This week we are assigned to Orang Utan Jungle Surveys. This entails putting on leach ‘socks’ and more clothes than are comfortable in this humidity as we try to avoid getting leaches attached to us when we are pushing our way through the leaves:(
The leaches are nothing like the flat black leaches we see in films when used for medical purposes. These are brownish, thin and long, and as you walk by they sense movement and ‘stand’ upright, waving from side to side, just like a periscope on a submarine. They drop onto you, and try to work their way to a bit of exposed skin, at which point they latch on with their mouths and suck away at your blood! They don’t actually hurt but because they inject an anticoagulant, you can bleed pretty profusely when you pull them off – yuk 🙁 If you happen to find one when showering after the walk, it’s pointless trying to wash them down the drain, as they resurface later like some horrible tiny monster from the deep and lie in wait again for another go at you!
The reason for doing the surveys is to look for OrangUtan nests. Each evening they build themselves a new one high up in the trees, and we are recording how far from the centre the released & wild ones are. Having said that, us volunteers spend most of our time looking down at the ground, especially as our ranger is often hacking his way through the foliage with his machete and the jungle is full of tree roots and fallen branches ready to trip us up. It’s always our ranger who finds the nests, we just record the information. He’s very relaxed about us stopping to take photos, and will often point things out to us that we would otherwise have missed like this pretty fungus, a caterpiller hanging from a thread, and a bird eating spider in its web that was as big as a hula hoop (and not the kind of hula hoop you eat either!)
We have had a few different experiences this week, as one day there was a conservation initiative run by the Sabah Forestry Department to do a ‘litter pick’ along the roads nearby. They had about 40 volunteers, we were split into teams and assigned different roads and a few black bags. Before we started, the heavens opened and we had torrential rain for about an hour. Luckily it eased off, as I’m sure we would have been out there getting drenched otherwise. There actually wasn’t too much litter and it only took us about an hour.
Another morning we were unable to trek due to heavy rain making it too dangerous. It would have been too slippery underfoot and there is a risk of branches falling, so we did some OrangUtan enrichment instead. This involves us thinking of various ways to stimulate the younger OUs when they can’t go into the jungle because of rain. Our ranger identified and cut down large leaves for us, and we also pulled down some hanging vines. We then wrapped bananas, some eggs, and a bit of peanut butter in the leaves and tied them up with the vines, making the parcels as difficult to get into as we could.
We actually thought that the OUs would immediately destroy them in a few seconds, but to our surprise they were mostly really delicate with them, trying carefully to unwrap them and lick the contents off the leaves. I had made a circle like a wreath, and two of the OUs had a fun time playing tug of war with it, until one let go and the other ran off with it.
A few days later there was a 30k and 8k race on World Wildlife Day. The 30k race started at Sepilok and ended in Sandakan, the nearest town. A few of our volunteers entered the 8k race, and there was a great atmosphere at Sepilok, although I was really surprised and disappointed to see a huge bunch of helium filled balloons which were going to be released – right on the edge of the forest where the OrangUtans live 🙁