Primate Diaries: Days 43-45

Author’s Note: I am typing this in the last 15 minutes when my Starbucks wifi finally decided to work. Again, ignore the spelling and grammar. Please read the earlier blogs for context and google “Macaca Nemestrina Project”- you won’t regret it.

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26th Feb 2017, Sunday: Get it together!

Although I was supposed to accompany Anna in the afternoon shift today, I volunteered to come with Michele. She shouldn’t have to deal with ‘The Swamp’ alone. I wouldn’t. We had taken a trail marked by the project earlier on and found AMY already gearing up to move. They would definitely have to get out into the plantation considering they hadn’t been there since noon yesterday. At least that is what we thought. We were already a little distracted by the putrid smell of methane and rotting wood (the latter is a small I usually adore). Also, it wasn’t helping that ‘The Swamp’ is filled with trees and bushes that makes it impossible for us to spot and follow the macaques. And because a lot of the ground is wet or filled with water, it is highly unlikely that they come down. We soon realised our hopes of having an easy day in the plantation were being dashed and drowned in swamp water.

After much deliberation (Michele and I hardly ever reach a concensus on where the sounds come from), I prevailed, and we started the gargantuan task of clearing a path so we could somehow get to AMY. Luckily, as Anna had told me before, the one positive thing is that even AMY seems unfamiliar with the area and due to lack of visibility, gives a lot of contact-calls. This is what helped us because we can hardly ever trace a straight path to get to them. We spend a lot of time saying things like “The water seems deep here, is it better there?”, “It’s not great but I think we can cut these stems easily, a lot of them are dry”, “OWWWWWWW, RATTAN!!!”, “We should have just waited for them to eventually come out to the plantation or something”, “Wait, do you hear that too”, “Ok good, at least they are around”. I had become a pro at machete weilding and cutting now, though my hands were sore from the use of force and all the spines that were the side-effect. I’d once got entangled so bad in Rattan while falling on a bed of Bertum spines, that I was ready to get out of this bit. But this particular bit seemed never ending. There was no marked trail here, and now we could see why. It was pure, unalderated SWAMP. I think it took us close to 45 mintes to move, lets be real, we were low-key swimming by this point and get out. Until we could see it. LAND HO! I wanted to scream.

We got out, spotted AMY, a lot of individuals were on the ground. Emptied our boots, wrung our socks and filled in the tablet before eating some food. By this time though, we were both feeling less grouchy already, although a little worried about the fact that none of the spare batteries we had brought for the GPS was helping much and we might lose the way because we were nowhere near any exit. Michele, bless her, had a compass and we figured out what the closes exit would be and what direction it would be in. And, then realising there was nothing else we could do- we watched as Biru groomed and got mounted by Phoenix. Pippi approached them and presented though considering she is not swelling, that was in vain. So now, she and Biru were both grooming Phoenix who, I might be anthropomorphising- but we thought looked mighty pleased by the attention. Michele was still clinging to the hope that the worst was over and that all the rest of our way could be land and forest. But I prepared her for some more unpleasantness because to get out on anyside, we would have to go through the swampy bits. Better to be real about these things I thought. It was 12 and we were still moving, nowhere near any trail we could use.

Soon, my prophecy based on deduction and pessimism came true. “Not again”, we said collectively and then the same things mentioned above yet again. This time, I let Michele weild the machete. We should both be pros at machete-wielding and navigating ‘The Swamp’. The GPS had one off but we were headed in the direction that was near what we had earlie figured out was the way out. We could hear the vehicles nearby (relatively). At 1, our walkie-talkies crackled. Anna needed to know our location which we couldn’t provide but we know our older co-ordinates and the dircetion we were heading in. Anna, better acquainted with the area found us. And as we regaled her with our adventure, Franzi watching- we told her how Franzi, the Heimdall of AMY had indeed helped lead us to them quite a few times. He at this moment decided to masterbate. After recording his expertise at this particular skill, Michele and I bid Anna adieu. AMY was heading out of the area and would soon be out into the plantation. Now it was a matter of Michele and me getting out.

It was actually about 92 metres to get out, which isn’t much normally but these were ‘The Swamp’ circumstances. And then we could see it, an electric pole. Never have I been so glad to see a drab electric pole. I noticed, that yesterday and today, it got difficult to get out towards the end. So many bushes, spines and this time, red-ants. I remembered Nadine’s story concerning the Malaysian belief in the forest sprite that makes it hard to get out of a forest. BAD TIMING for these thoughts, I NEEDED SLEEP to get over the past two days. We did eventually get out though and celebrated because we had managed to not lose AMY and not have a minor mental-breakdown. Michele said that when things get bad in life she can always tell herself “It’s not The Swamp”, giving her the inspiration needed to power through. We had spent 2 shifts, actually around 9 hours in total in the place and were not going to fight tooth-and-nail to go back, anytime soon.

The day continued though and we got back to find broken eggs in the kitche, and my biscuits destroyed. Anna’s mango had been nibbled and the shards of the plate she had told us earlier, she had found broken, still left its traces. Michele had seen a rat this morning, eating my apples and I was already annoyed so our dismay at this sight and of the ransacked trash outside was aggravated. Though we didn’t know if it was rats or longtails. We cleaned up and after lunch and a short meeting with Nadine, I made good on my promise to myself and did sleep, HARD.


27th Feb 2017, Monday: Deep

Anna had had her own adventures in ‘The Swamp’ after we left her yesterday because AMY had been scared away by dogs at the plantation. But after another hide-and-seek through the Bertum, Rattan and deep marsh, AMY had come out with a relieved Anna. This time, as if to make up for the past two days, AMY had slept in the clearing, at the plantation on the edge of the forest. I love that sleeping site especially because I had to do the morning shift alone this morning while Michele took over in the afternoon (Anna’s day off).

Except, it was drizzling when I got there. Not as bad as the crazy storm we had last night at camp but still. And it didn’t help that all I could see were longtails. At the EXACT same location marked as AMY’s sleeping site by ANNA. I went into the forest a little bit. Still just long-tails. Not this again I thought. I’m going to wait till its a bit more wel lit before I panic and search the forest determining areas where they MIGHT have gone. I moved aimlessly and restlessly. At 8:30, I went in a bit, closer to the hill. They like to seek respite there when it rains. I was about to abandon my post when I heard something, and then I saw a juvenile- short tail, almost pig-like some might say. It was Emily, coming in from the plantation, cheekpouch fille with fruit. But she seemed alone. I decided to stick to her. Soon, I saw Felicia, Febe and her infant, Emma and even Emmanuel. Renate was also around and Reggie, her juvenile too. I marked “AMY” on the GPS so as to begin tracking where they go today (Track ends with “AMY SLEEP” everyday).

They were going into the plantation though no one else seemed to be nearby. But I was going to follow this small subset to hell if need be at this point. The plantation was still occupied by long-tails who I think are also getting used to us volunteers. It was 9:10 am and the sun still wasn’t out though it wasn’t too dreary or sultry. “Yet”, I thought. I had stuck to Febe like a Burtum spine in your palm. SHe wasn’t bothered though. It was at least 20-30 mintes before I spotted Biru, then Jane, then Putih and her infant, Puck, Brienne (who obliged me with her faeces today so I could collect some), Brandi and so on. Males were weirdly missing and we were already pretty far from the buffer zone so I couldn’t hear their daily barking-ritual. By about 10:30, I saw Tim, Phoenix and Oliver one after another. AMY was on the move.

They crossed one section of the plantation (divided into sections like brownies with moats and roads separating them). Soon, they crossed another. It was drier now and Emma, as usual had descended to the ground to forage, with little Emmanuel in tow though he always has to become bipedal so he can look over the grass. Norbert was staring up the trees again, although this time, he wasn’t waiting to take advantage of any fruits or rat that ight fall down but to keep an eye on Goldie. Goldie’s swell is a sight to behold. She, Scarlet, Pamkin and Chewbacca have pink, blue, red and yellow on their butts usually but Goldie’s swell made the pink and red stand out. It was glowing and contrasted the green and brown of the plantation’s grass and oil-palm bark to produce a stunning effect. Norbert ofcourse was probably aware of all the competition he had to ward off. So again, as with Biru before, he wasn’t interested in mounting Goldie, just ensuring she was getting mounted by anyone else. In fact she rejected him twice while I watched and he didn’t seem too put-off by it.

AMY was moving further and further into the plantation, to areas I had never thought they would go to. WE were now pretty far from any Checkpoint. I watched as Franzi jumped around like a little kitten, trying to chase and catch a rat probably. He calmed down a little but when he moved again, Febe showed him her teeth. This is a submissive pacifying teeth-chatter she repeated later with Anakin too while Franzi chased and displaced Phoenix. I watched as two long-tails communed with each other and the copulatory call eerily similar to that of pig-tails. And then she started to move. Scarlet, who Anna has confirmed is pregnant (and beginning to show when she stands up on two legs) was sitting around watching the fun from a tree near me. I realised that everyone was moving again, further still into the plantation. I thought it was difficult to keep up with them in the forest but when they are ravenous, AMY can also be difficult to keep up with, in the plantation. I had crossed 2 moats, got one foot wet and sneezed up a storm, scaring a juvenile nearby (Sorry Puck) when Michele called. It was 1 pm and they were still in the plantation. This was new for me and after the last two days, I wasn’t complaining.

I got back home, finally did the laundry and cooking that was long overdue and made some ginger tea. Just in time to settle down and type this while I watch the skies grow dark and rain fall, on the sugarcanes in the untamed land outside my window.


28th Feb’2017,Tuesday: Of Bread and Cakewalks

I felt like having some Weetabix this morning so went out earlier than usual to the kitchen. Anna greeted me with “He broke into the kitchen again”. We had had rats, long-tails, a civet an now a human person? “He took my bread- now what do I take to the forest to eat?”. “Oh no! it’s okay you can take my bread”…except that was missing too and I’m guessing Michele’s lost her bread among other things. At least he left the fridge intact. I whipped up some Atta-based pancakes because we were left with little choice for easy forest breakfast and we decided to put this past us because we were getting late.

Anna stopped the bike soon after we got out the gate. Her bike had a flat tyre. So we used my bike which I would take back to pick her up this evening after her 12-hour shift. Michele had her day off and I sent her a text message to inform her of the night-visitor and ask her not to worry. I definitely was looking forwad to AMY drama after our domestic tragedies. Michele had mentioned that AMY had slept a little way up on the hill at checkpoint 1. Only, we were climbing higher and not getting to the sleeping site. It is difficult to gauge the distance when you are coming down or had many stops along the way, which is probably what had happened to Michele. After a fair bit of climbing, we finally got to the sleeping site and climbing up just after us and giving us a pretty good view, was the sun. Anna had begun a focal on Oliver and was nowhere around. I went around identifying and marking all the individuals I could see. Emma, of course was the first one on the ground, busily foraging and sittiing to monitor her surrounding while she scratched her neck. I went a bit further and sat down on a fallen tree trunk that also made for a good viewing spot. My bae Norbert, who I had briefly glimpsed barking and chasing the almost-full-swelled Goldie had decided to take time out of his guarding duties to try to nap. Though the juveniles around him had other ideas and he kept getting woken up.

Anna had taken an hour to even have 30 minutes worth of data on Oliver because he kept moving behind rocks or was too high up in the canopy. She hoped to have better luck with Putih but that was hoping too much considering this was Putih. I pointed Anna in the direction I had seen Putih go and hung out with the peaceful form of Norbert. That is before he got woken up again and abandon his plans to sleep to follow his group. Sooner than I realised, we were in the plantation and moving quite quickly. The water from last night’s rain was still dripping of the leaves and it was hazardous to stand anywhere under a leaf because anyone walking on the leaves above meant a mini-shower for you. It was humid again and soon I felt sleepy. Norbert had chased Goldie again before we got out, he screaming and him barking. Now here they were mating. Emmanuel, the little juvenile spotted me and started puckering but just looks adorable more than anythhing else. But our time in the plantation was alas short-lived. AMY was running. I mean AMY, the whole group was running, not one of them on the ground. The dogs were here, a pack of atleast 8. A nuisance, and that’s not just because I’m more fond of cats. Thesea are wild, freocious dogs that only Michele thinks look friendly. I personally would not be trying to pet them in the foreseeable future.

AMY hung out for a while in the buffer zone- the area between the plantation and forest that includes some oil-palms and some forest-trees (so it’s a sort of hybrid-zone). I could see Febe groom Felicia. The group was starting to move in towards the logging road. Anna decided to do a focal on Felicia while I followed the group. Febe went and sit in a bush giving her baby Fefe a chance to climb from underneath her. After a while when Febe decided she had had enough, she decided to move and Fefe climbed on her back before crawling and hanging on her stomach. I had met Putih along the way with her baby, Pummeluff (The German name of the Pokemon Jigglypuff) but couldn’t see them anymore. I realised I was stuck behind Oliver who takes up a lot of walkable routes to sit down so you can’t go either. And this happens frequently because he usually takes 3 steps before he sits down again and stares at you as if you are offending his senses. So I went back to change my route but now I was smack behind Biru and Anakin, still hanging out though I didn’t see them mating today. Didn’t stop Anakin from puckering at me though. Luckily, I had persuaded them to go where AMY was. I came across Norbert patiently sitting while Goldie was up in the tree….it turns out pooping (I have the faecal sample to show for it). Being alpha male and guarding just a single swelling female can be so stressful and boring. You have to keep watch, even while she poops.

Anna had finally finished with Felicia and we were again up on a hill, though not too high. It was time for my shift to end. We figured AMY would be going back to the plantation because they were just going to the hill across the dried stream and turning to return- hopefully soon, Anna needed all the focals she can get. She says AMY, on a good day would sometimes spend upto 6 hours in the plantation and she once had 8 Focals in a single afternoon shift (she doesn’t need breaks-Anna is a pro at focaling). Wel, if that is what she wants, I hope she gets it. Though I doubt its going to be that convenient.

PS: How could I have thought leaving my shift is the end of the adventure. On my way back from picking Anna up, we ran out of petrol and it started to rain. Luckily, we met some villagers whose kindness was shown when he emptied his entire can of petrol into ours. And then it started to pour. UGGGHHHHHHH. When it rains misfortune, it pours- but hey…IT’s NOT THE SWAMP 😛


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