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 by email thatshe 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.