Orangutans of Wild Borneo – Dispatch from Indonesia

June 10, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

 

Orangutans of Wild Borneo – Dispatch from Indonesia                      

 

Seeing the red apes of Borneo swinging through the canopy brings chills even at 95 degrees and 100% humidity. The sweat drips from my brow as I struggle to hold my camera steady. My ISO is cranked up to 2500 for a fast enough shutter speed in the dim light of the rainforest.

 

BORNEO15_11067BORNEO15_11067Bornean Orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus), Camp Leakey, Tanjung Putin National Park, Borneo, Indonesia

Young Male, Bornean Orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus), Camp Leakey, Tanjung Putin National Park, Borneo, Indonesia

(Canon EOS-1DX; 100-400mm; 1/500 sec; f/5.6; ISO 2500; -0.67 EV)

 

Peering between the beaches a young male is looking right at me. I frame the shot through the leaves naming the focus on his eyes. I'll never forget his eyes through my viewfinder, an instant connection with a primate that shares 97% of our DNA. This is a moment – looking into the eyes of a wild orangutan can change you forever.

 

BORNEO15_10964BORNEO15_10964Mother and Baby at Feeding Platform, Bornean Orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus), Camp Leakey, Tanjung Putin National Park, Borneo, Indonesia

Mother and Baby at Feeding Platform, Bornean Orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus), Camp Leakey, Tanjung Putin National Park, Borneo, Indonesia

(Canon EOS-1DX; 100-400mm; 1/400 sec; f/5.6; ISO 1600; -0.33 EV)

 

The element of surprise is what makes an expedition great, and this voyage to Borneo and the Coral Triangle on board the National Geographic Orion had it all, from the tropical rainforests with primates swinging through the trees, to snorkeling along pristine coral reefs fringing remote Indonesian Islands. Traveling with us was Dr. Biruté Mary Galdikas who has led the fight to save these endangered primates. The highlight of the voyage was visiting Tanjung Putting National Park,  a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, where Camp Leakey is located.
 
 

BORNEO15_11540BORNEO15_11540Hanging Out, Family in the canopy, Bornean Orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus), Camp Leakey, Tanjung Putin National Park, Borneo, Indonesia

Hanging Out, Family in the canopy, Bornean Orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus), Camp Leakey, Tanjung Putin National Park, Borneo, Indonesia

(Canon EOS-1DX; 100-400mm; 1/400 sec; f/5.6; ISO 1600; -0.67 EV)

 

As if out of nowhere, a mother orangutan appears with two youngsters in tow. Very causiously, she navigates through the forest and approaches the feeding platform at Camp Leakey. She stuffs her mouth with bananas then climbs back into the canopy to eat in peace.

The wild orangutans of Borneo are endangered, with an estimated population of only 45,000 individuals remaining.  If the rate deforestation and habit loss does not significantly decrease, Bornean orangutans are believed to be on the verge of extinction. The threats come from palm oil, pulp and paper plantations encroaching on the remaining lowland rainforest, along with illegal logging and poaching. Orangutan Foundation International, the non-profit organization founded by Dr. Kildikas, is working tirelessly to protect the remaining virgin forest around the National Park.

Camp Leaky was founded by Dr. Biruté Mary Galdikas as the base for her landmark studies over the past 4 decades. Although now wild, released orangutans return each day for a snack. Some clearly recognize Dr. Galdikas and approach closely, like old friends catching up on life.

 

BORNEO15_21650BORNEO15_21650Proboscis Monkeys (Nasalis larvatus), Bako National Park, Sarawak, Borneo, Malaysia

Cute Couple, Proboscis Monkeys (Nasalis larvatus), Bako National Park, Sarawak, Borneo, Malaysia

(Canon EOS-1DX; 100-400mm; 1/1500 sec; f/5.6; ISO 2500; -0.67 EV)
 
 
We observed many other primates, from the comical and also endangered proboscis monkies eating leaves in the canopy, to the acrobatic silver leaf monkeys jumping from tree to tree with their orange-colored babies clinging to mom. We cruised by Zodiac among eroded sandstone formations, and hiked through the rainforest. 
 

BORNEO15_20311BORNEO15_20311Mother leaping with Baby, Silver Leaf Monkey (Trachypithecus cristatus), Bako National Park, Sarawak, Borneo, Malaysia

Mother leaping with Baby, Silver Leaf Monkey (Trachypithecus cristatus), Bako National Park, Sarawak, Borneo, Malaysia

(Canon EOS-1DX; 100-400mm; 1/4000 sec; f/5.6; ISO 2500; +0.67 EV)

 

We experienced sweltering heat and refreshing rain showers. And we had moments, many of them, where the wildlife came close and seemed as curious about us as we were of them – like when a troop of crab-eating otlong-tailed macaques passed us on the boardwalk.

 

BORNEO15_21497BORNEO15_21497Mother carrying Baby, Long-tailed Macaque Monkey (Macaca fascicularis), Bako National Park, Sarawak, Borneo, Malaysia

Mother carrying Baby, Long-tailed Macaque Monkey (Macaca fascicularis),  Bako National Park, Sarawak, Borneo, Malaysia

(Canon EOS-1DX; 100-400mm; 1/400 sec; f/5.6; ISO 1600; -0.33EV)

 

Photographically, I find the tropics very difficult to capture. Challenges include fast moving animals, dappled light, complex backgrounds, and shooting through leaves and branches.  Typically I carry two camera bodies, one with wide-angle zoom (Canon EOS-5D Mark III16-35mm or 24-105mm), and the other paired with a telephoto zoom (Canon EOS-1DX; 70-300mm). I use a sling-style camera bag for easy access but often switch to a backpack when carrying extra gear. 

 

BORNEO15_17149BORNEO15_17149Coral Reef, National Geographic Orion, Pulau Lintang, Anambas Archipelago, Indonesia

Coral Reef, National Geographic Orion, Pulau Lintang, Anambas Archipelago, Indonesia

(Canon EOS-5D Mark III; 1/250 sec; f/11; ISO 1250; -0.67 EV w/polarizer filter)

 

With today's low-noise digital cameras, I use high ISOs (up to 3200 or higher if necessary) for situations where fast shutter speeds are critical, like in dim light and shooting from moving boats. I use a single point focus for shooting animals though the leaves taking care to make sure the animal's eyes are in sharp focus. It's also important in the Tropics to always be prepared for rain and high humidity. Be sure to have lens clothes handy and a rain sleeve for you camera, and an umbrella for yourself. If possible, avoid storing your gear in air conditioned spaces so that lenses don't fog up with the change of temperature. 

  

BORNEO15_15672BORNEO15_15672Underwater, Tabular Corals, Coral Triangle, Tropical Reef, Indonesia

National Geographic Orion, Coconut Palm Tree, Fiji

(Sony DSC-RX 100M3, Fisheye 1/800 sec; f/5.6; IS0 800; -0.67 EV)

 
For underwater images I've downsized to the SONY RX100III in an Nauticam housing with a fish-eye attachment. The beauty of the SONY system is the wet-mount attachment for lenses, allowing you to go from macro to fish-eye underwater.

 

BORNEO15_15841BORNEO15_15841Moonrise at Twilight, South China Sea, Pulau Lintang, Anambas Archipelago, Indonesia

Moonrise at Twilight, South China Sea, Pulau Lintang, Anambas Archipelago, Indonesia

(Canon EOS-5D Mark III; 1/100 sec; f/8; ISO 2500; -0.67 EV)

 

​Borneo and the Coral Triangle area of the South Pacific certainly demands more voyages in the future with Lindblad Expeditions and National Geographic.  However for 2016, the National Geographic Orion will be heading to Europe, for exciting new itineraries from the Meditiranian to the Baltic Sea. To view the itineraries and for more information visit Expeditions.com.

 

Ralph Lee Hopkins

From Bali, Indonesia

 

© Ralph Lee Hopkins.

All Rights Reserved. Worldwide.

 


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