Reminiscing Cabang Panti and Gunung Palung National Park

By Katherine Scott, GPOCP Research Manager

It’s 11 a.m. and I’m sitting on the highest point of Gunung Palung National Park. It took around 3 hours to get here and involved a steep climb along several peaks. There are many reasons I find myself here. For a start, I’ve never climbed this side of the mountain before and wanted to challenge myself. The second, and saddest reason, is that I am bidding farewell to Cabang Panti after 2.5 years of managing the orangutan project. I’ve had a pretty spectacular final couple of weeks and I feel incredibly lucky. I got up close and personal (by accident) to a wild binturong, saw an crestless fireback (a rarely seen species of bird) and had coffee with a pair of playful otters on the beach outside my house. I saw a flying squirrel on an orangutan follow, followed rarely seen pig-tailed macaque troops on their journey through the rainforest and even got into the holiday spirit by making a Christmas tree from things we found in the camp lab.
My incredible view from the highest peak in Gunung Palung National Park. Photo © Kat Scott.
So how do I sum up the past few years? A time with many ups, downs, highs, lows and literally everything in between. I’ve climbed mountains, broken bones (literally), fallen in (and out!) of love with orangutans depending on what they’ve made me do, dealt with the weirdest medical ailments, managed students through their fieldwork from both local and international universities and rescued all manner of wildlife from the camp toilet at 3am before an orangutan follow. I’ve sat on buses with meowing rice sacks (people taking kittens home. It was a very surreal experience as I thought I was going mad for nearly an hour until someone laughed and told me they were taking kittens to their daughter’s house), had tea with so many families I’ve lost count, eaten my body weight in snacks at countless meetings and filled my passport to the brim (twice!) with visa stamps in order to work in this beautiful country. I’ve managed a fantastic and dynamic team who made me laugh when it didn’t seem possible and we supported each other when times were tough. I’ve met some wonderful like-minded people on my journey, and helped aide the next generation of Indonesian scientists and researchers. I’ve lived through some of the worst forest fires Borneo has ever seen, countless droughts, El Niño and of course the 3 a.m. swims to camp when flash floods swept me out of my bed. I appeared in the National Geographic program which aired in 2016 about Dr. Tim Laman and Dr. Cheryl Knott and their work with orangutans. I learned new research techniques and skills from this job and enjoyed the opportunity for a more hands-on role.  I am particularly thankful to Dr. Cheryl Knott who got me to this place and allowed me to take charge of a world-renowned research project deep in the rainforest. (Did I mention I got to live in the rainforest in the middle of Borneo? I am now only fully appreciating how awesome an opportunity that was!)
A typical day at the “office”. Photo © Kat Scott.
I wrote this article on my final flight back to the United Kingdom. Taking stock of my feelings will take time, but I know for sure that working with GPOCP has changed me for the better. I would never have been offered the chance of a PhD with orangutans if it hadn’t been for this job. I will miss everything about it dearly.  All I can say is thank you for believing in me and allowing me to grow. Now I start the work towards earning my PhD studying orangutans. I cannot wait to walk in the footsteps of other powerful and influential female scientists before me. (Side-note: I would be lying if I said am going to miss the 3am starts but I will always miss the orangutans and people of Cabang Panti!)
Kat (left) with Witi and Beth Barrow at Cabang Panti. 
Photo © Kat Scott.