On this particular day I followed with my fellow intern and roommate Connie; we take turns with which data we collect, and this day I was taking main data. We followed an adult female named Coklat from Group C. The group consists of Coklat and the adult male Captain with their juvenile female Chilli.
3.30am: Wake up, eat something, wash, dress, attempt to poke contact lenses in my eyes (this is the worst bit!). We always pack our bags the night before, it saves time and also many of the other researchers here in camp are still asleep so everything is done as quietly as possible! It can take up to 45 minutes to negotiate the wobbly boards, mud and tree roots in the dark (often still half asleep) to get to the sleeping tree.
4.30-5am: The gibbons wake up and start calling, Connie is listening to the gibbons sing, not just for the group we are following but all groups within the forest. The trees can distort the sounds so it can be a difficult task to accurately estimate distance and bearing of the various groups in Sabangau. She will also record our location with the GPS and take data on what the gibbons are feeding on throughout the day. I start to take data on the focal gibbon, Coklat, recording behaviour at 5 minute intervals. If the focal gibbon has an infant then I also take data on the infant’s actions and vocalisations. Gibbons can move very quickly and very quietly so keeping an eye on Coklat is a must at all times!
7.30-8am: Stomachs are rumbling! We have a sandwich box prepared by our dedicated kitchen staff, the food will consist of chicken or fish, vegetables, white rice and tofu. The trick is to eat enough to fill you up but leave enough for lunch, this is a fine art and many conversations have been exchanged as to the optimum eating time/amount. Eating must also be done whilst watching the gibbons and recording data. If they move we move, a gibbon waits for no man!
9am: Whilst the gibbons are feeding, a female orang utan moves into a nearby tree, the juvenile Chilli couldn’t resist going to have a look. She jumped and swung around the orang-utan, trying to engage her in play however the orang-utan was mostly uniterested and carried on feeding. Sadly neither Connie or I had brought a camera with us today, ADUH!
10am: Biscuits are calling! Keeping up energy levels is extremely important so biscuits or sweets are a great quick snack. The terrain is very unforgiving, we are constantly falling in hidden holes, wading knee deep through thick mud, clambering over fallen trees and battling with plants to keep up with the gibbons who gracefully and effortlessly brachiate overhead.
12pm: For the first time in our 6 months as interns here we observed the gibbon pair mating. Hopefully this was successful and in a few months there will be a new gibbon in Sabangau!
At this point the gibbons fed in the same tree for about 15 minutes so we had time to sit and eat the rest of our sandwich box, ready for the last push.
2pm. After patrolling territory during the day and with such an early start, the gibbons start to think about finding a suitable place to sleep. This can be the most intense part of the day for us as the gibbons travel very fast to whichever tree they have chosen, resulting in us running as fast as we can through the aforementiond mud,canals, spikey plants and other obstacles to ensure we dont lose sight of her. Once Coklat chose her sleeping tree we waited for about 20 minutes so we were confident she remained there overnight for our follow the next day.
2.30-3pm. Data is taken on the sleeping tree and its location recorded. We head back to camp for a well earned coffee and a much needed mandi!