Im writing to you from the Shetland Islands, a breathtaking place full of beauty,wildlife and an amazing coastline. Im here spending several days doing my own work before my clients turn up on my “Stunning Shetland” trip for the week. When I can I want to post some images and the experiences I and my clients have during our time on these islands.
After an overnight ferry from Aberdeen to lerwick the capital of the Shetland Islands I arrived and met up with my good friend Iain who lives and has lived on the island with his wife, Anne now for many years.I quickly got settled, had a nice cuppa before planning the days ahead.
Hope is a great thing, without it you have nothing. When I sat with Pongky, a male Sumatran orangutan in Medan Zoo, Sumatra last year I couldn’t believe the suffering and pain I was witnessing. Paying visitors would pay to watch him and laugh at his screams. Those were screams of anguish though and not for their pleasure. I cant tell you how I hate cruelty to animals and what I saw on that day has haunted me ever since.
In February’s issue of the BBC Wildlife Magazine I have an article published on Sumatran Orangutans. The article and images are about the Sumatran Orangutans and their plight and I hope that this amazing magazine and its following helps these great apes and those fighting to keep them alive. Ive had the pleasure of joining these guys many times over the years and this is a great tribute to them all.
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.
Saturday, December 13th 2014, just another date in many ways, people going about their lives, shopping for Christmas. Many people today will visit their supermarkets, watching what they spend and getting the best deal for themselves and their families unaware of a ruling that comes into place on this day. That new law has taken years to come into effect and it finally bears wings and flies today.
Over 500 million consumers in Europe from today will become aware that palm oil is in their food they eat. Ingredients will have to be clearly labelled, saying exactly what it says on the tin with two clear winners. Sustainable palm oil and more importantly the wildlife that live in the places where palm oil is devastating their homes in the shape of their rainforests. Click here to see the EU law which comes into effect today.
One such place is Sumatra, a place I have visited several times now to be among an animal I find such beauty in, they have brought a smile to my face since childhood, the Orangutan. Being around them brings me such joy and comfort, it’s like being alongside a human being. Peaceful, caring, intelligent, beautiful are a few words that come to mind when I think of these great apes.
Until this day palm oil in our food was hidden, often labelled as vegetable oil misleading the consumers and the true origins of its beginning. Giving people informed choices to buy food items from today is a great result and a small step in the right direction to saving what’s left of the worlds rainforests and in turn some of the most endangered animals anywhere on the planet. Click here to see a very simple guide and what it means.
In 2011, SOS led a coalition of conservation groups, including Elephant Family, Orangutan Foundation, Save the Rhino, the Jane Goodall Institute, the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA), and the Ape Alliance, in a joint campaign to tackle the problem.
Following their “Clear Labels, Not Forests “campaign, the EU adopted a new law which requires the labelling of specific vegetable oils, including palm oil, on food products throughout Europe. Companies were given three years to comply, and the new legislation comes into force today.
Mandatory labeling will support vital changes in the palm oil industry by allowing shoppers to make informed choices about what they buy. Responsible companies that make or sell products containing palm oil will want to reassure their customers that their products are not contributing to deforestation and loss of wildlife. Retailers and manufacturers now have the incentive to play their part in transforming the palm oil industry and breaking the link between palm oil and deforestation.
Its amazing news and one I wanted to share with the many followers of my blog, the best Christmas for those Orangutans that face a daily struggle to survive and live a peaceful life. I was there in March of this year working with another charity on the ground, shadowing the work of SOCP– Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme who have the only quarantine facility on the island.
I spent two days at that place in Medan the captal of Sumatra, this place is the very end of the line for those crucially endangered Sumatrta Orangutans that have been rescued and confiscated. At times what I saw I couldn’t really speak about or make senmse of, as I sat with baby Sumatran Orangutans looking at me, me looking at them. I cried, I sat and I cried and I really couldn’t understand why man was doing this and how we could inflict such cruelty on an animal that is us and we are them I like to say.
One of the shocking and direct consequences of poaching Orangutans is the death of the mother who is killed in the process of poaching the 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.
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. 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
This is my tribute to those Sumatran Orangutans, that are afforded the very highest protection in the world yet are killed every single day in Sumatra and the government does nothing.
I’m going back to Sumatra next year, shadowing the work of those teams once more, things are changing alittle and more interest and knowledge of the plight of those Orangutans and the other rare animals that live on Sumatra are becoming news which is good.
My aim as its always been from day one is to give those Sumatran Orangutans a voice through my work, and since my first visit in 2012 I have kept to that promise I made to those Orangutans I spent time with high in the tree tops. I will continue that promise for as long as I live simply because they are us and we are them and to let them go extinct on our watch would be truly shocking, many thanks.
I have just come back from two days in Lisbon, Portugal having attended a conference on sustainability presented by the Jeronimo Martins group. I was invited along with many others to give their presentations and talk about their respected views on this. I was chosen because of my work in Sumatra on my self-funded trips their showing through powerful imagery the effect palm oil and timber manufacturing- mostly all illegal is having on this beautiful island.
Jeronimo Martin is a Portuguese corporate group that operates in food distribution and consumer products manufacturing. It operates around 2,800 stores in Portugal, Poland, and Colombia. The group is a world leader in food distribution operating throughout Europe from their main strong holds in Portugal and Poland. With operations in Colombia too. their influence on this sector is massive.
After a short flight from Manchester I was met at Lisbon airport and driven to my hotel, then later onto the venue where I went through some tests and set up my talk. When I got into my room a birthday card and chocolates were waiting for me as a welcome gift which was lovely as it had been my birthday the days earlier. Later I was taken to the venue where I went through some tests and set up my talk up for the following day.
My plan was to show through images taken on my trips to Sumatra the beauty of this country, its wildlife more so those crucially endangered Sumatran Orangutans and the destruction of this country at the hands of palm oil plantations and timber manufactures.
I was careful not to come over as an expert there as these guys knew their stuff, it was my aim through my photography to show what I know and have seen. I got to the venue early, got use to the layout and had a coffee and then the people started to arrive. I was introduced to many people including the CEO of the whole group. I had around 30 minutes in which to show the beauty, horror and suffering from what Id seen fro myself in Sumatra and get over my message to this distinguished audience.
I was on in the afternoon which gave me time to settle in and watch the others.I never really plan a talk so much as in the images go together and speak for me at times. I just talk from my own passion, knowledge and understanding of that situation I’m showing at the time. I have a basic framework I work too but on the whole I can remember every moment and every image once I look at an image and the story behind that.
My talk went well, it was my aim to take them on a journey to Sumatra through powerful images and emotive music, you could hear a pin drop as they watched and saw those images of what is happening there and those beautiful Sumatran orangutans I spent time with and have left behind. My aim to show, shock and reveal the truth of the palm oil industry, and the illegal logging I think really hit home to everyone there. I dont think there was one person in that room that will never forget the words- Sumatran, Palm oil and Orangutans.
I was really impressed with everyone’s talks and the powerful message to this well established company’s mission statement where they are substituting palm oil for vegetable oil. The opening speech from the CEO was very powerful and set the tone for the whole day for me.
Since my first trip to Sumatra I made a promise to those Orangutans I spent time with in the jungles there that I would do my best in order that their voices would be heard and their plight. To this day I have kept to this promise and below are a few of the talks, articles and presentations I have done since that first visit to Sumatra.
I return to Sumatra next year also to carry on my work and passion for these beautiful apes I have been fascinated with since childhood and I hope my images will always remind people of just how beautiful they are and that we are them and they are us as I say. Click on each image below and it will take you to the place that image was taken or article/photo published.
I was invited to talk about the Orangutans as part of the Sebastiao Salgado “Genesis” exhibition NHM 2013.
I flew home full of pride and joy having seen and heard the amazing work being done by committed people there which is having a massive effect on an industry that drives the need for such high demand for palm oil. I was there as a wildlife photographer and I have seen the end result to whats happening in Sumatra, to be around those powerful people that can possible change what I have seen on the frontline there was wonderful. I became a wildlife photographer to place a frame around something I had seen in the wild, to then show to people what beauty we have around us. In the case of Sumatra not only the beauty but also the devastation that is happening there.
To use my images for the good of a creature I have loved since a small child is a dream and as a wildlife photographer I have a duty of care not only to my peers who view my work and want to know how I took that image and the skills used but mostly importantly to those animals I see and spend time with in the wild. This for me is truly the greatest thing about being a wildlife photographer.
Being real to myself and more importantly my work is key and has been since I first picked up a DSLR. My love for wildlife stretches over three decades and it was an honor to attain this conference and talk about these great apes. Thank you to all the staff at Jeronimo Martins for looking after me and booking everything and taking care of my stay there in Lisbon. I met some wonderful people and contacts and I hope to be doing more of this to help those Sumatran Orangutans in the coming months.
Ask yourselves what you can do for wildlife, not what wildlife can do for you. The three charities I have worked with in Sumatra that were mentioned in my powerful talk can be seen on the following links – Sumatran Orangutan Society- SOS , Orangutan Information Center – OIC Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme – SOCP Please help and support their work its a massive battle out there in Sumatra and there aren’t many charities on the ground there, these guys are on the coalface, the cutting edge and in some parts hell on earth once you see what humans can do to their planet and the animals.
To see more of my talks or book one please see the following link, many thanks.
A short film about the Spotlight Sumatra exhibition in London which I’m part of can be seen below, covering the opening ceremony. Those involved talk about their own thoughts about this beautiful island and the plight of those crucially endangered specie of wildlife that live there. It’s something that I’m very passionate about and have been to Sumatra twice in as many years on my self-funded trips to capture with my camera the beauty and the not so beautiful things that are happening there.
SOS have some of the fantastic Spotlight Sumatra panel photographs for sale once the exhibition is finished at the end of May 2014. If you’d like to buy a piece of history at the same time help the cause to save Sumatra and its wildlife then click here to see all the details.
I hope all those that have visited so far have really enjoyed the displays and to those visiting between now and the end you’re in for a visual treat, many thanks for all the support for SOS and those other people and Chartres involved.
Here is another slideshow I did once I came back from Sumatra. It shows me trekking through the jungles of Sumatra on the trail of the Sumatran orangutans, a magical time, tough but magical enjoy.