Over the last several weeks I have had many projects on the go, one such project has been watching a pair of beautiful Pied Flycatchers. These birds visit our shores during the spring and summer months from their wintering home of West Africa and live manly in woodland habitat. Their numbers are quite low and they are on the “amber” list of species by the RSPB meaning they aren’t rare but not common too.
I have wanted to photograph this species of bird in their woodland habitat for many years but I haven’t been lucky enough to find them. This year I had found a pair and they were nesting in a small nest box in a beautiful deciduous wood. These birds are beautiful and I was very lucky to have found a pair. They landed on a number of naturally occurring branches around this nestbox and I have composed them showing their home and these branches they are using with the following images.
Up until this point they were doing really well, both parents feeding and everything looked good. Then around lunch time the following day I was watching another part of the wood where they are hunting the flies when I heard a hissing kind of noise from where the nest box was.
I rushed over and saw the male bird hovering in front of the box and making a noise that I can only describe as an alarm call. Then in a flash something came from the nest box and ran down the front of the box. It was a Weasel with one of the chicks. It happened so quick that I didn’t really have time to do anything or to even think. I did manage to capture a few images of him making off with the chick as the male was hovering to see off the Weasel.
What happened over the next hour and a half after this first attack was that the same Weasel came back several times to get the rest of the chicks. But as soon as I saw him I made a loud hissing noise myself and other noises to warn him off. Sometimes he stopped at the base of the tree, others he was up and on top of the box. Each time he left with nothing and this went on for a while. After the first attack the parent birds returned but were jumpy when going to the box, they seemed to know what had happened and stayed back and didn’t return with any food for those hours after the attack.
I wanted to know what had happened inside the box but I had to stop myself from going to see and investigate because I didn’t want to disturb anything or leave my scent on the box and its not right to interfere with nature. I had done my best making sure that the Weasel didn’t get any more chicks during those many attempts. When I left there had been no sighting of the Weasel for several hours and I really hoped when I returned the following day that the chicks survived and the Weasel had moved on.
Nature is beautiful but at times very cruel I know this well but when you witness it for yourself it is upsetting and I can’t blame the Weasel for wanting to feed his family but as I say when you witness animals being killed by others its not nice and I had watched this pair of Flycatchers for a while now and then this happens.
The following day I returned just after dawn, I waited several hours and no return by any adult. Before opening the box I made the noise of the adult bird and gently tapped the outside of the box and there was no noise or calls from inside. At that point I lifted the lid wearing gloves. The Weasel had gone back when I left by the looks of things and had all of them, very sad. Nature is cruel but that’s the circle of life and I learned that very early in my life but it was a real shame.
I spent most of the morning searching the same wood for another pair as there are nest boxes put up for them. As I was looking I always listen to bird calls, they will always let you know what is around. I know the Pied Flycatchers well and I saw a lone male bird that kept coming to another box. Once at the entrance hole he’d paused and then flew off. I didn’t know if he was preparing his nest for inspection for a female or just looking for another nest box or there was already another female inside.
Then I heard ” Have you seen much?” and I turned around and a bloke was standing there, after a few words I recognized him and he me and we got talking as I had last seen him some five years back. I told him about the box that had lost its chicks and that I was watching this new box.
He informed me that a female was sitting on eggs in the box I was watching and that he was here to ring her. Keith is a member of British Trust for Ornithology and is a ringer in the Staffordshire moorlands area for them and has been for many years. He knew me and my work and passion and so he trusted me with this information and I watched him with great care place a small bag over the roof of the nestbox while blocking the entrance hole. Carefully then he removed the bag from the top of the box and inside was this beautiful female Pied Flycatcher.
I asked if I could take a few photos and it was no problem as Keith put the ring on, checked over the bird and once done he let her go. Soon after she was back in the nest. Amazing to be so close and what luck I’ve had at this site I said to myself. From losing a whole family of chicks to then being so close to one and knowing the BTO ringer for the area.
Another truly beautiful bird the Redstart, a pair are sharing the same deciduous wood as these Pied Flycatchers which is wonderful. They are nesting in a nearby old oak tree not far from the new flycatchers nest. I have watched them too over the last few weeks and now the chicks have fledged and I counted around eight in and around the tree tops.
I’m hoping to get a few images of these but they are providing a difficult little subject to get near because their parents have hidden them away and I don’t want to impact on their lives or their parents. The following images are of that Redstart family.
When you go out taking photos of a project or something you love please just stop, sit down and look around you. You will see some many living beings, so many different images all around you. I love to capture this within my work and all you have to do is think outside of the species you are there for and look further afield and you will see natures beauty all around you.
The following images show some of the other birds that share this amazing deciduous wood alongside these Pied Flycatchers.- Blackcap, Song Thrush, Wren, Great Tit. Also there are a few images of the insects that provide food for these birds, an arty photo of ferns.
Also there is an image of a Harvestman which are beautiful little creatures. Harvestmen don’t have a waist or separate abdomen like spiders as they are often mistaken for them. They are part of the Opiliones family which are fascinating. There are some close up images of Long-tailed Mayfly that are very common in this wood too that just looked stunning. The floor of the wood is littered with the Red Campion flower too the place is so beautiful and full of wildlife once you look around you.
I’m hoping to get some images of the Pied Flycatchers feeding their young as I think they have another week or so inside the nextbox. The Redstart chicks are all around the place, and getting a few images of these are harder as they are hidden away so I will not impact on their lives just for a photograph. Fingers crossed this new pair of Pied Flycatchers manage to rear their young successfully and I will be there to capture it I hope.
If I get lucky I will post the photographs in a future blog post just updating this wonderful project I have been doing. Finding your own subjects and photographing them over time is one of the best things as a wildlife photographer you can do. You learn so much more and you never truly know what you will encounter or see where you have to use your own skills and fieldcraft.
Working like this and taking images “as seen” on the ground and alongside nature is the truest form of wildlife photography in an industry full of set ups and pay as you go sites all producing the same images. I would really recommend working like you see here to anyone that whats to learn more about their own wildlife photography and their subjects, good luck and many thanks.
My one to ones are designed to help you improve in all the aspects of wildlife photography, while learning about the environment and the wildlife that it supports.They are designed to the very highest standard, enabling every participant to get the very best from my photographic knowledge and fieldcraft expertise, where all the locations chosen offer unrivalled photographic opportunities.
The winner of the Cover Star section will see their work used on the cover of Bird Watching (subject to approval), and will win a bundle of photographic accessories. Both winners will have their work showcased in Bird Watching and displayed at Birdfair 2015, and there are mystery prizes in each section, too. Please submit original unedited jpgs – all images must have been taken since the beginning of 2014.
Both winners will have their work showcased in Bird Watching and displayed at Birdfair 2015, and there are mystery prizes in each section, too.
Please submit original unedited jpgs – all images must have been taken since the beginning of 2014.
Send your images by email to email@example.com (but not more than one email, please), by file-sharing services, or on a disc (which won’t be returned so please make a copy) to Bird Watching, Media House, Lynch Wood, Peterborough PE2 6EA.
The deadline to the competition is 31st July 2015 and your image along with others will be displayed at the British Birdwatching Fair where I will be presenting the prize to the winner on the Bird Watching stand. For all the competition information see inside June’s issue of this magazine where they have a special photography section. For full details of this competition then please see the following link .
Wildlife Ethics, some might say what does that mean? does it matter? In an age where we can get whatever we want twenty-four hours a day with little effort. In an age where wildlife is under great pressure we have a duty of care to all living animals to put them first and respect them and so the term “ethics” is born.
I first picked up a DSLR in 2008 and taught myself how to use a camera I twinned this up with my lifelong love of nature. We can all do our bit, we can all care about our impact on those animals, birds and other living creatures we come into contact with and the one word that is at the heart of my wildlife photography and should be everyone else’s is “integrity”.
This article for me has been years in the writing because it’s something I have always felt so strongly about and its one of the things I see some many that take photographs of wildlife getting so wrong time and time again. I have written several articles on fieldcraft, something again I feel so strongly about and the two go hand in hand for me. Since turning professional in October 2009 where I have made my sole income from my wildlife photography I have seen so much change.
Ethics and the welfare of the subject where instilled into me by my late mother, who took me to nearby woods and places where wildlife were as a small child. She learnt me about the circle of life, where my food was from. She taught me always to respect wildlife and listen to the woods, listen to nature and it will give up her secrets. Back then being brought up in a single parent situation my mum couldn’t afford a camera so my trusted 8×40 binoculars where always around my neck or in my bag.
I learnt very early on that once I came across a wild animal it was down to me how long that encounter would last. Meaning if I was nosy, didn’t respect the subject and did lots of moving around then that would impact on the subject’s life and they would disappear back into the undergrowth. So I learnt to become part of the landscape, often pretending I was the animal and I tried to think like them and act like them. Using those principles my encounters lasted longer and so my knowledge became better and better. But the most important thing was that the subject I was with was not disturbed or troubled by my presence and this was the most important thing I learnt and is the foundation to my work today.
I still have a book my mum brought for my eighth birthday presence which I have managed to keep with me all over those years. Nature and those encounters taught me many wonderful things and gave me an amazing understanding of wildlife and empathy for it and life. Growing up my mum had cancer twice and on both occasions nature and those places I visit today helped me cope with seeing my mum waste away before me.
My school years weren’t great, my current day dyslexia can vouch for those troubled years, in-between the home visits I became my mum’s carer and growing up was put on hold. Nature, drawings, Dippers, Barn Owls and others animals and places gave me great peace and it was an escape from seeing my mum dying. I was twelve when she first got breast cancer and it returned three years later when I was fifteen and that time it calmed her life after an amazing battle to beat this for a second time. I became an orphan at fifteen and basically brought myself up from then to the present day. I was looked after by my aunties instead of going into the care system until I joined the army at sixteen.
Those lessons about nature, its beauty and that respect still live inside of me today. I treasure those memories and lessons my mum taught me and that duty of care I speak about to all living creatures. Nature has helped me grow and survive and today I pay respect to that with my photography where each image I capture means something to me.. That’s a bit of background to where my beliefs came from, because to understand something or someone you have to understand the back story and what is behind those images or beliefs because everything started somewhere I believe.
What people take photos of is their business where they take photos is their business what I want and have always wanted since turning pro is the photographer to be honest and have integrity to their work where the welfare of the subject is first. Don’t make the animal do something or perform in order for you to get your images. Tell those that view your image and comment and award you those awards that you then go onto using to say your better than the rest the story and skills used to get the shot , the back story. If you can only shoot in zoos or captive that’s great for you and there’s nothing wrong the problem is with the explosion in photography and people not being honest and put the lives of animals and birds at risk for the image .
I see photographs derived from using flash, set ups , food placed out , animals made to do something for reward or food , animals flying through the air to reach food, where the photographer does not tell what’s the story behind the image. Changing an animals behavior in order to get an image isn’t right and not true wildlife photography in my eyes it really isn’t. I call it image making where you employ props and bait to trick the animal. It seems today wherever wildlife is someone, somewhere will put a hide in, a stick or perch/prop in and charge people for the opportunity to see and take the same photograph almost as the person who first discovered the place which is not wildlife photography.
Animals blinded by flash is a pet hate of mine, how dare the photographer do this to an animal and then tells us ” oh they don’t mind ” All living animals have an iris similar to a humans eye and any sudden change in light will affect the animals balance and movement which causes them a level of stress and disturbance. Until an animal can tell us themselves we have to go with caution and not use flash for the welfare of the subject. You can read an interesting article here to all those that use flash within the world of wildlife photography that defend it and make money from this practice.
Photography brings great joy to many people I see this but we are visitors to their world whatever way you look at this. Treat animals with respect whether they are behind bars or free, always put your subject first. Tell the truth behind the image , don’t impact on the animals life take pride in learning about the subject and its habitat, see how it interacts with its own kind, watch how it finds food and so on.
Applying all of this will benefit you as a person and secondly a wildlife photographer. In a time where there is great pressure on the natural world we need to step back , see the bigger picture and never impact on the subjects life. For many people the weapon of choice now is the camera, use this wrongly and you impact on the lives of animals that have no voice, that won’t be able to report your actions, it will be down to you on the ground to work in a way that gives the animal peace rather than stress by your presence.
Each day I see images and conversations on blogs and social media where everyone calming they have the subject’s welfare at heart then go and use flash or disturb the animal or get the animal to perform for food. It seems to suit at times other times not. I have found over the years that those with the most to hide become the most defensive and practice such methods as I describe here and all become friends together in this ever growing market of set ups where animals are made to do something in return for food or reward.
Diving Kingfisher shots where a fishtank is placed beneath a perch and fish placed in and so the Kingfisher dives into the tank. How many of these images do we have to see before someone asks “what’s behind the image?”. Birds flying at the cameras lens because a bird caller of their call is used and often results in a stressed bird who makes itself look bigger flying or running towards the camera to ward off the intruder it thinks is in its patch when its just a photographer with a caller with zero respect for the bird.
The photographer gets the shot and the praise but says nothing of the back story. There is a massive explosion in set ups being sold to the public where you can choose your background and perch. A photographer finding a subject or area that has been good to them and then the next thing they are selling the place and the wildlife to the public in order to make money is another massive market. I have places I take clients but they are all wild and nothing is prepared.
I then have my own projects and places that I wouldn’t dream of taking paying clients because this just duplicates my images and impacts on the welfare of the subject and their habitat.This is wildlife photography today in the UK where in most parts its better to make money than to think of the welfare of the subject and how your actions impact on that animal your getting to do something for reward as in the background a volley of shutter buttons go off from paying clients. But dare to say anything and you come up against the self-styled cartel which all turn out to be those offering such workshops and taking that easy money off the public.
I have visited places where the wildlife does not like my presence; the Farne Islands is where this Arctic Tern was taken is one such place. They nest right by a path you have to walk on to past these Terns. To see such stress was painful as I put my camera above my head and ran along the path. There were people there disturbing these terns on purpose for a dramatic shot using flash to brighten the underneath but never thinking would that impact on the subject. Ive not been back to the Farnes since, but this is just one of the many many places throughout the UK and abroad you can see the shocking behavior of photographers.
I recently came back from India which was my sixth year in a row I had visited and run my one week photo tours here. This year the costs to enter the park doubled on March 20th which added its own pressures running trips there. But once there I saw the incredible pressure on the Tigers after a fairly wet March and the lush green trees hiding the Tigers away. Each year I go I always pull away when I can from such disturbance on the Tigers, getting my guide to remove ourselves from the medley of pressure and stress from jeeps the Tigers have to endure. Once you find a Tiger you’re very rarely have that moment to yourself before the army of trophy hunters turn up. On several occasions this year I refused to stress the Tiger and follow so we stayed back and in the end the Tiger came back to where we were hidden.
I work ethically and my trips are run this way. If you book with me you get this if you want to be part of a circus then go book with others. It’s all about money there now and those that make the money will tell you its fine and the Tigers don’t mind, but behind that is a vested interest in keeping their money coming in and that lifestyle that has given them a platform to speak from. This year I had many crossed words about “ethics” with people I respected and thought they respected the Tigers but when the chips where down all I saw was a selfless attitude to do whatever they wanted where the Tiger is just a cash cow for them now and I will never forget that or forgave them.
The image above is a Bengal Tiger cub following his mum who was disturbed by other jeeps. We where in place first and sitting and watching and witnessed this. On another occasion we were watching a female Bengal Tigress, who we were told is very shy and doesn’t do well seeing jeeps or people. her own mother a few years back was poached and her body has never been seen to this day. We waited for hours alone then a jeep turned up where someone in that jeep was making male Tiger calls. She woke up and moved off and growling all the time.
The list is endless, I have seen photographers in the water outside schedule one protected Water voles placing out a mound of salad leaves to get them to sit on. People walking up to nesting birds on the ground, chasing owls up into the air the list of shocking behavior I’ve seen is never ending and endless. Dead animals placed on the end of a fishing line and the dead animal reeled in as a wild owl watches then comes to take the prey the photographer has tricked so the photographer can get the image. Live bait is also used and the thought of this is just shocking.
So much of the true ethics and welfare of the subject is lost in today’s wildlife photography and this is something I truly feel and see myself. We have a duty of care to all living beings and for me we can all do something to minimize our impact on the countryside. When an animal, birds or any living creature shows clear signs of stress at your presence you have to back off and leave the them alone. Do not carry on adding more stress and more anxiousness to them.
I don’t work with captive animals or sets ups, I’ve never taken this easy route to getting paying clients and securing a regular wage or images making them look wild when they were captive or tame animals. Instead I choose to work “as seen” on the ground using my skills, fieldcraft, passion and ethics. This has brought its own problems over the years in my private life with lack of money and sticking to my beliefs. I lost my home of ten years and my wife because of those beliefs and my stance on set ups, ethics and putting the subject first which created its own stresses.
I had to start my life all over again two years ago but never did I change my ethics or the way in which I work. Its better to be able to stand up and explain every image you took and its story where the importance of that subject was the first thought in my mind. In an age where we all want something overnight you cant rush or kid nature or people and your images and the back story to how you got the image are the most important things behind the welfare of the subject and come under the banner “ethics”
These are my thoughts in an industry where for alot of wildlife photographers a front cover or an award or how to win one is more important than the welfare of the subject and the mess you left behind once you go home. Ethics, fieldcraft should be the first thing you develop before passing yourself off as a wildlife photographer, something I am and take great pride in and my work. Be true to yourself and your work is something I’d rather die than give up and that’s my thoughts on ethics.
Ask what you can do for nature rather than what nature can do for you and who cares what award you’ve won or who has given you a free coat or tripod, if you do this for a living or just as a hobby you have to have that duty of care and integrity otherwise you have nothing.
Those lessons I learnt from my late mum are how I judge my encounters with nature today, not all will have such a story to tell or lean on but what I would say is everyone can put wildlife first, don’t change a thing that you see, just sit, watch and listen and nature will give up its secrets around you it truly will. The results will be a better encounter, an ethical image but more importantly a relaxed, happy and free to leave subject that has allowed you into their life for however long it lasts.
This has been a very personal account of where my love of wildlife started, at the same time where my own ethics where born out of without me really doing at the time. If anyone wishes to talk further about this then please feel free to call me or email me.
Thank you for reading this article and I hope in some way it helps you understand we can all apply ethics in some sort of way to our own wildlife photography whoever we are and for whatever reasons you take photographs of wildlife and we can all make a difference. Thank you to the nurses from Macmillan Cancer care for making my mums last days as comfortable as you could. I have donated prints to this charity that can be seen on the following link, many thanks.
In the June issue of N-Photo magazine, out now in all good newspaper shops and online there is a brand new feature called “On assignment”. Paul the editor asked me if I could be the first photographer to launch this and talk a little about my recent two week trip to Sumatra shadowing and living with the HOCRU ream from the Orangutan Information Centre. You can see this post on my blog by clicking here.
The work they do is amazing and it has been a privilege to work alongside this team since 2012 on my first trip with them on my “Spotlight Sumatra” 2 week trip. To see those blogs going back a few years now please click here. Below is the first rescue I did with this amazing team back in 2012.
It was a very tough 2 weeks back in February of this year, but very rewarding and I hope my images continue to gave those critically endangered Sumatran Orangutans a “voice” outside of their native home of Sumatra. At the same time show the world of the wonderful work these charities are doing on the ground.
Since my return from Sumatra, Paunt Hadisswoyo the founder of OIC- Orangutan Information Society has won the prestigious international nature conservation award & prize ” The Whitley Award. Which recognizes his tireless work to save these great apes and their forest homes at the same time educating the local people in saving their country and in return you save all those critically endangered animals that live there ie- Sumatran Tiger, Rhino, Elephant and Orangutan. Click here to see this amazing news.
Paunt is seen here being presented by the HRH The Princess Royal at a ceremony at the Royal Geographical Society, London and I couldn’t be happier for him and all the OIC team on the ground back in Sumatra they do an amazing job and often at their own risks, so well done all.
The magazine is available in many formats from online to a magazine format available in most papershops in the UK. I hope you enjoy this and it once more sheds light on whats happening there and also to those on the ground working tirelessly to save these great apes and their forest homes. I also go through a few tips and camera information on this assignment too. Thanks to Paul and the team at N-Photo for asking me many thanks.
Welcome once more from India, the change over from dropping my first clients to picking my seconds ones up went well and we got back from the airport and once more settled into our daily routine which consists of 2 safaris’s a day. The temperature each day had increased from when I first arrived and it was back to where I remember it being on the previous five years at this time of year.
On the second week with my clients I decided to restrict myself to one lens on each safari and post my favourite image from that day along with how I took the image, the settings behind the image and my thought process behind the image. This will I hope help you to get into the mindset of a working wildlife photographer and hopefully inspire you to think, see and take shots differently.
I have always given alot back from my own photography since turning professional in October 2009 making my living solely from this industry that has changed so much during that time. Anyone that can see can take a photograph, what takes time is learning to see, I truly believe in this saying when it comes to wildlife photography.
I have decided to post just one image on my blog from each day which will be very different to my previous trips to Ranthambhore. Hopefully it will demonstrate how one image can really speak for you, how it can tell a story at the same time making you a better wildlife photographer, restricting yourself to one image and thinking more about angles, composition and not just snapping away and thinking first and seeing the image within the image or the story as the title says.
The beauty of photographing wildlife is that it is always changing and evolving, encountering the unexpected. In this environment the wildlife photographer must learn to work with these changing environmental conditions and behaviours. Make best use of those and capture that wild encounter with your camera and the result cannot always be predicted .
The first safari of the second week started on Tuesday with new clients and the following images I hope will inspire you, help you and above all go someway into seeing a different way of thinking when you’re looking through your viewfinder. At the same time learning you so much about the subject, the environment it lives in and above all more about you and your own photography.
Tuesday 21st April 2014
Camera Settings – nikon D4S, nikon F2.8 300mm, F4, 1/200, iso 400, matrix metering, -0.3ev exposure compensation.
A mother Bengal Tiger and her one year old cub drink from a small forest pool in the late afternoon sun. On our afternoon drive with temperatures reaching nearly 42 drgees we came across this female and her two cubs. We parked up in a postion away from them and turned our engine off. She was sleeping for round two hours on and off and we just watched her and the cubs it was just magical. After they started to become alittle more active and they moved around and played before heading towards this small pool.
I was working with a fixed focal lens so I couldn’t zoom in or out and I was framing them the best I could. I focused my camera on the cub in the foreground and followed them down to this pool through my viewfinder. I was running out of room and did my best to keep them both in the frame very aware not to clip or cut one out and this was the result. Making best use of what angle you have is key when working with a fixed focal length. Soon after then moved off and all three vanished back into the forest.
Two young Bengal Tiger cubs sit waiting for their mum after they heard her calling for them in the morning light. I was only going to get focus on one and depth of field so I choose the front one. This resulted in the cub in the background being burred and giving a strong outline of another tiger. Both soon moved off into the undergrowth and later found their mother who took them off into the forest.
Thursday 23rd April 2015
Camera settings - nikon d4s, nikon f2.8 300mm, f5.6, 1/2000, iso 400, matrix, +1.0 exposure compensation.
A Black headed Ibis feeding in the dawn light. I followed the bird through my viewfinder from right to left and placed the subject over the the right so the bird would be walking into the frame.I used continuos servo mode to capture any movement and freeze it with a high shutter speed. The result is seen here with the birds beak open and foot raised which adds a sense of movement to this image. I chose to under expose a little too to gain a strong outline creating a wonderful silhouette.
Friday 24th April 2015
Camera settings – nikon d4s, nikon f2.8 300mm, f4, 1/500, iso 1000, matrix metering, -2.0 ev exposure compensation.
A Black Drongo bird taken in the morning light. We parked up to just take in the surrounding then this bird landed feet in front of me. I really love these birds and their fork-shapred tails that live in the national park. This bird landed on these naturally occurring grasses and I composed him over the the righthand side of my viewfinder giving space to the front of the bird as I watched through my viewfinder. I waited for a little interest in the form of action or a certain look. Then the bird looked straight at me in something I call first contact. When a wild animal makes first contact with a human and this was the result.
Saturday 24th April 2015
Camera settings - nikon d4s, nikon f2.8 300mm, f8, 1/1000, iso 200, matrix metering, -1.0 exposure compensation.
We spent a wonderful few hours in the morning sitting and watching this family of Bengal Tigers. There were three cubs and a female Tigress that would come from the safety of the long grass, then play and then vanish back into this long grass. So I chose the aperture F8 so I could gain more depth of field. Under exposing for the light as it was very bright and we were shooting into the light.
Once all three cubs came out from cover composition was hard as I was using a fixed focal length lens and so I had to really try to keep them all in the frame. I placed my focus spot on the cub in the middle and this was the shot I took. I have changed it to black and white because more often and not images that are contrasty look better in this format.
Sunday 28th April 2015
Camera settings - nikon d4s, nikon f2.8 300mm, f 5.6, 1/1000, iso 400, matrix metring, -0.7 exposure compensation.
A young Bengal Tiger cub sitting near a forest pool makes first contact with me. A saying I describe when human meets wild animal and for a split second theres an intense stare that can often look straight through you. Composition wise I composed him over to the right, placing my focus spot on the eyes and leaving negative space over on the left. I took a few images and was carful not to spook him with the noise from my cameras shutter button.
Those are my images from week two, I have lots more but I wanted to post these hoping to inspire you and try different things within your own photography. Being more selective and disciplining yourself to a few images or using one lens I feel makes you work harder and inevitably a better wildlife photographer. two weeks and twenty-four safaris for me have flown by once more and Id like to thank everyone one of my clients for your time and I hope you enjoyed the time you spent searching and photographing Bengal Tigers here.
Thank you to Sealskinz for the products that have helped me on this two week trip to India which have really protected me and my gear in some hot and tough conditions.
If you’d like to join me on my 2016 trip then please see the following link, many thanks.
Hello from Ranthambhore, India in this my sixth consecutive year of coming to this amazing place. My first week has now ended and shortly I will head back to Delhi airport to drop off my clients and then the following day pick my clients up and start my second week.
The Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve is the single largest expanse of Dry-Deciduous Forest left intact in India. Such forests were found all along the North and Central Aravalis but in the last few decades they have been badly degraded and right now this Tiger Reserve is one of their last strongholds.
Its an amazing place to see and spend time in and is one of the best places in India to see wild Bengal Tigers. An image of one of the forest guards on patrol in Ranthambhore National park is shown above.
Once we arrived and unpacked the following day we settled into our what our daily routine would be. An early rise at 5am, coffee before the two Jeeps I hire came to pick us all up and then we’d set off in search of the Tiger. This is always guaranteed to send adrenalin coursing through the veins as each day you just truly don’t no what to expect.
Whilst every movement in the undergrowth raises the expectation of a sudden appearance of this animal, striped body, footprints in the dust or the warning cries of deer all serving only to heighten the almost unbearable sense of excitement as you watch and listen for the first clue that a Tiger is around you.
It had been raining on and off over the last several weeks on the lead up to my trip so the forest was a lush green which made the whole place look and feel so much different from the previous several years of visiting at this time of year. Alot cooler too at times which made the place feel so much more pleasant temperature wise.
Ive always loved being in Ranthambhore National Park its full of wildlife, smells, noises and potential images everywhere. Its a place of great beauty, that once you visit you just know it wont be the last time. Its magic grabs hold of you in its grasp and you cant ever walk away.
Throughout the first week one set of clients saw very few Bengal Tigers, and my other clients had some of the best views and images ever. The national park has so much to photograph you’re often spoilt for choice and there is always an image to be had is my motto and something I try and convey and show to clients.
One jeep as in most years was luckier than the other with sighings almost daily, while the other jeep went days without seeing Tigers. When this happens I try and stay with those clients in order to use my own experience of this place for the better of them resulting in them getting images I always hope.
Nothing is ever promised as these are wild animals and with that comes its own set of conditions and you always need luck. Both jeeps and sets of clients saw Bengal Tigers on their first morning though and this was amazing. Im always happy when my clients see them and their own individuals reactions.
We came across a 15 month old female Bengal Tiger on that first day who was hidden away at first, sleeping. Soon after we stopped she came from cover and moved off. The following images shows her walking out and past where we were. Amazing to see this stunning tiger cub as she’s truly beautiful and such a great privilege to see her on our first day.
This was a beautiful morning above as we came across two cubs just sitting at the base of these trees as their mother was off hunting. The play of the natural light was stunning and we watched this male move, yawn and generally get bored before our eyes waiting for his mother to return. This was my last sightings for many days as previously mentioned above.
My other two clients though- Chris and his wife Lisa had some of the best sightings and images I’ve ever known in the many years I have been coming to Ranthambhore. While looking for the Bengal Tiger thought theres so much to photograph and the following images capture what we saw during those long days searching for the elusive Tiger.
A clear sign of the precarious nature of this area though, where the Tigers are completely wild and are free to go wherever they want. I have tired to put together a visual dairy to in order of days with the following photographs. Clearly making the best of changing light conditions and different photographic techniques.
Towards the end of the first weeks safaris my group that hadn’t really seen many Bengal Tigers had a great sighting with a female Bengal Tigress and the following images capture that amazing moment. To say I was pleased for them was an understatement.
While in India I have been using a number of products from a brilliant UK company called Sealskinz. I was invited to become one of their Ambassadors for their company. I have been using their products for many years now within my own wildlife photyogrpahy. I have to trust my kit, its a skill carried over from my days as a soldier in the British Army. Click here to see my recent blog and introduction to their team.
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Fingers crossed for the next seven days as I start a new week with new clients. I will write another blog letting you know how we all get on at the end covering this next week, many thanks and goodbye from India.
Firstly I’d like to update those that follow my blog on the young female Sumatran Orangutan being held as a pet I covered in my first blog. Over the last week I have been informed she has now been rescued which has made me very happy and her path back to the wild begins now which is wonderful. The full story of her rescue and how shes doing now can be read on this link.
The following blog tries to cover my last days on the island of Sumatra.
This day I had been dreading from the moment Id seen it on my itinerary. I’d joked about it to those that had asked me all week. Knowing the reasons I had been asked though I really wanted to help. As it got closer my bad jokes increased and my nervous laughter hid my fear of going. The place- MEDAN ZOO
The reason I went is sensitive at the moment but will be disclosed soon, so I cant say nothing yet. From the time I was dropped off until I left the zoo some several hours later I felt I was in a bad dream. that I’d gone back in time to the Victorian freak shows. I went alone, pretended I was a tourist with a camera. I cant remember the last time I voluntarily went inside a zoo and paid.
I paid my money, went through the front gate and the police and security where there, they said “Hi Mr” a common opening line. They wanted me to pose for photos with them so I did. Playing dumb and smiling back at what they were saying. I wanted to get into this place now. I stood on the front looking in, their voices and cameras going off as they posed with me, and shaking my hand after.
Seconds later I was in, I went to the toilet a stinking room with a hole in the ground. I got out my camera equipment and made it ready for whatever I was going to seeing with the smell of strong urine around me. Two cameras. two lens were the weapons of choice and what I was going to use to do what was asked of me and anything else that came. I had no idea what awaited me at that point.
Feet from the gate were three cages with different birds in, the last cage held three Black Cocktails, beautiful looking birds. As I walked past their cage I stopped and looked into their cage. One male and two females, one female showing the signs of stress with scars and feathers missing, their calls and small cages upset me, I took a few photos and moved on. Not long after I came across the mission as I will call it, I spent a good hour or so there photographing an creature that’s half-blind and living in great distress. The charities are trying to get him released so while this is going on I cant say anything but I will once the campaign is up and running.
I then went to the Tiger enclosure, I was looking for the Tiger keeper, I was told to ask for a “Mr Fixit” and I found him a young man, wearing a white t-shirt hanging around the Tiger enclosure. I was able to see areas the public cant if i paid him money. I nodded and he opened a small gate and to my left were small cages. I soon heard the booming roar of a Bengal Tiger echoing through the place. I had been told there were 12 Tigers – 8 Sumatran Tigers ( 4 cubs) and 4 Bengal Tigers. The zoo is tiny and when I first heard this I couldn’t believe the number. Once I had been let through the small gate I saw the cages all lined up on my left, painted green and yellow.
The roars of different Tigers rang out, I was left to take photos as the keeper went off somewhere. I worked my way down slowly moving from each cage. I didn’t know how long I had. I first came across 4 Sumatran Tigers in a small cage, as soon as I saw them they let out a very aggressive “hiss” a warning dont come any closer. What struck me was how tiny the cage was.
Next to them were two adult Sumatran Tigers, brothers I was told. Following each other around the smallest cage you could imagine. There was an outside part but it was closed. The temperature was around 36c and they were panting really heavy and if they made eye contact with me they would come straight at the cage and jump up.
Next to them was a male Sumatran Tiger with his female partner outside and she was unable to get inside. He was angry, real angry I only had to look at him and he came straight at me with only the cage between us.
Then behind me I noticed the keeper had come back and he had a small family with him, a woman with a young baby and the husband. They went to my right and he went and opened a cage up, then I saw a white Tiger being dragged out on a lead. For the next 10 minutes I watched as the family posed with this baby Bengal Tiger for photos, smiling and posing. I have to say I don’t know how I took these photos you see below without putting down my camera and doing something. The keeper then dragged the cub back to the cage and he showed the people back out. I then went to that cage I found 3 Bengal Tiger cubs one was lighter in colour. He was the one I saw dragged out.
I sat down, I could hear their father roaring, his call was booming, I took a few images and then moved to the next cage where I saw the biggest Tiger I have ever seen. A male Bengal Tiger that filled his cage, walking around, panting and roaring. Stopping a few times to lick the water on the floor as there was no bowl of water. I couldn’t see where the water was coming from.
He kept roaring and I made a small video, its so upsetting to watch. Again I took some photos, I dont no how, I had my mirrored sunglasses on should the keeper come back. They hid the tears in my eyes at what I had seen, as I looked at this Bengal Tiger go round and round and round, then stop, lick the floor then carry on. It was shocking truly shocking to watch.
The keeper came back and I had to leave, he told me it was 20,000 Indonesian rupiah, I didn’t want to gave him this because I was supporting his actions by doing this. I’m still angry at myself for giving him this money to go “behind the scenes” I truly am. He charged people for access and also the photos, I didn’t have any photos with that cub, I declined when he asked. How I didn’t put my camera down, pick him up and throw him into the Tigers cage I don’t know- “Play dumb craig, don’t get mad” I keep saying to myself as I let this dirty piece of scum take money from me and herd me around.
I then walked back to the main gate, I put my cameras away, dumb, emotionless, I wanted to get out of this hell and made my way to the main entrance. I was then picked up and driven back to where I was staying and I never spoke, numb with what I had just witnessed with my own eyes. I cant believe this is going on and places like this are allowed to even be open let alone have so many rare and endangered animals in such a small place.
The images below appear in the order I saw them and I hope they show you this hell hole, a true hell hole. I can’t summoned anymore words so I will leave these images of one of the worst places I have had the misfortune of ever visiting and seeing. There are also two short videos showing the conditions of the Sumatran Tigers and the lone male Bengal Tiger.
Am I sorry I went? No, I went for a reason and I unearthed a place that needs demolishing brick by brick its so bad. I take photos of wildlife because I love wildlife, here I was photographing pure suffering and it was tough, real tough. How can we do this to animals? How can owners, directors of zoos do this? where are the laws in place to protect such abuse?.
The next day I set off to spend time in the jungles of the Gunung Leuser National Park with Darma my friend and guide. I haven’t seen him since September 2012 when I spent 4-5 days in the jungle with him, so it was nice to see him and catch up before our trek to find Sumatran Orangutans in the wild. It was beautiful to be back in the jungles, the noises and smells are just amazing. After the previous days I needed this to balance everything out in my head that I had seen. Seeing the great sadness of animals takes its toll on you after the event and I had began to feel this inside so it was great to be back in the jungles with Darma.
Every now and again while trekking we’d hear something behind us, it wasn’t from the trees because we were listening and watching for the Orangutans but it kept coming from ground level. So we stopped, on this path, I took my gear off, and I picked up my camera and waited to see what came around the small blind bend behind us.
Soon we found what the noise was, a loan Long-tailed Macaque slowly walking on the ground, no troop with him, completely alone with a few scars and bite marks on his body. Most probably ousted from a troop and alone now. As I was taking this photo Darma got my second camera and took this you can just see him on the path. He made me laugh, with his bold advances.
He followed us for a good 30 minutes or so each time we stopped he stopped it was funny and made me laugh. They can be aggressive too so just best to leave them be as we did and he soon vanished into the forest. I felt a bit sorry for him alone but Im sure he’ll find a troop to join again. Soon we were in the middle of one of the best rainforests in the world and the following are some of my favorite images, I managed to get of these wild Sumatran Orangutans during the time I spent with Darma.
After some amazing encounters in the jungles the time had come where I had to leave Darma and head back to the team. I was sorry to leave him and the forests and Orangutans, I truly was. I spent the next three days in the field with the HOCRU rescue team from OIC, searching and monitoring areas for Sumatran Orangutans. Very interesting to see how they track and try to read the signs that there were or had been Orangutans around. I also saw one of their techniques to move on or scare any Sumatran Orangutans they come across that is in an area they shouldn’t be or are isolated.
They use a bamboo canon and the noises made scares the orangutans and moves them on, If that fails then the last resort is to dart them and move them to a safer place. But I was told the noise works in most cases. Its made up of a metal tube and a small can welded on and a gap for oxygen to get inside. They call them Bamboo canon because they teach local farmers to make them out of bamboo and also to train them using these. Carbite, small stones, water and oxygen ignites the “gas” given off, it then makes a small charge and loud bang.
During this time I spent the nights in one of the teams house- Rudi. A kind family man who introduced me to his family, they lived in a small village not far from where we were searching. All the houses are made of wood with very simple amenities, children play happy in the alleyways and everyone is proud and very friendly. We slept on the floor and I was made very welcome.
We don’t no how lucky we are back home, people here live happy, simple lives with very little but each other, very enduring to witness. OIC has a network of locals that help them all over Sumatra so once night falls their team can sleep on the floor and have a meal that night. Then the next day continue with their work, its what we did for the first week or so of my trip.
Once my time had come to an end in the field I then headed to spend the time with the CRU team in Tangkahan. They patrol the nearby forest with rescued and ex captive Sumatran Elephants that have all been trained to form part of the anti-poaching patrols into the national park. Each month they do several patrols into the jungle and do vital work. When not patrolling the public can wash them in the river and take photos and so forth which generates an income and an awareness of their importance in Sumatra.
Something very peaceful about Elephants when you’re near them, powerful, massive animals yet so gentle and beautiful. A female Sumatran Elephant took a shine to me,so I joined her in the river. A wonderful moment to be so close to such a massive animal, she splashed me and lay on her side as I took photos of her. I asked her keeper what was her story. He told me she was 27, and was held captive by a policeman for 15 years, then rescued and now she’s part of this CRU team.
She was beautiful as she splashed me and displayed in front of me in the water. Once they are all washed they are led away by the keepers and kept in an enclosure with an electric fence and are looked after very well I have to say. Shame they aren’t in the wild but their lives didn’t work out to well but at least they are safe and alive.
There are fewer than 2000 in the wild and I have been lucky enough in the past to hear them call in the jungle but never seen truly wild ones. This perhaps will be the closest I will ever get to one in Sumatra which is very sad really. Another animal on this wonderful island under great pressure from poachers and deforestation. More information about these Elephants can be seen on the following link .
On my last full day and night in Sumatra I went undercover, photographing other primates and animal markets in Medan. Posing as a tourist with an interest in certain animals. Just my camera and someone to take me to these places. Sumatra has many animals that are protected, most are crucially endangered. One such primate is the Siamang, they are endangered. But sadly nothing and I mean nothing is done to enforce the law to protect them. In Sumatra there are thousands of primates and other animals being held in such conditions and nothing is done.
When I went to this place I gained access by pretending to be interested in Siamangs. Once inside I looked around to see how many people were there, I identified one male and female, and I tired to work out what was the feeling of me being there etc and an escape path should it go wrong. To my left I saw this piece of metal which was a sort of cage. As I got closer and I saw a face peer back at me from the darkness, it made me jump. Then the loudest call you ever heard rang out.
The person I was with asked about the Siamang and she was 8 years old and had spent that whole time in this cage from the wild. The room smelt of urine and it was so, so sad. Playing an interested tourist while filming and taking photos was so hard for me, I almost couldnt take photos it was so shocking and sad. The problem is there is nowhere for these Siamangs to be released too. Through my work over the last several years you have all seen just how hard it is for the Sumatran orangutan let alone any other primates.
She was terrified to see me and these images show that piece of metal that has been her prison for 8 years. Sitting in darkness, coming from the shadows to see who I was. Something so wrong about how animals and birds are kept in Sumatra. With the following photos I wanted to try and make her look beautiful, she may never have had her photo taken. I hope you see her beauty as I did in these images because somewhere in that tangled mess of metal, a living being lives.
After here I went to a market but it was too dangerous for a Westerner with a camera so I went to a smaller one and saw rare birds, and other animals in tiny cages, only feet away from busy roads. Soon after I took a few photos I was told no more by locals wanting me to move on. People don’t want you to see anything. The cruelty and suffering was everywhere to see and heartbreaking to it really was.
Very little has changed since I first began coming to Sumatra several years ago now apart from the care and rescuing of these great apes. Forests are still cut down illegally, encroachment into protected areas still happens, this happened while I was there and the images below captured this. Burnt, smashed forests flattered and nothing is done to protect it as locals steel land day by day illegally. Among all this destruction plants and flowers still grow though. Natures defiant act to those killing the soil with their selfish actions.
Habitat loss is still happening at an alarming rate, forests to release rescued or rehabilitated Sumatran Orangutans is running out. A viable wild population of Sumatran Orangutans cant just come from confiscated or ex pet trade Sumatran Orangutans who are taken from their mums, who are killed in the act. You have to save the wild Orangutans habitat and rescue those stranded and cut off from the forests to have a truly wild, viable population of these great apes for the future. Empowering and working with local people to protect and save their natural resource which in turn keeps alive all the wildlife there.
Long term initiatives like reducing corruption, massive changes in management regimes and actions, long-term institutional change, as well as monitoring trade and prosecuting criminal behavior will take too long to develop to an effective level to halt the immediate crisis. Without direct intervention in the national parks the Orangutans along with other forest-dependent wildlife- like the Sumatran Tigers and Elephants will become progressively scarcer until their populations are no longer viable.
Given the rate of deforestation in the past several years, and the recent widespread investment in oil palm plantation’s and bio diesel refineries, calculations suggest that 98% of lowland forest maybe destroyed by 2022. The incentive to log the protected areas will grow as timber companies run out of supplies outside of the parks, in turn they will start to destroy the national parks. These areas have to be protected and many times during my visit to Sumatra I heard and was told by locals that the government is letting everyone down by the lack of enforcement here.
There are some 2155 field rangers at the last count that patrol an area of 108,000km square. They have no access to helicopters, aeroplanes and necessary arms or military patrolling skills that would enable them to prevent illegal activity. Logging companies use bribes and are better armed and equipped than most rangers. If the rangers had the necessary training, communication, transport and arms then they’d be better placed to protect and prevent these illegal acts against the protected forests. The Indonesian government does have such a small force in the shape of their SPORC -rapid response ranger units. However their impact and presence is too small and they lack the mandate, training and equipment to prevent illegal loggers from operating inside the protected areas.
The removal of illegally grown plantations, mining and agricultural development inside the national parks is another major issue that needs addressing.
Reducing the rate of deforestation over Indonesia as a whole will also have a dramatic impact on the regional carbon dioxide emissions and thus help to prevent dangerous levels of global climate change. If the logging of national parks continues unchallenged it could under-mine the protected area concept worldwide. The Indonesian initiative is to strengthen the protection of their parks therefore they urgently need substantial support from the international community if the Orangutan habitats and national parks are to be rescued from this growing state of emergency that’s happening there now.
Two weeks of pain and hurt, I’ve seen things that have truly brought me to tears and upset me. Cruelty towards animals you wouldn’t believe that angered me, and still weeks after my return trouble me inside. How the members of the rescue team do this week in and week out is something we should all be very proud of. When something is so wrong and so corrupt that everything you do is tainted and against you how do you go on? Well these guys do.
My aim with my two week trip shadowing the rescue team was to show what work they do and how they battle not only against the illegal trade in Sumatran Orangutans but the lack of real guts on the ground to enforce the laws laid out now by the various international laws that Indonesian have agreed to many times in the past.
Thank you to everyone in Sumatra, and around the world that help to keep these great apes alive. Thank you Panut and your team for looking after me once more, great people doing remarkable work. Thank you to the HOCRU rescue team from OIC for the laughs and for your determination in helping to keep the Sumatran Orangutans alive. When you are threatened or bullied for your work in helping/rescuing these Sumatran Orangutans remember the whole world is behind you and those cowardly people that have to cage and hurt animals don’t stand for good they stand for evil and are weak to the core. That weakness makes them vulnerable, see this and you have nothing to fear. Respect to you all, take care.
I have just returned from the remote,Indonesian island of Sumatra. It was great to be back some twelve months on from my last visit. I was shadowing the rescue team -HOCRU from the Orangutan Information Centre- OIC. during the two weeks there. The last time I worked with these guys was just before the Spotlight Sumatra exhibition in London, which was an amazing success.
As soon as I arrived in Medan the capital of Sumatra I was picked up by Panut and we headed over to the HQ of OIC. We went through a very loose plan for my trip because nothing is promised or can be planned with regard to the rescues of Sumatran Orangutans that find themselves cut off, surrounded on all sides with conflict palm oil. This rescue team was set up by Panut as a direct response to these conditions these crucially endangered orangutans face on Sumatra each and everyday.
With the preparation, travelling and release there is alot of time involved with each rescue so during the two weeks I rarely had any free time. My aim by shadowing these guys is to show the world what they do and how etc. This is the only rescue team on the island of Sumatra, something when I say it still surprises me because the scale of the problems in Sumatra with Sumatran Orangutans are massive.
After spending the night travelling we reached the house in which we were to spend the night ready for the following morning when we were to meet with the forest police force and then go and rescue this orangutan. OIC has a network of local people that help them, and they also put the team up whenever they can, looking after them.
On the morning of the raid we were up early, I dont sleep well when Im getting ready for something so I was up way before the rescue team from Orangutan Information Centre. We had some breakfast, a team talk from the director of OIC- Panut and we set off. All I knew was a young Sumatran Orangutan was being held as a pet and that we could gain access into the courtyard at a certain time and with the help of the local/forest department police we would rescue her.
On the way I got my cameras ready, settings and lens chosen, once we arrived we parked up we entered the small courtyard and to my left I saw a tiny cage with a Sumatran Orangutan slumped on the floor. The smell of urine was really bad as this tiny head lifted up and made eye contact with us. In the background I saw the owner come a man around 45-50 average build and he was talking to the police and team as I lay level with her and spoke to her. She was banging her body into the cage, perhaps excited there were new people in the yard. I’d like to think for those brief moments she came alive and was happy as I was saying “you’re okay now you will be free in a minute so relax”.
Then the tone and tempo changed and the man was standing in front of me talking loudly in Indonesian and waving his arm with a pointed finger. I ignored him and carried on taking images of the young female.Then I heard ” Craig… we have to go he wants us to leave” I was puzzled and said very little. Once back in the car I was told the police got scared, didnt want to take the orangutan or apply the “Law” that they have the power to do. The man holding the Orangutan told them he was an ex-Aceh rebel and was part of the mafia in that area and that if the orangutan was taken we would all disappear.
A common problem I have come across in Sumatra, fear, intimidation, corruption, bribes, money and a total lack of willingness to apply the rules the world have applied to these critically endangered animals. OIC dont have the powers of arrest, they depend on the police to help them and have to pay them for their time, petrol and any other costs. Those we met on that morning came in civilian dress, weren’t wearing their uniform and had little interest in their work or helping the orangutan. Soon after they dropped their invoice off to Paunt though for prompt payment.
The helpless task of saving Sumatran orangutans is made so much harder by the corruption there and to this day I am told this female is still being held illegally. She was estimated to be 6 years old and the children there told the team they had had her a number of years. This tiny small cage has been home for years and it was very troubling and upsetting to see. Efforts to gain her freedom continue, these images show just what a tough and emotional job these guys have and even when everything is on their side things still don’t go their way.
I’d like to think for a few moments her life changed as we were there, she woke, took food from Paunt and begin moving around her tiny cage. Leaving her behind troubles me to this day. This was as close to the frontline as you can get , in the yard of a mafia mans home seeing the results of the illegal pet trade close up for myself. The following images visualize what we saw on that morning I hope, and are dedicated to that Sumatran Orangutan.
We then headed back to the locals house to eat and rest for the next day as the plan was to locate the female and her baby and fingers crossed rescue her. Again we woke early, got our gear together and set off for the area in which the reports had come into the team of her presence. A number of locals were helping to locate her so when we arrived the team knew roughly the area. I watched as Ricko the vet and the rest of the team put into practice a well drilled operation they have gone through many times.It was then just a matter then of waiting, watching, listening and fingers crossed we’d find her.
The shout came back and I followed Ricko the vet, walking through the fragmented forest, we came across several trees and it was then I first saw her. The marksman had already darted her and soon after she fell into the large net held out and open below her by the whole of the HOCRO team as well as some locals. In a matter of minutes I heard a loud crash and she and the baby fell from the trees and landed safely into the net. The team took her to a safe area so they could do their vital checks.
When you see these beautiful animals up close you are always struck by their size and colour. It is amazing to be so close to one and I remember my first rescue with this team back in September 2012. Once in a safe place the baby was taken from the mum in order for the check to be carried out. A member of the team got the baby and walked off very carefully so as not to stress the baby any further. Then the vet, Ricko checked the female, inserted a microchip, checked for any injuries, state of heath and so on.
Once this was done the team carried her to the rescue truck and reunited mother and baby as they placed them both in the cage that was to take them to a safer part of the national park and a second chance of life. We then drove an hour or so to the release site where we had to cross,shoulder deep a river to reach the safe part of the national park.
It was great to witness all this and the end result once the team lifted the door of the cage and slowly she came out along with her baby and climbed the first tree she saw. Just wonderful to witness and see and it was a great day for the team and these two Sumatran Orangutans. We then crossed the river once more which I must say was so refreshing as the temperatures in Sumatra at this time of year is a blistering 36-38 degrees and the humidity levels are very high so you’re always wet anyway.
Once back to our base in Aceh we washed off and relaxed for a while before the 10-12 hour drive south back to the HQ of OIC in Medan. The driving and planning like I say often takes many hours if not days so even though a rescue itself is short its the before, after and traveling that makes the hours flyby.
Once we got back to the headquarters of OIC in Medan a long 12 hour drive the HOCRU team cleaned and packed away the kit and headed home. Some had been away from their families for nearly ten days so everyone was looking forward to the rest and time with loved ones. I cleaned all my camera equipment and charged batteries and backed up my images and did some editing of the rescue images to send back to the UK for SOS- Sumatran Orangutan Society. That night I slept at Panuts house and met his lovely family, wife, and two young children, one boy and one girl. The following day I woke and had breakfast and then headed to the office with Panut and carried on doing some editing to get the images back to Helen, the director of SOS. The news was breaking back in the UK and many sites carried the story and images – EIA- SOS.
That afternoon though everything changed, the team had a call to let them know a male Sumatran Orangutan had become trapped in land just outside a palm oil plantation. After several calls the team were called in from their homes and we all gathered our gear and headed north once more to the province of Aceh. All we knew again was their was a male there that had wandered into land where locals were working and they had become scared.
OIC has posters up all around this area and with the help of locals they ring and alert them should a Sumatran Orangutan come into conflict with humans or became trapped and this was a perfect example of that once more. I had been in the country less than a week and already we were on our way to our second rescue it was unbelievable and quite sad that the Sumatran Orangutans are in such danger because for every one that gets rescued there must be many more that don’t and end up being killed or sold into the pet trade which really saddened me.
We reached there quite late, with around a couple of hours light left. The team went into their well drilled routine and off they went to try and locate this male. After a while we caught a brief sighting of him, a hand then he vanished. He seemed to know how to hide and the sun set that night as he gave us the slip. The search was called off as dusk fell, we stayed in a nearby plantation which were helping the rescue team. They made us welcome and cooked some food for us which was a welcome break as with the travelling and searching not many of us had eaten. We then got our heads down and looked forward to the morning.
Before first light we were all up and in place, the team were searching and watching for any tell tale signs of movement. After searching for two hours, they found him, I was on the top of the valley looking down as the team went in. Not long after they had darted him and then began the long walk to the top carrying him in the net with the locals and people from the nearby plantation helping to carry this massive male to where the vet could check him.
The male Sumatran Orangutan is the most beautiful of all the great apes. With privileged access I wanted to try to reflect that beauty within an image. After the team had done all checks on him, I was given the nod by Ricko the vet and I took this very personal image again with my macro lens. Being so close at times felt surreal, 5-6 times stronger than man, this male whose age was around 35 was in his prime and very handsome. He wouldn’t have woken up from the tranquilizer given to him at the point of rescue but still being this close to such a massive and powerful ape made my heart beat so fast. His facial hairs I love and are one of the key characteristics Sumatran Orangutans have from their Borneo Orangutan cousins. The following images take you through that days events.
These are the HOCRU team and some of the helpers from the plantation and locals that helped to carry this massive male pictured above. Once he was safety in the cage we loaded up the truck and headed some distance away to the national park to release this beautiful male back into the rainforests where he belongs. When the gate on the cage is pulled up I’m always nervous as to how the Orangutan will come out, they always climb the nearest tree and vanish. This was no different, so amazing to see and witness though and this image below captures that wonderful moment.
As we headed back to Medan from Aceh the team were over the moon and so was I. We drove through the night to get back and once home everyone was so tired. The rescue team were given a few days off by Panut and headed home. I backed up my images and headed to bed also. In just over a week on the island of Sumatra I had witnessed three Sumatran Orangutans rescued and relocated and it was amazing to see and witness. As I closed my eyes that night I hoped they were all doing well back in the wild.
My itinerary gave me some time to edit and get the images ready for OIC/SOS over the next day or so and I had time to sleep and get some much needed rest. While you travel around Sumatra it’s hard to escape the vast palm oil plantations that cover most of Sumatra now and also the deforestation that litter the landscape of Sumatra. The following words and images reflect how I saw this and how I felt driving through these soulless places.
“THE BIRDS DONT SING ANYMORE” by craig jones
Soulless, a lifeless landscape of palm oil forests. The sun still rises in the East, each day it tries desperately to bring life to the spot where once some of the worlds finest rainforest stood. But nothing grows, nothing lives apart from alien palm oil trees
Nature wont forgive, a defiant act, its last stand against those that came without warning ripping every bit of life out in such a brutal manner, killing everything that lived there.
Nature wont allow the same to happen again
Over the next few days the plan was to visit Medan Zoo for a mission that I hope will end happily for a certain animals while I photographed some of the conditions the animals live in there. After that I headed to see my friend Darma a guide for the forest who I hadn’t seen since September 2012 when I spent several days trekking wild Sumatran Orangutans. I spent some time in the jungles with him again and some much needed peace and beauty after the last week or so. Then I spent time with the HOCRU team in the field once more, after which I spent a wonderful day with the Sumatran Elephants before doing some undercover work and photography. All of this will be covered in my next blog.
I hope you have enjoyed this first blog and if you’d like to donate to this rescue team, the only one of its kind on the island of Sumatra then please see this link many thanks.