Tuesday, September 5, 2023

Tanjung Puting NP, Borneo - Indonesia

Borneo is the third largest island in the world, more than 3.5 times larger than Great Britain, at 288,869 square miles. It is one of the four Greater Sunda Islands of Indonesia. It is east of Sumatra, north of Java, west of Sulawesi (the other Greater Sunda Islands), southwest of the Philippines and southeast of Malaysia and Vietnam.
From Wikipedia
However, only 73% of Borneo is Indonesian. In the north of Borneo, Malaysia occupies 26% and Brunei occupies 1% of the island.  The Indonesian portion of Borneo is called Kalimantan and is broken into the five provinces of North, South, East, West and Central Kalimantan. 165,100 square miles of Borneo was lowland rainforest, with other much smaller portions being mangroves, montane rain forests, montane alpine meadows, peat swamp forests, heath forests and freshwater swamp forests. Between 2002 and 2019 Borneo lost 36 million acres of tree cover and between 1999 and 2015 Bornean orangutans declined by 148,500 individuals, more than one-half. 
Borneo and Indonesian political divisions.
The equator crosses Indonesian Borneo (see 0 degrees on the map below). 
Tanjung Puting National Park ("Tanjung Puting") is located in the southeast portion of Central Kalimantan and covers 1,600 square miles. 
Map of Tanjung Puting from orangutan.org.
It is on a peninsula that goes into the Java Sea. It is swampy with a spine of dry ground that rises no more than 100 to 200 feet through Tanjung Puting. We got there by flying from Jakarta, on Java, to Iskandar Airport (PKN) in Pangkalan Bun (see the map above). We were picked up by our guide, Sam, at the airport and had a 20 minute drive to Kumai, on Kumai Bay, on the Kumai River, where we boarded our boat, called a klotok. A klotok is a wooden river boat with a shallow draft used to navigate the waters of Indonesia. They are primarily used to transport goods and people up and down rivers and are the boat of choice in Tanjung Puting. It is named for the loud noise the engine makes: "klok tok tok tok." That four part rhythm was endless and loud and we got to where we would repeat four part words that came into our minds, three or four times, such as "Tawn joong Poot ing, Tawn joong Poot ing, Tawn joong Poot ing" or  "eggs for brek fast, eggs for brek fast, eggs for brek fast." We had a lot we came up with but without the inspiration of the noise my mind has gone blank. Our klotok had two levels. We spent the day on the second level which was covered by a tarp for protection from the sun and rain, had a table where we ate our meals, a two person bed where we would have slept if we had not otherwise decided to stay at the Rimba Lodge, and deck chairs. 
Another kotok from later in the trip. 

Klotoks lined up along the Sekonyer River getting ready to spend the night. 

More klotoks lined up along the Sekonyer River. In the foreground is part of the upper deck of our klotok.  
In addition to Sam, our nature guide who was independent of the boat, there were three other people on the boat: the captain, his younger associate who did the small boat transfers and much of the other work on the boat, and our cook, who was marvelous. 

We started off going south down the Kumai River toward the Java Sea. At this point the river was huge and more an extension of the ocean. Sam told us to watch for river dolphins. I saw one several times but didn't have a hope of getting a photo given my camera problems. I got a pretty good view and it had a very round head and was pinkish. 
Irawaddyi dolphins. Photos are from here.  These dolphins are endangered and found along the eastern coast of Sumatra, the coasts around Borneo, the coasts around Malaysia and the coasts of Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar and Bangladesh.  

After a couple of miles we turned left, east, onto the Sekonyer River which is a tributary of the Kumai River and also fed by the Camp Leakey River. This was the beginning of Tanjung Puting NP and had some signs and a statue of a large orangutan.
To the right is the continuation of the Kumai River to the Java Sea. To the left is the Kumai River. 

The Sekonyer is salt water at the beginning and gradually turns from salt water to fresh water. As it does so the vegetation begins to change. 
Sam, our guide, at the front of the klotok as we go up an early portion of the Sekonyer. Nipa palms, also known as mangrove palms, line the sides of the river. It is native to the coastlines and estuaries of the Indian and Pacific Oceans and is the only palm that can live among mangrove trees. Its trunk grows below the ground and only its leaves and flowers, which can exceed 30 feet in height, extend above the surface. 

The Sekonyer forms the northern border of Tanjung Puting NP and it and other rivers are the only way in or out as there are no roads or airfields inside Tanjung Puting. As the water gets more brackish and then fresh the vegetation changes. We saw three orangutans near the Sekonyer River as we traveled upstream. They were difficult to see as they were enmeshed in the tree leaves which were so prolific. My camera problems made getting good photos of them more difficult. Following are photos of two of the orangutans. 

This is the vegetation along the Sekonyer just above Tanjung Harapan our first stop, also known as Camp 1.
Tanjung Harapan, also known as Camp 1, is about 1.5 to 2 hours up river. It used to be an orangutan rehabilitation center and now has a plant nursery to aid reforestation efforts. The photo below is us docking at Camp 1. Docking was always tricky as we had to tie-up to other klotoks and climb through them to get to the dock. 
Just less than a mile walk in from the boat there is wooden platform where food is placed for the orangutans every afternoon at 4:00 p.m. The ride on the boat up the river was very pleasant. We had a breeze from the moving boat, were under a tarp and were not exerting ourselves. The walk in to the feeding platform was a different story. It was very warm and humid. At the feeding a big male dominated the feeding and there were lots of mothers carrying babies. We estimated we saw 12 to 16 Bornean orangutans.  

After Camp 1 we went up-river about a quarter-mile and stopped at the Rimba Lodge for us to check-in. 
The dock at Rimba Lodge with several klotoks already docked there. 

Judy on the klotok in front of the Rimba Lodge. 
The lodge is set-above very swampy water on wooden platforms. We could have slept on the klotok, but there would be no air conditioning, electricity and a cramped toilet and shower shared with the other people on the klotok. At Rimba we got our own room with two double beds, a mosquito net, air conditioning, electricity and a private bathroom and shower. It was primitive, but amazing considering where we were. Just off a platform next to the Rimba check-in we were shown a Bornean keeled green pit viper, also known as a North Philippine temple pit viper. It is poisonous and stays station-less for weeks or days waiting for pray to stumble across it, then strikes. It was there, in the same place and position both nights we stayed at Rimba. 
After checking in at the lodge we went back out to the klotok where we went further upriver looking for wildlife along the river. We saw lots and lost of proboscis monkeys, also known as Jimmy Durante monkeys because of there long noses, endemic to Borneo. We also saw quite a few long-tailed macaques. In particular, we stopped at one place along the river with lots of proboscis monkeys settling down for the night in the trees. We probably spent 20 or 30 minutes watching them there. We only saw the proboscis monkeys near the river, never at the camps, and we never got a real close, good photo of one. 

A long-tailed macaque with a proboscis monkey behind it. 

A proboscis monkey with a small baby.

We slept that night at Rimba Lodge and enjoyed the air conditioning and privacy of our own room. In the morning we had breakfast at the lodge, then joined the klotok for our continued trip up-river. About an hour upriver past Rimba Lodge is Pondok Tanggui or Camp 2. The feeding platform is just short of a mile from the dock (.9 miles). Again, hot and very humid. So nice to do most travel by boat. We saw about seven Bornean orangutans at Camp 2. 
The most striking thing about the Camp 2 feeding station was that it was dominated by a female, much smaller than the dominant males at Camp 1 and 3. and the orangutans seemed much more afraid of her than of the dominant males we saw at Camp 1 and 3. 

The fear of the dominant female was best illustrated by this mother with a baby. She came to the edge of the platform holding on to the branch/vine with her foot, making sure she had an escape route. She packed bananas into her mouth, into her free hand and into her babies mouth before flying away on the branch/vine. It was probably the most entertaining scene among the Bornean orangutans. 

This mother, with a much larger baby clinging to her back, and another female, came walking into the platform just off to our side. 

They made it to the platform and then cowered together in the corner, snatching a banana here and there, while the dominant female glared at them and wolfed down (or orangutaned down) bananas. This dominant female was not Mother Theresa - perhaps Atilla the Hun. 
As we walked back toward the klotok we had to walk a long stretch of boardwalk raised above the terrain below by about 15 feet. There we encountered a series of long-tailed macaques on the edge of the boardwalk and in the trees near the edge of the boardwalk. One in particular seemed to take a disliking of me. He started to show his teeth at me and scream, then he jumped over my head to a tree on the other side of the boardwalk, just missing me, four times. Our guide, Sam, shielded my head as he did so and as I ducked. Sam asked me if I'd stared at the monkey. I had. He said they don't like that, they take it as a challenge. 
Up close and personal with a macaque. 

Others were less aggressive.

Then we encountered Atlas along the boardwalk. A 5 year old male orangutan that had been orphaned, then left several years ago, and now just recently returned. He was on the boardwalk between us and the boat. We watched him quite awhile, with many people posing for photos near him. Then we got an up-close and personal view of him. I eventually asked Sam if it was okay to go around him (this was right after my encounter with the macaque - an angry macaque is one thing, an angry orangutan would be another). Sam said it was okay so we slid by, just a foot or two away. Amazing. Atlas made 8 orangutans at Camp 2. 

We went through the complicated boarding process of klotoks. Ours was down river a little bit, so we got on one near the dock and it took us down river to board ours. The klotoks show a lot of courtesy, I suppose a necessity where they all have to cooperate to make it function. We got going again, further upriver toward Camp Leakey, also known as Camp 3. I don't find anything reliable on the distance, but it seemed like 2 or 3 hours. Further vegetation changes. 

At some point we deviated off to the right (east) down what I believe is the Leakey River. 
There we saw a boat which was too large for the shallower Leakey River waiting for a smaller speed boat to pick them up for Camp 3. We arrived at the boat dock for Camp 3 and had another long walk in. It seems like the feeding was supposed to take place at 2:00 p.m., but they were about 30 minutes or more late. A number of orangutans waited in the trees in addition to a wonderful Bornean white-bearded gibbon, which was my favorite of all the monkeys. It had extremely long arms and legs and could swing through the trees like Plato's form for the true tarzan. When bananas did arrive it quickly scaled down a tree to the platform, scooped some up in its mouth and a free hand and sped back up the tree. It later came back several times for more banana raids, once comically running across the platform with its arms held in the air before latching on to a tree and quickly elevating. I could have watched the gibbon for hours. 
The gibbon waiting patiently for the bananas to arrive.

Getting closer to the stage, but farther up in the trees. 

Getting closer to the stage.


A really large male, Jabba the Hutt like, dominated the platform and the bananas. 

A mother with a baby dangled in the trees. She eventually got to the platform to sneak some bananas. 

This mother, with a baby on her back, walked right by us up to the platform for bananas.
The mother in the video below, chased after her baby going down the tree to the platform, and got the baby on her and back up the tree. 
We made our way back to the Rimba Lodge for the night. We saw three or four more orangutans along the river, other monkeys and some birds. The next morning we got up early, starting about 6:30 a.m. and headed back to Kumai. The boat had some more clients to pick up that morning and go back out. It was an amazing experience. 

1 comment:

  1. This boat trip up the river and our orangutan viewing was one of the highlights of the trip for me. Seeing an orangutan or really any of the monkeys swinging around in the trees is a totally different experience than seeing them move around a limited space in a zoo. In addition, our guide was fantastic and one of the best English-speaker or all our guides, the river scenery was beautiful, and the food was very good.