Volunteer News

Life in the Sabangau peat swamp forest

by Anna Triggol

We arrived in camp on the 7th October 2010 and were all excited as we got off the kelotok and walked up the railway into camp. All of our bags were loaded onto the train and pushed up to camp. We were shown our room and given a tour of the camp layout. It felt a homely place from the start, everyone was friendly and we looked forward to living a totally different way of life. Our first intrepid steps into the forest were quite a shock – it was so wet everywhere and the red peaty water sparkled beautifully in the sunlight.
During our first few days of work we would all come back to camp eagerly discussing what wildlife we had seen. My most exhilarating moment came when I was searching for ‘kelasi’ (red langur monkeys) with Dave – suddenly we heard a crashing in the trees and there above us was Feb, a stunning female orangutan and her 6 month old baby clinging to her body. My heart was racing as I stood watching her eat jankang kuni fruit, dropping the case remnants at our feet. I couldn’t believe I was watching a wild orangutan peacefully eating in my presence. I felt so privileged.
Since that moment there have been many more special times when we have watched fleeing pig-tailed macaques, a tense fight over territory between 3 groups of gibbons, a successful follow of the ever elusive kelasi, being growled at by a sun bear and trapped on a transect by an angry, flanged male orangutan who kiss-squeaked at us in fury. In addition to this, there have been times of awe where we have seen a Malay civet travelling surreptitiously and with ease in the tree canopy, a Malay brown snake fight and kill a corrugated water snake, deadly looking scorpions prowling in camp and a strikingly beautiful green Waglers pit viper. Everyday we see beautiful butterflies, dragonflies and moths as well as sightings of colourful birds from Bornean bristle heads, hornbills, trogons and sunbirds to kingfishers, babblers and malkoas.
The sounds of the forest are so diverse from the excited great calls of the gibbons during their early morning chorus to the deep booming of the flanged male orangutan’s long call. The varied bird songs are endlessly beautiful with the background croaks of frogs interspersed.
The wet season certainly lives up to its name with rain, thunder and lightning a common daily occurrence, making the forest treks even tougher. It is hard to walk in thigh deep peaty water, tripping over tree roots and dead branches, in a quiet manner!
All in all, this has been an experience greater than I could have ever imagined and feel honoured to have been part of it. A big thank you goes out to everyone at camp and all of the people who organise the Tropical Peatland Project – long may it last in its vital conservation role.