Thursday, July 07, 2005

Notes from the Field

Thursday 7th July 2005
The Orangutan Film Protection Project
On Location: Nyaru Menteng, Central Kalimantan

First day at Nyaru Menteng and a rescue team returns. The sun has already set and the flash of headlights announces the car at the gate. We’d been walking back towards Aula to have dinner and settle for the evening. With the rescue back we run into the office to grab the camera, rig the mic and pick up a spare tape and battery. There’s very little light. The stars are out, but we have a narrow window to see them through the surrounding trees. It’s good to be out of Jakarta with its orange sky at night. We film by torchlight. There are two crates in the back of the pickup. The yellow glow of torches reflects of the ventilated aluminium sides, preventing us from clearly seeing the occupants. The captives are quiet, perhaps in shock. They will have been tranquilised before they were moved into crates – wild orangutans are strong and independant-minded.

We’re told that the young male has suffered a broken leg. The team splinted his leg in the field, before moving him; but Lone feels his foot and it is cold. She is worried that the bandages might be too tight. Lone talks with Eko and they decide to resplint the leg before morning. The team lift the crate off the pickup and put it in fornt of the car’s headlights. The power cut out a few hours earlier so the car is the best availabel source of light.

I’m squatting on the ground between the headlights. There’s enough light to film here and I’m not getting in the way. The slight exertion starts me sweating, again. Eko administers more sedative to immobilise the young male. Lone comments that he’s more placid than most orangutans of this age when first caught, even so, he needs to be still for Eko to work on his leg. The break is in a tricky position – his right femur just above the knee joint. It would have been easier to immobilise the bone if the break was in the middle. Tonight’s splinting is only a temporary measure. Tomorrow Eko will set the bone straight and put it in a cast.

I’m getting tired – we only flew in this morning and were up late last night packing and sending vital emails from Jakarta. Evie takes the camera and continues to shoot. Evie and I are both exhausted, but the natural adrenaline release brought on by witnessing this event keeps us going. Once the leg has been resplinted Eko gives the orangutan another injection to rouse it from it’s sedation. The team moves quickly to get the orangutan back into its crate, the drug is fast acting and he begins to stir immediatley. Lone covers him with blankets and puts some hoter water bottles in the crate – he’s still cold. The team will work on his leg again tomorrow, when it’s light. The larger male’s wounds are not so serious – he will stay in his crate until morning. The cages at the centre are full, there are too many orangutans coming in. Lone will have to find room in the morning.

We finally head back to Aula. From the track there are a network of wooden walkways traversing the peat swamp. Our house sits on stilts above the swamp. We’re locked out. Luckily Lone is with us. She is small so we manage to help her through a small, high window. We’re grateful we don’t have to spend the night on the stoop. Inside the barn-like pondok there are high vaulted ceilings. The cooler evening air hasn’t yet cleared the day’s heat. The third room we try has a fan that works. I set to stringing our mosquito nets in a way that we can walk around the room without clothes-lining ourselves. Evie fills up our wooden shelves with dried and tinned food that we brought from town. We’ve misplaced our water bottle. Evie brushes her teeth with apple juice, I just go to bed. The fan struggles to send it’s breeze my way, my mosquito net absorbs what little reaches me. I fall asleep at once. Evie is kept awake by the rats in our room throughout the night.

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