I woke up on my last morning in Bukit Lawang early – ready to depart on a small mission unrelated to the story that I am working on. I am going to meet a team of scientists and park officials in the Sikundur field office to release a slow loris (Nycticebus coucang) – or “Kukang” in Indonesian. Slow lorises are a group of primates found in South East Asia. They have a round head, narrow snout and big eyes. Interesting fact: they also have a toxic bite. They lick a gland on their arm. The secretion from their saliva activates the toxin when mixed with their saliva. This loris was another animal confiscated due to the illegal pet trade and they are on the IUCN Red List of endangered animals. They have become very popular in South East Asia as pets – apparently there is a video (on YouTube) of a loris “pet” and this video has virally exploded. I find it despicable that this video glamorizes the illegal pet trade. I will look for it when I have time and get internet again. Check it out and let me know.
After an almost 4 hour drive (due to rains and muddy roads), we took a dug out boat (with a motor) up the Besting river through dense forest. The boat ride took well over an hour. The loris was in a cage on our boat accompanied by Yennie, a veterinarian who works at SOCP and several national park officials. Apparently, this was a big deal. When we landed, we hiked a short distance to find a constructed and open enclosure or pen of sorts, made to keep the loris safe for a few weeks until it had time to adapt to its new natural surroundings. Without much fanfare, the cage was opened inside the enclosure. Only one park official was inside the enclosure. Before I could say “boo”, I saw that the slow loris was in fact not slow at all. I barely had time to get my lens up and the little bugger was already climbing quickly up the tree and engulfed with vegetation. I didn’t fire off a single shot. Sorry. This is a long story with no visual payoff. But it cost me a full day and so I had to include it here. Please check out the web to find a photo of a slow loris.
Being somewhat disgruntled that I was asked to join this adventure for the purpose to photograph it and NOT being able to get off a single round from my camera – I begrudgingly got back on the boat to make the long return. However, instead of returning to the point of origin, I was dropped off at an elephant patrol training camp where I was to spend the night. This is a camp of park rangers who patrol on elephant back. At this camp, they had 4 elephants in training. They spoke little to no English but I was able to learn that they bathe their elephants every morning. They agreed to let me fly my drone over the elephants while they bathe them in the river. Now that would be fun!
After dinner, I fell asleep (in the clothes I had worn all day) in a very primitive hut – no running water, electricity, etc. I learned the next morning that they do have electricity, but it had gone out due to earlier rains. I slept as well as I could manage considering the hut had closed windows and doors to keep the mosquitos out. It was nothing less than sweltering.
The next morning, after a breakfast of nasi goreng (a yummy rice dish with an egg), the mahouts mounted their elephants and walked them down to the river. I went ahead to set up my drone. I armed and launched the drone and was able to take some aerials of the mahouts bathing their tusked mounts. OK, now this was fun…if that water had been a bit cleaner, I may have joined them!!!!!
When the elephants (and their mahouts) were sufficiently clean, it was time to make the long 5 – 6 hour drive back to Medan to check into a hotel by the airport. The torrential rains started again just in time as we pulled up to the hotel. I have an early flight out for Pangkalan Bun, Borneo in the morning. When my bags were being unloaded and brought into the hotel, I noticed some movement on my green duffel bag. It was a worm. After one second of recognition, I noticed that there was LOTS of movement. Worms were ALL OVER my bags!!!! Lots of them (maybe over 100?). After I knocked off the first few on the shiny white tile floor, I realized that I had best take my bags back outside to finish the job. Worms were everywhere – under the straps, hidden in the zippers. It wasn’t the end of the world, but I truly didn’t want them INSIDE with my clothes and taken up to my room. After some time and extra attention to every crevice, I removed the worms. I only discovered one or two tricky ones when I finally reached my hotel room. An end to my time in Sumatra.
The next part of this adventure begins.