AUTHOR’S NOTE: This is an account of my experiences with the Macaca Nemestrina Project in Perak, Malaysia. Since, I don’t have great internet connection, each blog post will be an account of 3 days. I will try to explain biology jargon and/or provide links for them. But I’m pressed for time as internet is precious and I use Starbucks’ wifi (shoutout to Starbucks for all the caffeine). Excuse the atrocious spelling and grammar. I’m using a tablet and I miss MS Word pointing out my errors. Photos are more difficult to upload but I’ll figure out a way to do it later, and hope that my words are enough to paint a picture. Please read the previous posts for context. Feedback and questions are appreciated. Curiosity drives us. It drove me to this adventure.
20th Feb’2017- Eyes wide open
Mimi has been gone, volunteering in the state of Pahang where a health check-up has been organised for on of the Aboriginal tribes (She is a do-gooder. Tell me how the “youth are out of touch and lazy” again). Anna really needed a day off after all those 12-hour shifts she has been pulling. And thus, I was here in the forest this morning while Michele would take over the afternoon shift. And being alone (the times I either Anna or I were lost don’t count) meant I was going to have to ensure that nothing made me lose AMY.
I reached the sleeping site and though I was on time, it was already well lit though the sun wasn’t out yet. I thought I heard rusting further downhill, in the direction heading towards the plantation. This would make sense as AMY had only gone into he plntation once yesterday. It was the sensible thing to do but AMY may not do what I dem is sensible for them to do. I abandoned my plan to go down and walked left instead because I thought I heard more sounds. Seemed like a good call (call- get it? the pun?) but I still had no visual confirmation. And as if answering my silent prayers, there he stood, on the ground staring intently at me. The Heimdall of AMY- Franzi. With a look in his eye that seemed to say, “Where were you? You’re late” before he got up and led me straight to the females. They were busy grooming infants while some juveniles and adults were still climbing drown from there night perches. They began to move and I wondered what direction they were moving in. You know what, doesn’t matter. I WAS NOT going to lose them while I was busy staring into the GPS, phone or filling up the tablet too long. They move like ninjas, no sound,no warning and then…no trace.
They were moving in small circles around the sleeping site, looking for things they could feed on. Biru had finally caught Norbert’s eye and I got bored of watching them go through the predictable motions of ‘present-pucker-mount-vocalise’. Although, as Michele had pointed out yesterday, Biru for some reason doesn’t groom whoever has just mounted her. I was tumbling through more spiny Bertum while avoiding muck in my bid to follow AMY. My conflict with Phoenix, tormentor of juveniles and pain in every macaque’s butt continues (I celebrate silently everytime he gets rejected by a swelling female or chased by some other adult -male or female). Meanwhile, Oliver and I have finally reached an understanding following our series of stand-offish encounters. He no longer glares warily at me while uckering incessantly though he’s still not reached the level of almost a weed-induced chill of Franzi and Norbert (according to the knowledge I have of weed-induced chill from TV and movies). Brandi watched me curiously when she though I was unaware. Wish I could pucker like they do when they catch you watching them (obviously this is a bad idea- i is best to keep a neutral”resting bitch face”).
We finally reached a flat surface. We were quite close to the logging road. I sat down on the only available log without spines and I could see Febe to my right around 10 m away and Franzi diagonallly in front of me around 7 m away calmly plucking out a spine from his foot. It was a tranquil moment and I eased up. He looked at me and I at him and then suddenly, before I could move or react, he had jumped like a startled cat and up a tree while a gigantic WILD PIG passed through and jumped over the log at the exact spot where Franzi was a second ago. I sat there frozen while images of Peppa pig and Pumba were replaced by this silent giant who could actually jump over this log like a graceful ballerina as well as crushing someone with its monstrosity. When I unfroze, everyone seemed as unperturbed as they were before and Franzi as back to grooming himself as if nothing had occured.
AMY got on to the logging road and I realised they were heading into the swamp at Checkpoint 1. This gave me a chance to do a head count as they trickled from the forest to the other side of the logging road. I saw the shy mother Chewbacca. (Shy is an understatement. She alarm calls every time she spots you watching her. Anna gets frusrated when trying to do a focal on her) Or at least I think that’s her. Where was her baby? I go closer, she spots me and runs up a tree snatching her baby Chocolate (whose sex we still don’t know because Chewbacca won’t leave it alone) from its surprised babysitter Jane, the swelling sub-adult who is fond of all juveniles and currently swelling herself. “Sorry” I whisper for having caused grief though I doubt they understood.
We reached the swamp and a familiar part of the swamp too for that matter. Michele and I had spent two-three consecutive days in this area closest (again…relatively) to ‘bridge 2’. It was almost 1pm and none of the areas I had been in had reception so messages giving my location had been unsent. I hoped AMY would move steadily to the plantation and I could just be spotted by Michele there but suddenly AMY stopped. They were just taking their own sweet time to get to the plantation. Luckily, this gave me the erefct opportunity to try out our new walki-talkies and they worked. Michele came to bridge 2 and I told her I was only 87 m away from her. Easier said than done in this area but we have used the way and so cleared part of it. She got to us, I handed over the tablet, briefed her about my day,we exchanged GPSs and I wished her good luck.
I had almost reached the tarred road without incident when I saw something on the path. It was black as coal and glistening, and moving from the forest to the field on my right. I slowed to a standstill at a standstill. I knew by then that it was definitely a snake. And then I saw its head, the unmistakable whiteband on the underside, near its head- A COBRA. It’s funny how time slows down for your benefit and you can notice eveery detail, every second when you know you can’t photograph it because it happpens so suddenly (Also, I don’t want to get trampled by a pig or bitten by a cobra).
I got home. Mimi had arrived last night after her trip to Pahang and was going back home to Kedah. She had been kind enough to make us all Tom-yam because she is a saintly creature. The landlady had invited the remaining three of us (Anna, Mimi and I) to lunch which we accepted and enjoyed. Mimi left with the promise that she’ll try to come and visit before I leave and I’m going to hold her to it.
21st Feb’2017- Little AMY wants to play
I had a terrible headache last night which was not impoving because I couldn’t sleep much thanks to the crazy downpour interspersed by loud thunder. When I finally went to sleep, it was still raining. And so it was when I got up. Anna and I decided that it would be better if we took the jeep. We got there but didn’t go to the sleeping site immediately. It was so dark and still pouring cats and dogs. We would not be able to see ahead or hear AMY thanks to the rain. Finally, at around 8:15, we decided to go in the moment the rain eased up a little though it was still a steady drizzle. And then it hit us where the sleeping site was. I learned the true meaning of swamp. It was waterlogged. Places I knew so well, with muck and Pandan trees looked novel when so much of it was under water. I could feel something on my inner arm- a leech. I started to bleed though it wasn’t too bad. “That’s only the first of many” said Anna.
We got to the sleeping site Michele had marked. The rain was so bad that AMY had definitely not moved. We went up a bit further till we reached a place where we could hear them. The long-tails and Duskies were here too though no gibbons. Anna believes that AMY tends to sleep in either of the swamps when it is about to get stormy that night although she doesn’t know how to prove it scientifically…yet. We stood under a tree to shelter from the rain while fending of and removing leeches before they did too much damage. We watched as Jisuaf repeatedly mounted Goldie who-bless her vocalises every time so we can be assured of her, and thus AMY’s presence. Afetr a while, our eyes adjusted to the low-light conditions (it was 9:30) and we saw others. “We’ve only moved 20 m today” Anna said looking at the GPS. Soon, the males had their barking and support-shake rituals (they seem to do this ever morning as if their heirarchy needs to be figured out and reinstated every day). By 10 am, when the rain finally stopped and it started getting warmer, AMY started moving and I removed the 9th leech from my body. “I once had 20 in total on a single day, your number too will increase as we walk more now” Anna remarked. Dreading the leaahes, we began wading through the almost knee high water and looking for little island made of dead wood and solid mud that could suport our weight and wasn’t surrounded by clumps of spiny plants. This was a difficult task to accomplish and we had to take many a detour to avoid getting stuck. Luckily, we knew AMY was heading towards the plantation using our favoured route via bridge 2, which though mostly underwater was still manageable.
By 11 am, as I removed my 12th leech, Anakin had come out to the plantation though still in the buffer zone. Biru was getting mounted by some male, probably Oliver. Anna did a focal on Anakin while I filled in the tablet while I waited for others to come out. It was 12 and we could still only hear AMY on the other side of the bridge. Even Anakin went back in. So we crossed back again and waited. Then we waited some more till we got bored of seeing and hearing them but frustrated because they didn’t seem to want to go to the plantation. We wondered how hungry they might be and why they weren’t going out. Tim was sleeping above us while Curli mounted and groomed Phoenix, who for once seemed too sleepy to torment anyone. While other males fought and barked, Norbert was too busy getting groomed. And suddenly, the long-tails that had actually gone into the plantation started alarm-calling for no apparent reason. AMY seemed not as excited- probably because they knew they were safe. Tim momentaily raised his head and looked. I followed his gaze and saw what the fuss was all about. The dogs were here.
This whole time, my message to Michele who had her day off, to come pick me up hadn’t been sent (no reception in the swamp) and I wanted AMY to go out so I could go find reception. It was 1:15 pm. We had watched as Norbert was chasing Biru up and down several trees to probably mount her while she refused and avoided him. Finally, the mothers came out of the bushes in the distances and we saw that the group was definitely travelling to the plantation this time. I spotted Putih on who Anna was desperate to do a focal. We crossed the makeshift bridge 2 yet again. But in the time it took us to cross cautiously, Putih had gone. My head was throbbing now and I decided that it was time to get to a place where I could find reception so all my messages to Michele could be sent. I finally called her the moment I had reception asking her to please come pick me up on the bike. She had luckily just received my messages and was about to leave.
We got back by 2 and I showered, had lunch and decided to replenish my body with electrolytes before sleeping for close to 4 and a half hours. It is my day off tomorrow and I intend to write my blog, do some chores and relax.
Wednesday 22nd Feb’2017- An ode to ‘uselessness’
I went to sleep quite late, taking advantage of the fact that internet is stronger (again- relatively, post 11 pm). I set an alarm for 7:30. I was going to unwind, type my blog up with the least mistakes possible, do laundry and cook for the wake so I didn’t live on Maggi and apples. I had given Anna and Michele all the stuff they would need for this morning. But I missed out on one crucial thing….bike keys. So Michele after trying to start the bike without keys realised that this bike needed keys which were in my hut. After I was woken up, I couldn’t really go back to sleep but I decided to browse some internet, or try to. I lay back down and felt a crunch. Almost too afraid of whether my head had cracked open, but rationalising that it would be louder and more painful, I slowly sat up and turned on my phone’s flashlight. It was a big-ass spider. I had crushed it to death. Well, no point relaxing now.
After disposing off the corpse, I decided that I should really get on to doing my laundry while having coffe and working on the blog. I wanted to finish all my weekly chores while I had the time. The landlady informed me that long-tails were in the village again. This was enough inspiration for me to finally procrastinate on cooking. I finally had lunch by 1pm. It was a nice day- not too sunny and not rainy. Although I’m completely okay with rain if I don’t have to work or leave the house.
I had made plans to start a new book or read some papers after a little siesta. Until I realised Youtube was working. And then I fell asleep. I got up and Michele was knocking on my door informing me that the cooking gas cylinder was probably empty. There goes my plan to do something work-related today and cook the Silica gel. Anna would have to come so we could drive to exchange the cylinder. And we were seriously low on petrol. As in we were sure it wouldn’t last us till the next trip to the city on Saturday. So after Anna came back and filled us in on AMY’s activities and sleeping site, we made the impulse decision to come into the city, change Starbucks day from Friday to Wednesday and get food after.
One doesn’t realise how exhausted one gets. And I never feel tired when I am working. In fact I feel I am not doing enough. So this is my post appreciating a relaxing day dedicated to unwinding. Though it did not necessarily start out or pan out as I had planned, me the cynic has realised that it is not necessarily a bad thing.
PS- Follow my adventures via images and videos on: