Sepilok – Trekking week 2,’chores’ and Yokmel

Our second ‘trekking’ week was a mixture of trekking and other chores.  Just like the first week, our morning started with getting leaves for the play-cage – sometimes these would be banana leaves, and other days our ranger Pamik would cut down a whole tree for us to put inside!

On one of the days there had been thunderstorms and downpours since before 4 a.m which had woken us up.  That made a change from the cockerel down the road who woke us each day with its cry of ‘cock a doodle’ (it had lost its ‘doo’ !!  The storm lasted on and off until late afternoon with some massive ‘cracks’ and rumblings right overhead. This meant that we couldn’t go trekking as it’s too dangerous in those conditions, so instead we took down one of the huge hammocks from an enclosure as it needed mending and cleaning. The hammocks are made from firefighters hose, weaved together in a lattice pattern.  This particular one was brown and filthy, and the only place to clean it using the pressure-washer was out in the open, near a power supply and water tap.  Despite the fact that it was still hammering with rain we just got on with the job, after all, the rain doesn’t make us cold when we get wet.  It only took a few seconds of cleaning to realise that the hose was actually white underneath all that grime. Some of the strips of hose had become loose, so we had to unbolt some edges, pull it taught, drill some new holes and bolt it together again. That job took four of us two hours.  We then put it somewhere to dry and a couple of days later we spent another couple of hours finishing the job and putting it back up again.

Another morning on our trekking week was spent making two new mats for the young OUs enclosures. This time we used the plastic firefighter’s hose and took it to a covered platform in the middle of the lake so that none of the semi wild OUs could sneak up on us and steal a spanner or nuts & bolts.

As only a couple of people can work on making the mats at a time due to a lack of tools, it gave us plenty of time to enjoy the pygmy elephants who came to the lake their morning wallow.  As they ran towards the water they were trumpeting loudly with excitement and couldn’t wait to get in.  We were in the best position to watch them as they slid down the bank and into the lake, sometimes face planting in the mud.  They had a great time splashing through the muddy water for a couple of hours, and when they try to get out again it was very funny as they slipped and slid, trying to heave themselves up.  As we were watching them we were giving them encouragement with murmurs of “go on, you can do it”,  “push that leg up”,  “nearly there” etc etc….   No photos were allowed and the public don’t even get to see them as the wildlife rescue unit wants human contact kept to a minimum so that the ellies can one day be released somewhere safe.

Another morning was spent at the Sepilok forest research centre where we learned about the various bugs in the area, of which there are many big ones!

One day a couple of weeks into our stay we heard that the outdoor nursery had received a visit from Yokmel – the largest and most dominant male OrangUtan in the area.  It had been two years since he was seen last, and four of our volunteers were really lucky to see him.  Then whilst we were on our penultimate week he appeared again.  I really wanted to see him, but we were working elsewhere at the time and didn’t hear about his visit until lunchtime. When we went back to work after lunch I asked the rangers to let us know if he was still around, and whilst cleaning the play enclosure we heard that he was at the public feeding platform. Unfortunately we are not allowed to go there whilst in uniform, so I was really disappointed that once again I wouldn’t see him.  However, we had just about finished work and were told that he was still there. Two of our team kindly said they would finish off the cleaning, and two of of us power-walked back to the rest-house, got changed in about a minute flat, and power walked back into the centre.  By the time we got to the platform I was dripping with sweat, but he was still there, calmly munching his way through the food.   The viewing area had very few visitors, and they were all silent (which is how they are supposed to be but rarely are!).  We spent 30 minutes or so watching him and although my clothes were wringing wet and I went through several tissues wiping my face, it was totally worth it to see such a massive magnificent creature. Only dominant males have the facial flanges, and I was really pleased that I’d managed to photograph him. OUs with flanges are preferred by the females, and studies have found that they have increased levels of testosterone.  On zooming in to ensure that the images were sharp I noticed that he seems as if he may be blind in one eye and I showed the photos to one of the rangers who helps out at the rest-house.  She forwarded my images to the vets, and they are currently discussing whether to dart him (if he hangs around) to investigate the problem and see whether there is anything that they can do for him.

One evening we went out for a night walk, and we went back into Sepilok for this.  It was nice to be in there when there are only a handful of people, and the first thing we saw was one semi-wild OU called Kolapis, and Chiquita who is in the outdoor nursery and who had chosen to stay out for the night.   She was in her element being allowed to climb over the roof and do what she wanted 🙂

I then saw my first flying squirrels, although it was too dark to photograph them as they ‘flew’. They actually just launch themselves off a high tree and glide to another, using their furry, parachute-like membrane that stretches from wrist to ankle.  They can go a really long way though and it’s very impressive!

By the time we moved on it was completely dark and we had to look hard to find things. We’d been warned not to lean on the handrails because of caterpillars, and sure enough, there was a REALLY hairy one, which would have irritated our skin no end if touched.   A big pit viper was in a tree, and I managed to grab a good photo of a small owl before it flew away.

The most exciting thing though was not only one, but two slow lorises.  Another first for me 🙂  Videos of a slow loris being tickled have received thousands of views and likes on Facebook. Many people thought that it was enjoying this experience. However, its arms were raised because it was probably trying to get to the venom producing glands on either side of its elbow – so it was a defensive pose rather than one of enjoyment. As slow lorises also have a potentially deadly bite, their sharp pointed teeth are often clipped with nail cutters or pulled out without anaesthesia for the pet trade 😦

Just a couple of days later we were walking back to the rest house for lunch, and I noticed somebody standing in the road looking up into a tree.  Amazingly there was another slow loris fast asleep,(they are nocturnal) so I hurried back and grabbed my camera.  Unfortunately by the time I got back there was a crowd of tourists underneath it, and their chatter had woken it up.  Luckily it hadn’t moved, so I was able to get some photos and watch it fall asleep again after they’d gone.  It wasn’t until I looked at the images afterwards that I realised it had a baby tucked safely into its body.

Finally, five of us went on an evening trip down a river to see fireflies.  Several trees were full of them, but as it was pitch black and I was in a moving boat, no photos were possible.  It was a really nice trip – great to be motoring down a river that felt as if we could have been in the Amazon jungle, with a breeze to take some of the heat out, and on the way back we lay back and star-gazed as there was no light pollution.

I had managed to survive two trekking weeks without having a leech attach itself to me!  I’d had quite a few on my clothes, but they hadn’t made it inside them to chomp on me and leave a bloody mess 🙂


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