Friday, July 08, 2005

Notes from the field

Friday 8th July 2005
Orangutan Film Protection Project
On location: Nyaru Menteng, Central Kalimantan

I wake at 06:00am. My sarong is wrapped around me, it got cool through the night. This won’t last long, the sun is rising and the humidity is high. Evie hasn’t slept so I leave her in bed whilst I walk back to the centre to check in with last night’s arrivals. They are still in their crates, but the larger male is due to be looked at first. I wander around near the gate shooting some footage of fruit being prepared for the orangutans. The sickly sweet smell of jackfruit hangs heavy in theair. There is a light drizzle and I struggle with the umbrella and camera.
Just as the team unload the crate from the pickup Evie arrives. She managed to get an hour’s sleep – it will have to do – she needs to film the setting of the leg. We both know I might pass out. Indra is trying to get an angle with the blowpipe. It’s harder than one might think – it’s dark in the crate and there are limbs in the way. Jhon tries to illuminate the scene with a torch. The shot’s in but not all the sedative injected. Eko lifts the crate door and an arm grabs for something, so they quickly and carefully lower the door to pin the arm down. The rest of the sedative is administered. Eko looks to me and says he’ll call this one Nick, is it ok? Sure, I’d love to have an orangutan named after me. There’s no more movement from the crate. Jhon shakes the crate gently to see if there is any reaction. There is not.
With the crate door up they pull it backwards to reveal the orangutan. On closer inspection Eko informs me that “Nick” is a female of 11-12 years...
There is a large medical kit on the floor: stethoscope, suture kit, syringes, antiseptic, bandages and viles of medicine. I film cut away shots and zoom to get a closeup of the needle as Eko clears the air bubbles. A drop glistens in the sun as it makes its way down the needle. Indri is holding the patient’s head. She is treated with gentle tenderness. There is a deep gash on one of her fingers. I can see the white of the bone amid the semi-congealed blood. I ask Eko whay happened.
Eko: She’s from the sawit (palm oil plantation). The workers attacked her with...I don’t know in English.
Nick: Dalam Bahasa Indonesia
Eko: Dengan parang
Nick: a knife...

Evie and I knew these sorts of encounters between the orangutans and plantation workers were common, but we didn’t expect to witness the results as soon as we arrived. I’m filming as Eko disinfects the wound, but when he brings out the needle and thread Evie instinctively take the camera from me. I try not to look too much, Evie say it is gross. We shoot close ups of the patient’s face throughout the check-up procedure. She is not unconscious, just immobilised. She watches Evie and I. We are standing a little way back to give the team room to work. She looks to be in absolute shock. 12 years in the jungle, learning her territory, fruiting times for different trees, medicinal properties of different plants. Everything has changed now. Palm oil has replaced her home and she has suffered an encounter with scared men with knives. Now she will be put in a cage...I’m not sure when or where she will be released. Suitable territory is disappearing at an alarming rate. Her lip is trembling. I don’t know if this is due to the sedative or the shock. It leaves me deeply disturbed.
Neither Evie nor I have seen footage like this before. Maybe television won’t buy it, but it needs to be seen. People need to know what is happening here.
Lone says that last week a plantation called up to say that they had caught an orangutan – BOS try to stop them from doing this – without a tranquiliser dart the only way this can be done is by beating the orangutan. The team arrived to find the orangutan tied down so tightly the hands were almost severed – it died shortly after. If they’d called the centre and not attempted to catch it this orangutan would still be alive.
We film the leg setting in the afternoon. Although it’s a more traumatic operation the young male doesn’t seem as affected by it as the ordeal of the older female. The broken leg was an accident. The cut was a result of an attack. For a young orangutan there are constantly new experiences and encounters – every day is a learning experience. He will, no doubt, be scared – but perhaps this is not so disturbing as the situation of an older more experienced orangutan finding itself in traumatic circumstances.
The power cuts out again tonight. We eat in the dark cavernous house. The candlelight illuminates numerous rats, and a couple of bats circle around the eaves. The reassuring sound of geckos tells us that at least something is eating the mosquitoes that are eating us. In my sleep I dream of six-foot tall rats.

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