the tranquilizers just before setting off to find the mother and baby Sumatran Orangutan. Looking around though it was unbelievable anything was living in this sad looking place.
Desperately they started searching for the mother and her baby Orangutan. HOCRU was created by Panut Hadisiswoyo, the Director of the Orangutan Information Centre –OIC. It was set up as a direct response to the Orangutans that get stranded along the east and northeast areas of Sumatra.
The team go through their well practiced drills and I’m desperate to help in anyway. I stand back and admire these young guys going off into this hostile landscape, with soaring heat and humidity which seems worse here with little or no tree cover to shelter in.
The landscape was tough, with vast steep sides where once forest grew, now just bare orange coloured mud, making our searching for these Orangutans torturous. A well worn track, in and out, curling like a corkscrew, visually showing you the path they took when they bled this land of its riches. A muddy, toxic-looking stream replacing the fresh water that had once flowed here.
At the base of this valley was the tattered remains of the original forest, supporting life in its minimal form. I stayed at the top as the team and their spotters had located the Orangutans. The shooter also stayed up high, hoping to get a clean shot with the tranquilizing dart. They communicated with each other well and soon word came back they had found another Orangutan there too. “It is a male” they shouted. He had joined the mother and baby here. There was just one problem! We only had one cage.
The next several hours I watched and listened to the guys making noises, mimicking the Orangutan to hopefully get her into a place where the shooter could get a clean hit. Its hard to explain as I write, I don’t really know the words to write and express how I felt watching this event unfold before me. I knew they were going to be cared for and moved but watching and hearing the Orangutans call and become so stressed that their fur stood on end is perhaps the most upsetting and emotional moment I’ve ever witnessed in nature. At times when I saw them I’d shout out loud “go down please, just let them dart you”. It was so upsetting it is beyond words.
Then from nowhere the mum and her baby came level with me. The image above shows her standing up on the highest branch, with the encircling palm oil trees seen as her backdrop, imprisoning them in this most shocking man made landscape. Mum and her baby were right in front of me. After a few fleeting looks at me she moved back into the remaining trees.
Then to my right another Orangutan stopped on a branch level with me. This must be the male I thought, he looked at me, his eyes going straight through me as he called and called. Heart breaking, so heartbreaking to see these peaceful animals so highly stressed, not understanding that we were there to rescue them, so that they could be in a better, safer place.
Putting the Orangutans through this is the very last resort for the HOCRU team and they try every other options before this. The male kept coming level with me as I was on higher ground, and he climbed to the highest point, surrounded by this broken landscape, each time giving me a distrusting look I’ll never forget. He was calling the female, as they had separated, looking out for each other even in tough testing times like this, putting a real human edge to the proceedings.
The male Orangutan disappeared and would be stressed from the event. It is believed that he is still in the area and hopefully the team will be able to track him so that he can be rescued also.
Soon the noises stopped and word had come back that they’d managed to dart the female. I managed to locate the team and when I arrived I could see them with the net spread out below her. Incredibly she was hanging on, I could see the dart in her body, her eyes looked over at us all and I could just sense she was hanging on to save her baby that was clinging to her. As it’s a mum’s most basic of instincts to protect their child.
That basic instinct a mum has to protect her child, fueling her to just hang on and not give into the tranquilizer. Heartbreaking is a word I’ll use a lot in this story but no other word really conveys what I witnessed. I was praying she’d just let go so they could receive help. But her will went on for around fifteen minutes. By this time it was almost too hard to watch, the team all the time moving and watching them just to make sure the net was in the right place, as she could fall at any time.
By now though you could see she was becoming slightly clumsy, missing branches that she was trying to hold onto. Then she went to just one arm, and then she just fell into the waiting net below.
The team scrambled up the steep hillside. Separation is a term these guys give when they take the baby away from the unconscious mother at the first available chance. I managed to capture that incredibly moving moment with this image, as the mother is carried off in the net she fell into, while one of the team give the signal to where they have to go.
I followed the team back to the top of this tough and testing landscape, by now my eyes were stinging and full of sweat dripping from my brow, the heat was just so intense and the humidity so bad I couldn’t cool down. By running behind the team up hill I created a little cold air on my face. It was just that hot.
Once at the top of the hill, the vet took over in a well drilled, well planned execution of their skills and also great passion to help and get the job done. They had around 40 minutes before the sedative wore off and good percentage of that the Orangutan had fought, hanging in the tree. Time was tight and the vet took blood, checked her teeth, bum area and general health. It was so sad to see but I knew these guys were helping her.
While I took this images the baby was being held by one of the team so that they can check over the mother. This is the safest way. All the time they were apart the baby struggled, trying to bite his handler and screaming. That scream I can here now, the tone went through you, the pitch could have broken a glass it was so high and shocking to hear.
I carried on taking images so that I could tell and capture this story no matter what. I had the mother looking straight at me with an indescribable emotional stare, and in the background the little baby screaming. The mother was slightly under weight but she was fine otherwise. The vet gave her the antidote which brings the Orangutan around by counter-acting the tranquilizer.
At that point fresh leaves were put in the cage we’d brought for her. She was placed inside the cage and the baby was reunited with his mother. I didn’t really truly take on broad what I’d just witnessed and been part of until after. At the time I was just on auto pilot.
I had a photograph taken with the team just before we left, an amazing bunch of young men, the last line of defence for the Sumatran Orangutans.
We loaded the mother and baby into the back of our vehicle then drove to the release site which is part of the national park. The cage is taken down a slope and tied off with rope and the slide door is slowly opened by the vet. It was amazing to see them both slowly appear, the mother climbed up with her baby and within a few minutes they had vanished into the dense forest. The team named the baby “Craig” after me which was a great honor and very touching. I hope he keeps that fight in his belly that he displayed when he was separated from his mother as this will stand him in good stead for the uncertain future that awaits these Sumatran Orangutans.
These guys do this week in, week out, rescuing stranded Sumatran Orangutans before they are either killed by the plantation staff or die through being cut off from the forests. It’s a shocking job but so important. The team at the moment know of around sixty other Sumatran Orangutans in this same position. Getting access, the correct paperwork and permission takes time.
The male they couldn’t rescue has not been seen yet. He is in my thoughts a lot as he came level with me in the tree canopy so many times, as you can see from the images I have shown above. I hope the team can find him. He saw the female and baby removed from this area which may have caused him so much anxiety that he may have moved on further putting himself at risk of being killed.
I have relived my two week trip to Sumatra extensively since my return within these blogs. Over the last few weeks I have visited this place in my dreams, through my images and talks I’ve presented. I wanted to get the whole story out into the public domain and now this last blog has been finished I feel better within myself. I wanted to give these Sumatran Orangutans a voice through my photographs and I hope I have achieved this. I’m only the photographer it’s the experts that need to save and change things in this part of the world.
I witnessed so much in Sumatra, it has been an emotional roller coaster with so many ups and downs, looking into an Orangutans eyes and seeing yourself in parts has filled me with so much joy at the same time sorrow. I have loved these enduring animals since childhood and now as an adult helping them is a blessing for me.
I have met locals, poachers, so many people just trying to survive with no help from the Indonesian government. I’ve listened, I’ve watched and had amazing behind the scenes access. One of the main things I kept hearing was that the government fails to protect the national parks, these areas that contain so many endangered flagship species of wildlife. The same government that hands out licensees to palm oil companies letting them play god with some of the richest forests on earth.
I visited schools, villages and watched with great delight the OIC team give out free books and presents films in order to educate them all into looking after, caring and keeping safe the wildlife of their country.
My Closing Thoughts –
Long term initiatives like reducing corruption, massive changes in management regimes and actions, long-term institutional change, as well as monitoring trade and prosecuting criminal behaviour will take to long to develop to an effective level to halt the immediate crisis. Without direct intervention in the national parks the Orangutans along with other forest-dependant wildlife- like the Sumatran Tigers and Elephants will become progressively scarcer until their populations are no longer viable.
Given the rate of deforestation in the past several years, and the recent widespread investment in oil palm plantation’s and bio diesel refineries, calculations suggest that 98% of lowland forest maybe destroyed by 2022. The incentive to log the protected areas will grow as timber companies run out of supplies outside of the parks, in turn they will start to degrade the national parks. These areas have to be protected and many times during my visit to Sumatra I heard and was told by locals that the government is letting everyone down by the lack of enforcement here.
There are some 2155 field rangers at the last count that patrol an area of 108,000km square. They have no access to helicopters, aeroplanes and necessary arms or military patrolling skills that would enable them to prevent illegal activity. Logging companies use bribes and are better armed and equipped than most rangers. If the rangers had the necessary training, communication, transport and arms then they’d be better placed to protect and prevent these illegal acts against the protected forests. They Indonesian government does have such a small force in the shape of their SPORC -rapid response ranger units. However their impact and presence is too small and they lack the mandate, training and equipment to prevent illegal loggers from operating inside the protected areas.
The removal of illegally grown plantations such as the one above, with mining and agricultural development inside the national parks is another major thing that needs to be implemented.
Reducing the rate of deforestation over Indonesia as a whole will also have a dramatic impact on the regional carbon dioxide emissions and thus help to prevent dangerous levels of global climate change. If the logging of national parks continues unchallenged it could under-mine the protected area concept worldwide. The Indonesian initiatives to strengthen the protection of their parks therefore urgently need substantial support from the international community if the Orangutan habitats and national parks are to be rescued from this growing state of emergency that’s happening there now.
I have really enjoyed my time in Sumatra and I would like to thank Helen from SOS, Panut from OIC and the rest of the people involved in helping me on this trip. I am returning next year to live and work alongside the Sumatran Orangutans again. I am also putting together an 8-9 day trip there for nature lovers and wildlife photographers. Where a percentage of your money from this trip will go directly to the Orangutan charities SOS and OIC. The trip will visit some of the projects and work I have mentioned in my previous blog posts.
This trip will show you what these guys are doing on the ground in Sumatra to save this special place. I will have more details for you shortly. The images I have donated to SOS will be available in their online shop soon. There will also be some limited edition prints coming out also, all the money raised going to this charity to help this beautiful creature survive.
One magical day I spent with the Sumatran Orangutans is covered in this slideshow below. I used a ION Air Pro Wi-Fi camera attached to my head to film some of the trekking scenes. The camera was kindly donated to SOS by Wex Photography. A massive thank you to them and soon I will be doing a blog covering this peace of kit and showing the stuff I captured in Sumatra with it.
Make sure you watch both slideshows in full HD for the best results.
I hope you all have enjoyed my Spotlight Sumatra blogs, the talks and the images. For me as a person it has been a dream come true to see these amazing animals in their own habitat. I will now build on the work, the images and continue to help the Sumatran Orangutan Society to highlight the plight of these animals.
After everything I’ve seen during my time in Sumatra there is still hope, a lot of great work is being done on the ground there by these two charities. I’d like to finish off my amazing journey on a real positive note with this short slideshow.
It seems strange I am leaving this place now through my blog, but I hope I have done these Orangutans proud, many thanks.
My two week adventure, two years in the planning to the Indonesian island of Sumatra has now ended and I’ve had a wonderful trip. A real rollercoaster of a journey both physical and emotional for me. The scale of the issues in Sumatra overwhelmed me from the moment I touched down until the time I left this island. Too read about them is one thing but to be there on the ground and see them for myself is another. I’ve had unprecedented access to the wonderful and tough work SOS/OIC staff are doing out in Sumatra during my time there.
To view this slideshow at full size then please click here
There are only couple of charities out there doing amazing work and I am convinced that without the pressure from these people on the ground in Sumatra alot more Orangutans and forest would have vanished by now. It’s to all of them I give thanks and also Helen from SOS who has helped me to get out there and work alongside the teams. A trip I will never forget and it’s been an honor for me as a person to see these truly beautiful animals we share so much of our DNA with. I only hope the world can act and save them before its too late.
I truly love wildlife that’s why I capture their beauty with my camera. I have seen things during my time in Sumatra that have upset and angered me, and my only way to help these voiceless animals is to show the world my images depicting what’s happening out there. I trekked 20km a day, I’ve climbed the rainforest trees, I’ve slept rough and washed in rainwater to be close to these amazing animals. I wanted to capture their beauty, their spirit and help them reach a wider audience through the wonderful people that are helping to keep them alive out there and around the world. My work will give them a voice, and in turn I truly hope their voices will be heard.
I have witnessed first hand the burning of land. The day before I left Sumatra I was taken to an area of primary forest inside the national park that has been cut down and burned. A westerner like myself, with a camera at such a sensitive site, could have meant trouble for me, should I have been compromised but it was my choice and my decision to see this place so I can show what is happening. A very, very moving experience for me, I couldn’t speak as I asked the person with me to take this image of a 300 year old tree just lying on the ground, plants upside down still clinging to the tree.
It’s easy to blame the palm oil but for me the blame lays with the government there, as they don’t protect the national parks and continue to grant logging licenses. They allow the vile palm plantations to grow and increase, destroying the rainforests. Never in all my life have I seen anything like this, I was moved to tears and all I wanted to do is help and go back into the jungles to see these guys. I’ve lived and slept rough, washed with rainwater, climbed up trees on ropes to gain a level viewpoint on them, joining the Orangutans in their world on their terms. I’ve sweated in the intense heat and humidity to photograph these amazing animals.
Sumatran Orangutans are afforded the highest protection in law, these species are classified as critically endangered by the world conservation union – IUCN, yet they are still killed, kidnapped, poached and shot at, trapped and hurt each day in Sumatra. They are in the way, their home of protected park is being eroded around the edges with illegal logging each week and the Indonesian government does nothing to protect them or their homes.
Orangutans are only found on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra. Their forest homes are encircled by the illegal logging and palm oil plantations. They are killed by farmers and poachers, while their babies are kidnapped and sold on the black market to become someone’s pet or trophy. Some of the Orangutans get saved and have a second chance to return to freedom.
Unlike the other great apes such as Gorillas and Chimpanzees, Orangutans are solitary animals. They live a peaceful life, moving through the jungles looking for food which mainly consists of fruit, young leaves and seeds, sometimes insects and termites. They are arboreal species which means they rarely come down to the ground from the safety of the trees. It’s not until you see, watch and witness them that you begin to see and realise it’s like watching yourself in a mirror. Their behaviours and the enduring characters are the spitting image of us.
This is where my amazing journey begins and over the next several weeks I will show you whats happening out there through my images, and will go through the adventures I had during my time in Sumatra.
After a long flight to Madan, the capital of Sumatra, I was met by Panut the top guy on the ground and founder of OIC, who has worked in Sumatran Orangutan conservation for over a decade. He took me to the head office in Medan and I met some of the team that would be accompanying me during my time there. I received a very warm welcome and had my first taste of the humidity in those first few hours which I learned later always hovers at around 70-80%. The easiest way for me to explain just how humid it was is to go run a bath, leave the room and then after ten minutes go back and open the door and that temperature is what it’s like in Sumatra, very hot and your clothes become soaking wet within minutes.
While meeting the team and enjoying my first cup of Sumatran coffee which is something the island is famous for. I had my first glimpse on this trip of a Sumatran Orangutan. It wasn’t what I was expecting and brought me to earth with a bang. The skeleton remains of a Sumatran Orangutan, all neatly packed into a box. It had formed evidence into a case that was never proved. The remains were exhumed from a village where locals claimed it had been accidentally shot with an air rifle and had been buried five years previously. It was found by the Human Orangutan Conflict Response Unit ( HOCRU) during one of their field surveys. The pellet can be seen behind the left eye and as I looked at the bones I just couldn’t help but think what a shocking and undignified end to this Orangutans life.
Soon after I said my goodbyes to the team at the office, I then headed off to my first location in the foothills of the Gunung Leuser National Park. After several hours of driving we reached Darmas house. He’s an amazing naturalist that has lived his whole life in this area. His knowledge and expertise would help me see these amazing Orangutans over the next several days which Darma had planned for me. I stayed in a simple hut surrounded by his crops of rice and other produce he grew to feed his family.
I couldn’t sleep that first night, the excitement was overwhelming. Hearing different noises and strange goings on around me with the wildlife, as I unpacked and got my gear and equipment ready for the mornings trek. What seemed liked ages was only a few hours as I woke at dawn, the sun bathing the tiny hut I was sleeping in with the warmth from its rays.
I had my first view of the landscape and it was amazing. To my front I had one of the active volcanoes on the island, a small trail of smoke just filling out from its brim. To my right I had the Gunung Leuser National Park, home to around six thousand Sumatran Orangutans and covering some one million hectares of land in size. The GLNP takes its name from the towering mountain of Mount Leuser.
This park together with Bukit Barisan Selaten and Kerinci Seblat National Parks form the tropical rainforest heritage of Sumatra UNESCO World Heritage Site. These areas are a rich, complex environment with a delicately balanced network of wildlife and plant life. The GLNP is the core of many endangered species remaining habitat, including the Sumatran Tiger, Sumatran Rhinoceros, Sumatran Elephant and the critically endangered Sumatran Orangutans.
We headed to the park that first morning, Darma got our permit and then we were inside one of the best rainforests habitat on the planet. Our plan was to trek and find Orangutans within this massive place. We also had Osman with us too, a trained climber carrying all the ropes and other equipment needed, which SOS had hired for me to help me to climb the trees. I wanted to try and capture the Orangutans on their terms giving me a feel for the way they live and not the other way around. The photograph below is of Darma looking for Orangutans.
During those two days I did manage to climb several trees, getting level with many Orangutans within this amazing place. All the time the heat and humidity was tough and my clothes were always soaked especially my shirts, as seen in this image that Darma took of me. I was photographing my first sighting during this trip, a female called Pesek. It was worth every single ounce of sweat and graft.
I managed to get level with her and a few others with my wide angled lens to show more of this amazing primary forest that they live amongst. Ever so often she would make a sound by kissing her lips together to communicate with her baby. I managed to get a few clean images of him as the vegetation was so dense most of the time and the angle in which I was shooting up was often not enough. His name is Wati and he is the son of Pesek. I have captured him here looking down at me and who knows what he was thinking here. To watch these animals is like looking into the mirror as they are so much like us, only 4% DNA separates them from us.
A few moments after these images were taken she took her baby deeper into the rainforest and out of view. We carried on walking deeper into the heart of this breathtaking rainforest. The noise and the smells all triggering my senses as I watched for any movements. Often we’d come across some of the largest trees in the world, bursting out from the forest and pointing directly up to the sun. The size of these amazing living specimens was unbelievable.
I wanted to climb this one but we didn’t have enough rope, which was shame. In the shadow of these majestic trees there were tiny, beautifully coloured flowers. Completely dwarfed but still growing in this amazing and diverse habitat. Their patterns, shapes and colours all amazingly beautiful in their own right, some attracting other wildlife. Its such an amazing ecosystem you can see how everything fits and works alongside each other in the interest of survival.
As we carried on trekking deeper into this amazing place we came across another Sumatra Orangutan, Darma told me her name was Sumu and she’s 38. She was rescued many years ago, chained up all day as she was kept as a pet. It’s a form of status to have one of these as a pet in Sumatra. She now lives free in Gunung Lesuer National Park, and is one of the lucky ones. She trusts people again now after her shocking start in life, as time as heeled the wounds of how she was treated as a pet. She has been given a second chance through the hard working of the guys on the ground in Sumatra.
She had a baby with her and was just watching and playing with the little one. It was like watching a mum and her baby back home, so beautiful and real, I just couldn’t put it into words. I just sat down and watched the marvellous and wonderful power of a mothers bond towards their child. all played out before me. Sometimes in nature things dont need any introductions, no explanations. A cold shiver came over me as I just sat and watched something so powerful, so gentle and so caring unfold amongst one of the most special places on the planet. Capturing those moments with my camera is what wildlife photography means to me.
My first day within the Gunung Leuser National Park came to an end and the light went so quickly inside the jungle. I just sat down for a few minutes and looked through a few images as I wanted to relive what I’d seen that day. Too often with wildlife photography you capture something and then something else comes up. Giving you no real time to see and look at what you were lucky to capture.
I slowly went back to my time with the Orangutans that day, while viewing my photographs, before Darma said lets go and we ventured back to the small hut I was going to be living in during my time with him. While his wife prepared me a plate of rice, fish and other wonderful food. I had a shower with rainwater collected in a large tub, using a small cup to throw the water over you as you washed. I was exhausted and this heat and humidly had drained me on that first day trekking. We covered around 20km and with my kit weighing around 30kilos it was tough but worth every single once of sweat.
Even though the water took my breath away, as I threw it all over me, it worked and really woke me up. Twenty minutes later I was washed and brushed ready for my evening meal and fuel for the following days trekking. I soon went to bed after a lovely meal. All my gear had been cleaned, dried and prepared for the following day and with my images all backed up the morning couldn’t come quicker enough for me.
As the dawn broke we were already inside the Gunung Leuser National Park on the trail on the Orangutans. I’d been lucky so far as we hadn’t had much rain, with just dry conditions and sunshine with temperatures around 36c and the humidity around 75%. Once you enter the jungle the light almost disappears in the early morning. Amazing to see and hear the different array of bird life, insects and other wildlife calling and making their mark as the sun rose. We headed deeper and deeper into the jungle giving you a feeling that she was just swallowing you up.
The going was tough, with hilly terrain in places almost 70 degrees straight upwards to gain a vantage point in which to see and listen out for the Orangutans. They build nests each night and sometimes they are late risers so we were ideally placed for them to be waking up now as we were deep inside the jungle as the light increased with the rising sun.
We could hear and see some movement in the trees so we put up a quick rope set up, and I climbed up around 30 feet to become as level as I could with a female Sumatran Orangutan. I only managed a few images before she moved and here is one of my favourites. The primary forest can be seen in the background as she moves from one tree to another.
I’d been really lucky so far as I had seen all the Orangutans in their natural habitat. I had also visited a place in which the rangers put food out for them. This helps people who have travelled to have a better chance of seeing these amazing animals. On the second day we passed through this place and it was very touristy. Although its a good way for the park to monitor some of the rescued Orangutans who have been released back into the wild.
Alot of Sumatran Orangutans in this area have been given a second chance with many never visiting this area again, but there are some that do for the easy food on offer. They put out bananas and the Orangutans come, clean up and then vanish as quickly as they came. It helps them see if they are alright and also gives the people a chance to see what they may have travelled thousands of miles for, to see a Sumatran Orangutan. I preferred the rain forest so after a short stop at this site we then carried on trekking.
Before we left the park on that second day we had another chance encounter with Suma but this time her baby just climbed up and over the top of us and looked down at me for a few seconds. This image captured that wonderful moment when a baby Sumatran Orangutan, the future of the species, had a look at me before venturing back to mum. Those two days in the national park were magical. I’d seen our closest living relative and watched them. As the day drew to an end I had some time back at my small hut to reflect on the those days before, backing up my images and heading for my evening meal with Darma and his family.
The next day Darma took me to a place right on the edge of the national park he calls ‘the block’. It does have a proper name but to those working for the chairty out there and for the purpose of this blog and the welfair of the Orangutans I will just call it ‘the block’. Its an area of forest and rocky out crops encircled with rubber and palm oil plantations. Up until around a month ago there were 17 Sumatran Orangutans living there but recently that number has increased to 18 with the birth of a baby.
These Orangutans live in an area that’s almost cut off, apart from a few corridor of trees that have been planted by friendly farmers that have tried to look after this population since it was first found in 1974. Darma himself owns a small piece of land here and regularly plants trees to increase those corridors for the Orangutans to move around in and not become completely trapped within this small area on the fringes of the national park.
A river separates the national park and this area so the Orangutans are unable to return to the park as they hate water. He told me that most of the farmers tolerate the Orangutans and help them rather than shooting or killing them which is common practise by farmers throughout Sumatra, as Orangutans offen raid their crops, and in some cases take their livelihoods away.
During my time in this area I witnessed several Sumatran Orangutans. Each one reacted very differently to my presence. A mother and baby were very shy and hardly showed themselves as they sat in a tall fruit tree. Hear through the vegetation I managed to catch a tender moment when mum gave her baby a kiss to the head. Soon after they moved from this tree back into the safety of the block.
The second sighting was a wonderful experience as I had come across a male who was trying to romance a female Orangutan. He was calling, kissing his lips and generally trying desperately to win her approval with his show of strength and antics. I felt so lucky to even see these apes let alone be part of their courtship, or the build up as least.
The female can be seen below. Most of the time she just sat on what seemed a favourite and well worn tree of hers.
The male tried in vain to come close on a number of occasions, showing outwardly displays of affection towards her with kisses and tender touches. I switched to video mode on my camera and made a few short films of this amazing behaviour that will form part of my future presentations on these amazing and enduring creatures. It is truly like watching ourselves when you spend time with these beautiful animals.
My last sighting on that day was of a female Sumatran Orangutan with a baby hidden beneath her arms. She paused here for a split second having seen me, I sensed her unease at my presence. It wasn’t until I
looked through the viewfinder that I could see she only had one eye. As I took a couple of photos I was saying to myself “you’re alright I’m not going to hurt you”, silly I know but I could see that she was jumpy as I had caught her out here. She was scared, fearful of another attack maybe. My long lens could of also looked like a long gun which added to her nervousness.
She moved soon after, disappearing back into the rocky part of this area where they are safe for the moment. Once I reviewed the image I showed it to the vet and he told me it’s probably through being shot, he then saw another pellet under her right eye, embedded into her skin, which confirmed she had lost her eye through being shot, probably by a farmer who had taken the land she once lived and hunted in.
I just sat and zoomed in, and this image for me sums up just how these amazing and enduring animals are treated by those that see them as a problem or a pest in Sumatra. How we as humans can do this to another living creature is beyond comprehension for me. As that third and final day drew to an end I was full of emotion, angered at how these animals are viewed and treated. I just couldn’t believe that they are truly on the verge of complete extinction at the hands of man.
As I spent that last night with Darma and his family I couldn’t help but relive some of the images I’d seen over the wonderful time that I’d spent with this man, in one of the most beautiful and diverse habitats anywhere in the world. I was being picked up in the morning by a member of the team to be taken to another place to see and photograph the project first hand. As dawn broke I was up and after that last three mornings of routine I had a bit of a lie in that day, to recharge the batteries and pack ready for the long drive.
I said my goodbyes and told Darma I’d be seeing him again next year as his knowledge and passion for the Orangutans is infectious. On the way to my next destination my driver received a call and our plans had changed. We headed north to the Aceh province of Sumatra. A female Sumatran Orangutan was trapped and encircled by palm oil and the plan was to rescue her and her baby and release them back into the National Park. What happened over those next two days really moved me, this next part of my trip will be covered in my second blog and some of the images are very moving and brought me to tears.
My first week had been an amazing adventure, all of my Sumatran Orangutan images wouldn’t have been possible without Darma, his knowledge and his understanding of these great apes was just amazing. I’d like to thank him and his family for looking after me. I raised the money for my own flights for this trip and other costs and I’m already saving for my return next year as I have made a firm long term commitment to these Orangutans and SOS, the charity that I’m helping and supporting with my work. I want to try and help to highlight what is going on out there with my images and talks. To show the world what we might lose if current trends of de-forestation carry on.
There are a number of talks coming up towards the end of October – Spotlight Sumatra. I will be presenting a number of presentations and talks alongside Panut who I had the pleasure of spending time with in Sumatra. He has worked in Orangutan Conservation for over a decade and has a dedicated team in Sumatra all doing their best for this great ape. For more details of these talks then please click here. I will doing one on Thursday 25th October at the Natural History Museum in London as part of their Nature Live talks. You can see this by clicking here.
Then on Friday 26th October starting at 7pm I will be at Chester Zoo, Russell Allan Lecture Theatre doing my presentation along with the team from SOS/OIC. The zoo has an amazing record of success with Sumatran animals and does alot of great work for the Orangutans. If you have time then please come along to one of these or the other talks we have planned many thanks.
My blog will be a little quiet over the next two weeks as I venture off to the island of Sumatra. What a waits me is a chance to see and photograph one of the last frontiers of rainforest habitat anywhere in the world, the only place left in the world where wild Tigers, Rhinos, Elephants and Orangutans live alongside each other.
Spotlight Sumatra is an idea which has been around for almost two years. No script and nothing pre-planned as such, it’s just me and my guides trekking through the jungle and hoping to capture critically endangered Sumatran Orangutans that are hanging onto life there. Fingers crossed I will be also going out on rescues, as currently SOS staff know of many stranded Orangutans either kept as pets or cut off, surrounded by a sea of bare, burnt land or palm plantations. They need to be moved and this involves staff darting them and then moving them to safety. Such important work to safeguard these guardians of the rainforests. One happy ending can be seen here.
I will be seeing at first hand the work that the charity along with many others are doing out there. I will be presenting some slideshows in their ‘cycle powered’ cinema too, showing the locals wildlife outside of Sumatra. Also showing the people that the world cares and is watching the fate of their country and wildlife. I will be updating SOS back in the UK when and where I can while on this amazing adventure. Their blog can be seen here. There will be a few talks planned also in late October- showing you these amazing animals and Sumatra. For more news on this then please keep checking on SOS’s website.
My simple aim is to hopefully give the Sumatran Orangutans a voice through my images. I hope to capture some amazing images and see the variety of wildlife that lives on the ‘Isle of Gold’ that Sumatra was once known as in ancient times. I hope I can do them proud!