Miracle at Transect 26

 

Living in Batikap is nothing short of magical: I wake up to the calls of gibbons every morning, eat my breakfast as I watch red leaf monkeys leap through the trees, and regularly see helmeted hornbills soaring overhead. This is just the tip of the natural-beauty iceberg when it comes to living deep in the jungles of Kalimantan, and with my 144th day in Indonesia came the pinnacle of my stay here.

It started as a usual patrol day. Five of us departed from Totat Jalu Camp in the Bukit Batikap Protection Forest, Central Kalimantan, to conduct a patrol in an area dubbed “TF”. Three technicians were tasked with opening up a new transect for a phenology survey in the area, while Josh, a volunteer, and I decided to check out if we could detect any signals from recently released orangutans, implanted with radio transmitters.

After hiking for around 700 meters deep into Transect 26, our radio telemetry system picked up a signal. Much to our surprise and delight, the signal seemed to be coming from Meklies, one of our expectant mothers! A team of technicians had caught up with her six days prior, but with a baby on the way, extra attention is never a bad thing. We followed her signal across rivers, over hills, and through spikey rattan. We soon found ourselves standing just below a clearing in the trees, where a branch stuck out holding a giant orangutan nest. As we moved closer, Meklies popped her head over the edge to look down at us!

 

Meklies

 

With a dislike for humans, Meklies usually vocalises her displeasure at our presence and hides. For this reason, we never observe her for long periods of time. Instead, we make quick, regularly checks to make sure she is in good health; this way we can still monitor her well-being while minimising any unnecessary stress.

On this day, however, Meklies simply hid quietly in her giant nest. But something felt different. We took advantage of her apparent acceptance of our presence, sat down, and observed for a while. After 30 minutes, Meklies emerged from the nest; and she was not alone! Clinging to her side was the tiniest orangutan we had ever seen!

The baby was very light in colour, like that of the rising sun. With eyes closed tight and patchy, matted hair, we could tell that this baby was only a day or two old! I had never felt excitement quite like that before.

Meklies and her baby

As quickly as we spotted the baby, the moment was over. Meklies, the ever-protective mother, hid her baby as she climbed to another branch to lie down. We stayed for a while to ensure the baby was healthy, but a few stressful signals from Meklies, and an impeding thunderstorm, cut our day short. We decided to call it a day and returned to the team with huge smiles on our faces, counting down the seconds until we could scream the good news to the world!

Today we witnessed a true miracle! Not only did we get to see a brand new, adorable orangutan baby, but one born in the wild to a rehabilitated orangutan who was rescued from a palm-oil plantation 12 years earlier, when she was just three years old. This baby is not just a rare sight, but the physical manifestation of hope for a critically endangered species, the numbers of which are sadly dwindling by the day.

Text by: Andrea Knox, PRM Coordinator at Batikap

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