I’ve just returned for an amazing private viewing and auction evening in London as the Green Party unveiled its first ever large scale art exhibition at the Hoxton Arches gallery in London. It featured works donated by 50 green-minded artists ranging from household names in contemporary art to exciting up and coming street artists and everything in between.
In Decembers issue of Wild Planet magazine that is out now and I’m pleased to say my fourth article for this wonderful magazine covers the work of Orangutan Information Centre and their rescue team, HOCRU. I have shadowed this team now twice and seen firsthand their amazing work to save Sumatran Orangutans cut off from the rainforest living in fragmented forest surrounded by palm oil plantations, also confiscating them from the illegal pet trade.
Firstly I’d like to update those that follow my blog on the young female Sumatran Orangutan being held as a pet I covered in my first blog. Over the last week I have been informed by email thatshe has now been rescued which has made me very happy and her path back to the wild begins now which is wonderful. The full story of her rescue and how shes doing now can be read on this link.
The following blog tries to cover my last days on the island of Sumatra.
This day I had been dreading from the moment Id seen it on my itinerary. I’d joked about it to those that had asked me all week. Knowing the reasons I had been asked though I really wanted to help. As it got closer my bad jokes increased and my nervous laughter hid my fear of going. The place- MEDAN ZOO
The reason I went is sensitive at the moment but will be disclosed soon, so I cant say nothing yet. From the time I was dropped off until I left the zoo some several hours later I felt I was in a bad dream. that I’d gone back in time to the Victorian freak shows. I went alone, pretended I was a tourist with a camera. I cant remember the last time I voluntarily went inside a zoo and paid.
I paid my money, went through the front gate and the police and security where there, they said “Hi Mr” a common opening line. They wanted me to pose for photos with them so I did. Playing dumb and smiling back at what they were saying. I wanted to get into this place now. I stood on the front looking in, their voices and cameras going off as they posed with me, and shaking my hand after.
Seconds later I was in, I went to the toilet a stinking room with a hole in the ground. I got out my camera equipment and made it ready for whatever I was going to seeing with the smell of strong urine around me. Two cameras. two lens were the weapons of choice and what I was going to use to do what was asked of me and anything else that came. I had no idea what awaited me at that point.
Feet from the gate were three cages with different birds in, the last cage held three Black Cocktails, beautiful looking birds. As I walked past their cage I stopped and looked into their cage. One male and two females, one female showing the signs of stress with scars and feathers missing, their calls and small cages upset me, I took a few photos and moved on. Not long after I came across the mission as I will call it, I spent a good hour or so there photographing an creature that’s half-blind and living in great distress. The charities are trying to get him released so while this is going on I cant say anything but I will once the campaign is up and running.
I then went to the Tiger enclosure, I was looking for the Tiger keeper, I was told to ask for a “Mr Fixit” and I found him a young man, wearing a white t-shirt hanging around the Tiger enclosure. I was able to see areas the public cant if i paid him money. I nodded and he opened a small gate and to my left were small cages. I soon heard the booming roar of a Bengal Tiger echoing through the place. I had been told there were 12 Tigers – 8 Sumatran Tigers ( 4 cubs) and 4 Bengal Tigers. The zoo is tiny and when I first heard this I couldn’t believe the number. Once I had been let through the small gate I saw the cages all lined up on my left, painted green and yellow.
The roars of different Tigers rang out, I was left to take photos as the keeper went off somewhere. I worked my way down slowly moving from each cage. I didn’t know how long I had. I first came across 4 Sumatran Tigers in a small cage, as soon as I saw them they let out a very aggressive “hiss” a warning dont come any closer. What struck me was how tiny the cage was.
Next to them were two adult Sumatran Tigers, brothers I was told. Following each other around the smallest cage you could imagine. There was an outside part but it was closed. The temperature was around 36c and they were panting really heavy and if they made eye contact with me they would come straight at the cage and jump up.
Next to them was a male Sumatran Tiger with his female partner outside and she was unable to get inside. He was angry, real angry I only had to look at him and he came straight at me with only the cage between us.
Then behind me I noticed the keeper had come back and he had a small family with him, a woman with a young baby and the husband. They went to my right and he went and opened a cage up, then I saw a white Tiger being dragged out on a lead. For the next 10 minutes I watched as the family posed with this baby Bengal Tiger for photos, smiling and posing. I have to say I don’t know how I took these photos you see below without putting down my camera and doing something. The keeper then dragged the cub back to the cage and he showed the people back out. I then went to that cage I found 3 Bengal Tiger cubs one was lighter in colour. He was the one I saw dragged out.
I sat down, I could hear their father roaring, his call was booming, I took a few images and then moved to the next cage where I saw the biggest Tiger I have ever seen. A male Bengal Tiger that filled his cage, walking around, panting and roaring. Stopping a few times to lick the water on the floor as there was no bowl of water. I couldn’t see where the water was coming from.
He kept roaring and I made a small video, its so upsetting to watch. Again I took some photos, I dont no how, I had my mirrored sunglasses on should the keeper come back. They hid the tears in my eyes at what I had seen, as I looked at this Bengal Tiger go round and round and round, then stop, lick the floor then carry on. It was shocking truly shocking to watch.
The keeper came back and I had to leave, he told me it was 20,000 Indonesian rupiah, I didn’t want to gave him this because I was supporting his actions by doing this. I’m still angry at myself for giving him this money to go “behind the scenes” I truly am. He charged people for access and also the photos, I didn’t have any photos with that cub, I declined when he asked. How I didn’t put my camera down, pick him up and throw him into the Tigers cage I don’t know- “Play dumb craig, don’t get mad” I keep saying to myself as I let this dirty piece of scum take money from me and herd me around.
I then walked back to the main gate, I put my cameras away, dumb, emotionless, I wanted to get out of this hell and made my way to the main entrance. I was then picked up and driven back to where I was staying and I never spoke, numb with what I had just witnessed with my own eyes. I cant believe this is going on and places like this are allowed to even be open let alone have so many rare and endangered animals in such a small place.
The images below appear in the order I saw them and I hope they show you this hell hole, a true hell hole. I can’t summoned anymore words so I will leave these images of one of the worst places I have had the misfortune of ever visiting and seeing. There are also two short videos showing the conditions of the Sumatran Tigers and the lone male Bengal Tiger.
Am I sorry I went? No, I went for a reason and I unearthed a place that needs demolishing brick by brick its so bad. I take photos of wildlife because I love wildlife, here I was photographing pure suffering and it was tough, real tough. How can we do this to animals? How can owners, directors of zoos do this? where are the laws in place to protect such abuse?.
The next day I set off to spend time in the jungles of the Gunung Leuser National Park with Darma my friend and guide. I haven’t seen him since September 2012 when I spent 4-5 days in the jungle with him, so it was nice to see him and catch up before our trek to find Sumatran Orangutans in the wild. It was beautiful to be back in the jungles, the noises and smells are just amazing. After the previous days I needed this to balance everything out in my head that I had seen. Seeing the great sadness of animals takes its toll on you after the event and I had began to feel this inside so it was great to be back in the jungles with Darma.
Every now and again while trekking we’d hear something behind us, it wasn’t from the trees because we were listening and watching for the Orangutans but it kept coming from ground level. So we stopped, on this path, I took my gear off, and I picked up my camera and waited to see what came around the small blind bend behind us.
Soon we found what the noise was, a loan Long-tailed Macaque slowly walking on the ground, no troop with him, completely alone with a few scars and bite marks on his body. Most probably ousted from a troop and alone now. As I was taking this photo Darma got my second camera and took this you can just see him on the path. He made me laugh, with his bold advances.
He followed us for a good 30 minutes or so each time we stopped he stopped it was funny and made me laugh. They can be aggressive too so just best to leave them be as we did and he soon vanished into the forest. I felt a bit sorry for him alone but Im sure he’ll find a troop to join again. Soon we were in the middle of one of the best rainforests in the world and the following are some of my favorite images, I managed to get of these wild Sumatran Orangutans during the time I spent with Darma.
After some amazing encounters in the jungles the time had come where I had to leave Darma and head back to the team. I was sorry to leave him and the forests and Orangutans, I truly was. I spent the next three days in the field with the HOCRU rescue team from OIC, searching and monitoring areas for Sumatran Orangutans. Very interesting to see how they track and try to read the signs that there were or had been Orangutans around. I also saw one of their techniques to move on or scare any Sumatran Orangutans they come across that is in an area they shouldn’t be or are isolated.
They use a bamboo canon and the noises made scares the orangutans and moves them on, If that fails then the last resort is to dart them and move them to a safer place. But I was told the noise works in most cases. Its made up of a metal tube and a small can welded on and a gap for oxygen to get inside. They call them Bamboo canon because they teach local farmers to make them out of bamboo and also to train them using these. Carbite, small stones, water and oxygen ignites the “gas” given off, it then makes a small charge and loud bang.
During this time I spent the nights in one of the teams house- Rudi. A kind family man who introduced me to his family, they lived in a small village not far from where we were searching. All the houses are made of wood with very simple amenities, children play happy in the alleyways and everyone is proud and very friendly. We slept on the floor and I was made very welcome.
We don’t no how lucky we are back home, people here live happy, simple lives with very little but each other, very enduring to witness. OIC has a network of locals that help them all over Sumatra so once night falls their team can sleep on the floor and have a meal that night. Then the next day continue with their work, its what we did for the first week or so of my trip.
Once my time had come to an end in the field I then headed to spend the time with the CRU team in Tangkahan. They patrol the nearby forest with rescued and ex captive Sumatran Elephants that have all been trained to form part of the anti-poaching patrols into the national park. Each month they do several patrols into the jungle and do vital work. When not patrolling the public can wash them in the river and take photos and so forth which generates an income and an awareness of their importance in Sumatra.
Something very peaceful about Elephants when you’re near them, powerful, massive animals yet so gentle and beautiful. A female Sumatran Elephant took a shine to me,so I joined her in the river. A wonderful moment to be so close to such a massive animal, she splashed me and lay on her side as I took photos of her. I asked her keeper what was her story. He told me she was 27, and was held captive by a policeman for 15 years, then rescued and now she’s part of this CRU team.
She was beautiful as she splashed me and displayed in front of me in the water. Once they are all washed they are led away by the keepers and kept in an enclosure with an electric fence and are looked after very well I have to say. Shame they aren’t in the wild but their lives didn’t work out to well but at least they are safe and alive.
There are fewer than 2000 in the wild and I have been lucky enough in the past to hear them call in the jungle but never seen truly wild ones. This perhaps will be the closest I will ever get to one in Sumatra which is very sad really. Another animal on this wonderful island under great pressure from poachers and deforestation. More information about these Elephants can be seen on the following link .
On my last full day and night in Sumatra I went undercover, photographing other primates and animal markets in Medan. Posing as a tourist with an interest in certain animals. Just my camera and someone to take me to these places. Sumatra has many animals that are protected, most are crucially endangered. One such primate is the Siamang, they are endangered. But sadly nothing and I mean nothing is done to enforce the law to protect them. In Sumatra there are thousands of primates and other animals being held in such conditions and nothing is done.
When I went to this place I gained access by pretending to be interested in Siamangs. Once inside I looked around to see how many people were there, I identified one male and female, and I tired to work out what was the feeling of me being there etc and an escape path should it go wrong. To my left I saw this piece of metal which was a sort of cage. As I got closer and I saw a face peer back at me from the darkness, it made me jump. Then the loudest call you ever heard rang out.
The person I was with asked about the Siamang and she was 8 years old and had spent that whole time in this cage from the wild. The room smelt of urine and it was so, so sad. Playing an interested tourist while filming and taking photos was so hard for me, I almost couldnt take photos it was so shocking and sad. The problem is there is nowhere for these Siamangs to be released too. Through my work over the last several years you have all seen just how hard it is for the Sumatran orangutan let alone any other primates.
She was terrified to see me and these images show that piece of metal that has been her prison for 8 years. Sitting in darkness, coming from the shadows to see who I was. Something so wrong about how animals and birds are kept in Sumatra. With the following photos I wanted to try and make her look beautiful, she may never have had her photo taken. I hope you see her beauty as I did in these images because somewhere in that tangled mess of metal, a living being lives.
After here I went to a market but it was too dangerous for a Westerner with a camera so I went to a smaller one and saw rare birds, and other animals in tiny cages, only feet away from busy roads. Soon after I took a few photos I was told no more by locals wanting me to move on. People don’t want you to see anything. The cruelty and suffering was everywhere to see and heartbreaking to it really was.
Very little has changed since I first began coming to Sumatra several years ago now apart from the care and rescuing of these great apes. Forests are still cut down illegally, encroachment into protected areas still happens, this happened while I was there and the images below captured this. Burnt, smashed forests flattered and nothing is done to protect it as locals steel land day by day illegally. Among all this destruction plants and flowers still grow though. Natures defiant act to those killing the soil with their selfish actions.
Habitat loss is still happening at an alarming rate, forests to release rescued or rehabilitated Sumatran Orangutans is running out. A viable wild population of Sumatran Orangutans cant just come from confiscated or ex pet trade Sumatran Orangutans who are taken from their mums, who are killed in the act. You have to save the wild Orangutans habitat and rescue those stranded and cut off from the forests to have a truly wild, viable population of these great apes for the future. Empowering and working with local people to protect and save their natural resource which in turn keeps alive all the wildlife there.
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 behavior will take too 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-dependent 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 destroy 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. The 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, mining and agricultural development inside the national parks is another major issue that needs addressing.
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 initiative is to strengthen the protection of their parks therefore they 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.
Two weeks of pain and hurt, I’ve seen things that have truly brought me to tears and upset me. Cruelty towards animals you wouldn’t believe that angered me, and still weeks after my return trouble me inside. How the members of the rescue team do this week in and week out is something we should all be very proud of. When something is so wrong and so corrupt that everything you do is tainted and against you how do you go on? Well these guys do.
My aim with my two week trip shadowing the rescue team was to show what work they do and how they battle not only against the illegal trade in Sumatran Orangutans but the lack of real guts on the ground to enforce the laws laid out now by the various international laws that Indonesian have agreed to many times in the past.
Thank you to everyone in Sumatra, and around the world that help to keep these great apes alive. Thank you Panut and your team for looking after me once more, great people doing remarkable work. Thank you to the HOCRU rescue team from OIC for the laughs and for your determination in helping to keep the Sumatran Orangutans alive. When you are threatened or bullied for your work in helping/rescuing these Sumatran Orangutans remember the whole world is behind you and those cowardly people that have to cage and hurt animals don’t stand for good they stand for evil and are weak to the core. That weakness makes them vulnerable, see this and you have nothing to fear. Respect to you all, take care.
Sumatra, the remote, Indonesian island where I was shadowing the rescue team –HOCRU from the Orangutan Information Centre- OIC. during the two weeks there. The last time I worked with these guys was just before the Spotlight Sumatra exhibition in London, which was an amazing success.
As soon as I arrived in Medan the capital of Sumatra I was picked up by Panut and we headed over to the HQ of OIC. We went through a very loose plan for my trip because nothing is promised or can be planned with regard to the rescues of Sumatran Orangutans that find themselves cut off, surrounded on all sides with conflict palm oil. This rescue team was set up by Panut as a direct response to these conditions these crucially endangered orangutans face on Sumatra each and everyday.
With the preparation, travelling and release there is alot of time involved with each rescue so during the two weeks I rarely had any free time. My aim by shadowing these guys is to show the world what they do and how etc. This is the only rescue team on the island of Sumatra, something when I say it still surprises me because the scale of the problems in Sumatra with Sumatran Orangutans are massive.
After spending the night travelling we reached the house in which we were to spend the night ready for the following morning when we were to meet with the forest police force and then go and rescue this orangutan. OIC has a network of local people that help them, and they also put the team up whenever they can, looking after them.
On the morning of the raid we were up early, I dont sleep well when Im getting ready for something so I was up way before the rescue team from Orangutan Information Centre. We had some breakfast, a team talk from the director of OIC- Panut and we set off. All I knew was a young Sumatran Orangutan was being held as a pet and that we could gain access into the courtyard at a certain time and with the help of the local/forest department police we would rescue her.
On the way I got my cameras ready, settings and lens chosen, once we arrived we parked up we entered the small courtyard and to my left I saw a tiny cage with a Sumatran Orangutan slumped on the floor. The smell of urine was really bad as this tiny head lifted up and made eye contact with us. In the background I saw the owner come a man around 45-50 average build and he was talking to the police and team as I lay level with her and spoke to her. She was banging her body into the cage, perhaps excited there were new people in the yard. I’d like to think for those brief moments she came alive and was happy as I was saying “you’re okay now you will be free in a minute so relax”.
Then the tone and tempo changed and the man was standing in front of me talking loudly in Indonesian and waving his arm with a pointed finger. I ignored him and carried on taking images of the young female.Then I heard ” Craig… we have to go he wants us to leave” I was puzzled and said very little. Once back in the car I was told the police got scared, didnt want to take the orangutan or apply the “Law” that they have the power to do. The man holding the Orangutan told them he was an ex-Aceh rebel and was part of the mafia in that area and that if the orangutan was taken we would all disappear.
A common problem I have come across in Sumatra, fear, intimidation, corruption, bribes, money and a total lack of willingness to apply the rules the world have applied to these critically endangered animals. OIC dont have the powers of arrest, they depend on the police to help them and have to pay them for their time, petrol and any other costs. Those we met on that morning came in civilian dress, weren’t wearing their uniform and had little interest in their work or helping the orangutan. Soon after they dropped their invoice off to Paunt though for prompt payment.
The helpless task of saving Sumatran orangutans is made so much harder by the corruption there and to this day I am told this female is still being held illegally. She was estimated to be 6 years old and the children there told the team they had had her a number of years. This tiny small cage has been home for years and it was very troubling and upsetting to see. Efforts to gain her freedom continue, these images show just what a tough and emotional job these guys have and even when everything is on their side things still don’t go their way.
I’d like to think for a few moments her life changed as we were there, she woke, took food from Paunt and begin moving around her tiny cage. Leaving her behind troubles me to this day. This was as close to the frontline as you can get , in the yard of a mafia mans home seeing the results of the illegal pet trade close up for myself. The following images visualize what we saw on that morning I hope, and are dedicated to that Sumatran Orangutan.
We then headed back to the locals house to eat and rest for the next day as the plan was to locate the female and her baby and fingers crossed rescue her. Again we woke early, got our gear together and set off for the area in which the reports had come into the team of her presence. A number of locals were helping to locate her so when we arrived the team knew roughly the area. I watched as Ricko the vet and the rest of the team put into practice a well drilled operation they have gone through many times.It was then just a matter then of waiting, watching, listening and fingers crossed we’d find her.
The shout came back and I followed Ricko the vet, walking through the fragmented forest, we came across several trees and it was then I first saw her. The marksman had already darted her and soon after she fell into the large net held out and open below her by the whole of the HOCRO team as well as some locals. In a matter of minutes I heard a loud crash and she and the baby fell from the trees and landed safely into the net. The team took her to a safe area so they could do their vital checks.
When you see these beautiful animals up close you are always struck by their size and colour. It is amazing to be so close to one and I remember my first rescue with this team back in September 2012. Once in a safe place the baby was taken from the mum in order for the check to be carried out. A member of the team got the baby and walked off very carefully so as not to stress the baby any further. Then the vet, Ricko checked the female, inserted a microchip, checked for any injuries, state of heath and so on.
Once this was done the team carried her to the rescue truck and reunited mother and baby as they placed them both in the cage that was to take them to a safer part of the national park and a second chance of life. We then drove an hour or so to the release site where we had to cross,shoulder deep a river to reach the safe part of the national park.
It was great to witness all this and the end result once the team lifted the door of the cage and slowly she came out along with her baby and climbed the first tree she saw. Just wonderful to witness and see and it was a great day for the team and these two Sumatran Orangutans. We then crossed the river once more which I must say was so refreshing as the temperatures in Sumatra at this time of year is a blistering 36-38 degrees and the humidity levels are very high so you’re always wet anyway.
Once back to our base in Aceh we washed off and relaxed for a while before the 10-12 hour drive south back to the HQ of OIC in Medan. The driving and planning like I say often takes many hours if not days so even though a rescue itself is short its the before, after and traveling that makes the hours flyby.
Once we got back to the headquarters of OIC in Medan a long 12 hour drive the HOCRU team cleaned and packed away the kit and headed home. Some had been away from their families for nearly ten days so everyone was looking forward to the rest and time with loved ones. I cleaned all my camera equipment and charged batteries and backed up my images and did some editing of the rescue images to send back to the UK for SOS– Sumatran Orangutan Society. That night I slept at Panuts house and met his lovely family, wife, and two young children, one boy and one girl. The following day I woke and had breakfast and then headed to the office with Panut and carried on doing some editing to get the images back to Helen, the director of SOS. The news was breaking back in the UK and many sites carried the story and images – EIA– SOS.
That afternoon though everything changed, the team had a call to let them know a male Sumatran Orangutan had become trapped in land just outside a palm oil plantation. After several calls the team were called in from their homes and we all gathered our gear and headed north once more to the province of Aceh. All we knew again was their was a male there that had wandered into land where locals were working and they had become scared.
OIC has posters up all around this area and with the help of locals they ring and alert them should a Sumatran Orangutan come into conflict with humans or became trapped and this was a perfect example of that once more. I had been in the country less than a week and already we were on our way to our second rescue it was unbelievable and quite sad that the Sumatran Orangutans are in such danger because for every one that gets rescued there must be many more that don’t and end up being killed or sold into the pet trade which really saddened me.
We reached there quite late, with around a couple of hours light left. The team went into their well drilled routine and off they went to try and locate this male. After a while we caught a brief sighting of him, a hand then he vanished. He seemed to know how to hide and the sun set that night as he gave us the slip. The search was called off as dusk fell, we stayed in a nearby plantation which were helping the rescue team. They made us welcome and cooked some food for us which was a welcome break as with the travelling and searching not many of us had eaten. We then got our heads down and looked forward to the morning.
Before first light we were all up and in place, the team were searching and watching for any tell tale signs of movement. After searching for two hours, they found him, I was on the top of the valley looking down as the team went in. Not long after they had darted him and then began the long walk to the top carrying him in the net with the locals and people from the nearby plantation helping to carry this massive male to where the vet could check him.
The male Sumatran Orangutan is the most beautiful of all the great apes. With privileged access I wanted to try to reflect that beauty within an image. After the team had done all checks on him, I was given the nod by Ricko the vet and I took this very personal image again with my macro lens. Being so close at times felt surreal, 5-6 times stronger than man, this male whose age was around 35 was in his prime and very handsome. He wouldn’t have woken up from the tranquilizer given to him at the point of rescue but still being this close to such a massive and powerful ape made my heart beat so fast. His facial hairs I love and are one of the key characteristics Sumatran Orangutans have from their Borneo Orangutan cousins. The following images take you through that days events.
These are the HOCRU team and some of the helpers from the plantation and locals that helped to carry this massive male pictured above. Once he was safety in the cage we loaded up the truck and headed some distance away to the national park to release this beautiful male back into the rainforests where he belongs. When the gate on the cage is pulled up I’m always nervous as to how the Orangutan will come out, they always climb the nearest tree and vanish. This was no different, so amazing to see and witness though and this image below captures that wonderful moment.
As we headed back to Medan from Aceh the team were over the moon and so was I. We drove through the night to get back and once home everyone was so tired. The rescue team were given a few days off by Panut and headed home. I backed up my images and headed to bed also. In just over a week on the island of Sumatra I had witnessed three Sumatran Orangutans rescued and relocated and it was amazing to see and witness. As I closed my eyes that night I hoped they were all doing well back in the wild.
My itinerary gave me some time to edit and get the images ready for OIC/SOS over the next day or so and I had time to sleep and get some much needed rest. While you travel around Sumatra it’s hard to escape the vast palm oil plantations that cover most of Sumatra now and also the deforestation that litter the landscape of Sumatra. The following words and images reflect how I saw this and how I felt driving through these soulless places.
“THE BIRDS DONT SING ANYMORE” by craig jones
Soulless, a lifeless landscape of palm oil forests. The sun still rises in the East, each day it tries desperately to bring life to the spot where once some of the worlds finest rainforest stood. But nothing grows, nothing lives apart from alien palm oil trees
Nature wont forgive, a defiant act, its last stand against those that came without warning ripping every bit of life out in such a brutal manner, killing everything that lived there.
Nature wont allow the same to happen again
Over the next few days the plan was to visit Medan Zoo for a mission that I hope will end happily for a certain animals while I photographed some of the conditions the animals live in there. After that I headed to see my friend Darma a guide for the forest who I hadn’t seen since September 2012 when I spent several days trekking wild Sumatran Orangutans. I spent some time in the jungles with him again and some much needed peace and beauty after the last week or so. Then I spent time with the HOCRU team in the field once more, after which I spent a wonderful day with the Sumatran Elephants before doing some undercover work and photography. All of this will be covered in my next blog.
I hope you have enjoyed this first blog and if you’d like to donate to this rescue team, the only one of its kind on the island of Sumatra then please see this link many thanks.
Months of planning have finally all come together now in the form of this unique and bespoke photo tour to the amazing wilderness that is Sumatra. I will be leading this amazing Photo-Tour alongside expert trackers on the ground in Sumatra, working with the brilliant Charity- Sumatran Orangutan Society.
This charity is dedicated to the conservation of Sumatran Orangutans and their forest home, where each person on this photo-tour will directly be helping the Orangutan and their habitat, with money from each person booked onto this trip going to the Sumatran Orangutan Society, whose work is to help protect and conserve this area for the future of our closest relative.
I have always been fascinated with these Great Apes for as long as I can remember and upon first seeing one of these amazing animals back in 2000 in a rehabilitation centre in Thailand I have always wanted to help them when and where I could. I had a close encounter with a male Orangutan, an experience that touched deep into my sole, as I watched and looked into the eyes of these beautiful animals, it was something I have never forgot as I sat on the ground, mimicking their behaviour of picking up ants with a small stem. A powerful male with pronounced cheeks denoting his age, was slowly moving towards me, closer and closer until I could hear him breathing. He slowly and gently took the stem off me, his hand almost perfectly formed the same as a human, with dark nails, he then just slowly moved away and out of site, a moment I can see as I type these words.
I was lost for words, an amazing moment that I can still see as if it was yesterday, such is the beauty, grace of this animal. The principal focus of this photo tour will be the Orangutan, capturing them within their natural habitat, looking for behaviours to capture and so on, as we visit some of the most magnificent forests on Earth, which are also the domain of many other beautiful and stunning animals and birds, where some only live in this part of the world and nowhere else on the planet. Sadly the ‘Old Man of the forest’ has been subjected to relentless pressures which has reduced the world’s population by as much as 50% during the last 10 years. Hunting for meat and the demands of the pet trade have been contributory factors but the more significant issue has been the large-scale clearance of rain forest throughout this region leaving very few habitats left for these apes
There are surely few more enduring creatures in the world than the gentle giant of the rainforest’s, the Orangutan. With around 97% of an Orangutans genetic makeup being the same as a human and where such a close affinity to Homo sapiens is obvious upon gazing into their beautiful faces and watching their behaviour and how they conduct their lives. The evolutionary links with mankind are plain to see after such encounters with this amazing ape that now only live wild in two places in the world, Borneo and Northern Sumatra.
Across the Orangutans entire range, conversion of forests to oil palm plantations is occurring on a massive scale, logging continues even within protected areas, and planned road networks threaten to fragment the habitat of the last viable populations. These factors are responsible for the loss of over 80% of Orangutan habitat over the last 20 years. We have to save this amazing animal and during this tour I will also be photographing the story of the local people, the palm plants and conveying with moving and powerful photography what is happening to these amazing forests where I will be reporting back for SOS and updating their Blog alongside my own as and when I have wifi access out there.
We will also be planting new trees in areas that have been safeguarded and protected for the Orangutans and all the other wildlife that live here. With projects concentrating on teaching local communities about the benefits of reforestation and developing alternative livelihoods. SOS distribute seedlings and have established organic forestry centres near degraded forest areas, providing training so that communities can produce their own seedlings for future replanting.
They have established a number of nursery and replanting sites in Aceh and North Sumatra, and have now planted over 570,000 seedlings an area we will visit so guests can have the chance to plant their own trees here, we will also work in the deforested regions around and within the Leuser Ecosystem, which is the most important remaining habitat for the Sumatran Orangutan.
The charity also works in restoring degraded areas inside the border of the Gunung Leuser National Park, working with local government and local communities to restore vital Orangutan habitat that has been damaged by illegal oil palm plantations established within the protected area. So much brilliant work is going on out there to save these animals. This trip as you can see by the Itinerary will be truly amazing, covering different areas, sleeping in the jungle with its amazing noises and uniqueness all of its own.
Along with the guides I will also be showing some interesting and key skills and survival techniques derived from my own experiences of working in these jungle habitats on different continents over the years while serving in HM armed forces. The trip has it all and I am so passionate about helping these animals so if you would like to book or want more information then email me or contact SOS. And you can view the trip on the BBC Wildlife Magazine Website here
A big thank you to Helen- the UK Director of the Sumatran Orangutan Society for all your help in making this trip happen, thank you to Different Travel for their help also, and lastly thank you to those who book on behalf of the Sumatran Orangutan, I look forward to seeing you all in Sumatra next September.