Indonesia: Chasing Monkeys
The email I sent out on 27thSep:
At the moment, I am busy helping people out with primate follows (in other words, i am chasing monkeys).
Though the data we collect is essentially the same, every primate species is different. Every primate is unique, and so is every follow. I love gibbons because they are so elegant when traveling through the canopy, and their song is otherworldly. I love led langurs because they are cheeky and have really long and funky tails. Lastly, I love the orang-utans because they are so impressive and peaceful and beautiful.
Though we write down codes and numbers to describe their behaviour, I can't help looking at the animals from Lilia's perspective instead of a scientific one sometimes and empathising strongly with some of the things I see.
My favourite moment so far has got to be during a gibbon follow, a week ago. Gibbons are apes, like us, and they form monogamous pair bonds. They have territories and they defend them with singing. We were following a group called Karate, with alpha-male Bruce-Lee, his pregnant mate Chun-Li and their kids, subadults Zhyang and Jet-Lee and juvenile Brandy-Lee.
In the middle of the day, the family stopped at a big tree to rest. The parents lay down with their arms and legs hanging down from the branch, while the subadults swung about nearby trees playing, and kid Brandy was jumping around her parents, pulling at their arms and tugging at their fur (pissing them off, I would imagine, much like I pissed my parents off when I played noisily during siesta hours as a kid).
At some point, Chun- Li reached out and grabbed her mate's hand. The sun was filtering through the trees in front of them, so all I could see was a silhouette of clasping hands. They held hands like that for a few minutes. I took a picture.
Another great moment was watching two of our orang-utans, Indy and Hades, mating. I have to admit, even though I was watching them for the purpose of a scientific study, I felt like a perv. Having two Indonesian guys there who behave like teenage boys with these things also didn't help with my embarassement. As the Lilia that I am though, I couldn't help but romanticise the whole thing. A massive tree with a spreading, spatious canopy and thick, broad branches heavy with fruit, leaves showering and small flowers falling like fairies from above and a pair of endangered wild orang-utans, their orange coat catching the morning sun. I giggled, and scribbled down: "Primary Activity: Social. Secondary Activity: Mating. Interaction distance: 1."
As for the red langurs (or kelasi as they are known here), I had an awesome time following group Kaki Basa, cause they have 2 juveniles, Terence and Georgie. Terence and Georgie always chase each other and try to push each other off trees. Watching them is like watching an orange tornado, snapping branches, crashing down tree trunks, racing across the canopy and causing general chaos. Occasionally, they come down to check the humans out, observing the observers with, what I feel is, the same curiosity with which the observers look at them. I love their little faces, and their quick eyes, they make me smile.
Below is a video of Terence or Georgie (can't recall which one!) and a video of Hades eating termites. Even though he is a small male, still unflanged, you can really see his power. It was truly magical to be so close to him while he was ripping that log apart!
I love and miss you all!
*Update: The following video of Kelasi was taken by Nick Matchant, a researcher in Sabangau.