Green Paradise

By Hendri Gunawan, GPOCP Environmental Education Field Officer
I was born and raised in Kalimantan on the island of Borneo. This region is also known as the lungs of the world because of our healthy forests! As a native, I am very proud of these beautiful landscapes, one of which is Gunung Palung National Park (GPNP), which is considered one of the most biologically diverse national parks in Indonesia. Although GPNP is not huge (at 108,000 hectares), we can find eight types of ecosystems ranging from mountain forests to coastal mangroves and the Park is home to hundreds of species of animals and thousands of species of plants. This diversity provides quite a surprise for newcomers who first set foot in this National Park. Gunung Palung National Park contains the Cabang Panti Research Station (CPRS), one of the oldest research stations in Indonesia, which is still very active today. Many students from within Indonesia and around the world have conducted research for their bachelors, masters, and PhD degrees. Cabang Panti is known for hosting some of the worlds most renowned primatologists and scientists. It never occurred to me that I might get to visit this special place, but then I was invited to attend the Field Course offered by One Forest Project and the National Park office.
During my 12 days at CPRS I joined a series of lectures and activities learning about tropical forest ecology and vertebrate survey techniques led by Dr. Andy Marshall from the University of Michigan. We learned about the ecology of plants and vertebrates of tropical rain forests, how to install camera traps and different plant characteristics. We also had an introduction to scientific research methods, including how to follow wild orangutans and how to preform accurate statistical analyses. There were about 15 participants involved in this field course, each with varying degrees of expertise. At first, we did not know each other very well, but we soon became close friends.
Field Course participants at Cabang Panti Research Station. Photo credit One Forest Project.
At the beginning of the course I heard Dr. Marshall, who we were now calling Pak Andy, make a comment before we started the long hike. He said “I feel like I am home when I am here.” At the time I was curious about what he was referring to and why he said it, but I let it go. During the 14 km (8.7 miles) hike in we passed through several types of ecosystems, ranging from peat swamp forest, freshwater swamp forest, then lowland forest, and eventually to highland forest. On our journey, we found many large plants with very tight canopies! It was so hard for sunlight to penetrate to the forest floor. We also saw some orangutan nests and enjoyed the melodious sounds of bird and crickets. They seemed to accompany us the entire way to CPRS! Upon arrival, I was amazed by the atmosphere of the camp, in the thick jungle, there were 3 simple but spacious buildings set up to accommodate the researchers and their laboratories. The camp is surrounded by giant trees and a clear pristine river flows by out front.
Hendri marveling at the size of the trees found within Gunung Palung National Park. Photo credit Hendri Gunawan.
In the field course, we were divided into four teams, my team was called “fungi.” Of the various activities conducted, my favorite was the wildlife survey. I specifically enjoyed this because I could wander around the forest, enjoy the fresh air, and encounter various animals. We started the surveys early in the morning, when many animals are most active. I was able to hear the beautiful sounds of birds, crickets, and a hornbill making a call! I also heard a red leaf monkey making his presence known in the jungle. My team was captivated by these sounds as we followed them throughout the trail system. But before we knew it, we were lost! The day wore on and we had not found our way back to camp, but then we found some of the researchers observing wild orangutans. I am happy we stumbled upon the researchers as we were able to witness a rare event. The famous orangutan, Walimah, was copulating with Bosman, one of the resident males! And not far away, in another tree was Berani, an adolescent female orangutan. For about 15 minutes I was able to observe this intimate behavior and enjoy my first sighting of wild orangutans!
Hendri taking survey data during the Field Course. Photo credit One Forest Project.
I also gained a lot of other useful knowledge and experiences from my two weeks at CPRS. Our team installed a camera trap on a small tree by the river, and as a result we recorded a mouse deer passing by at night to take a drink from the river during our short time there. The following day, Pak Andy invited us to hike to the summit of Mount Gunung. We started early in the morning because the trip is quite far and difficult. During the hike I learned that there are more than 90 types of Dipterocarpacae trees, known in our local language as meranti-merantian, in GPNP, and some of these trees can reach 30 meters in height. As we hiked up we also encountered Poteria trees and some varieties of mountain pine. Hiking higher and higher, I noticed the trees got smaller and smaller, and they were also covered in more moss. In the middle of my hike, I found a plant that is very unique, it has stems, internodes and leaves like bamboo but grows like a creeper, somewhat like rattan. I also discovered some sun bear claw marks on tree trunks! Wow, these experiences made me extremely intrigued and curious to learn more!
One Forest Project Research Assistant, Landah, showing the Field Course participants how to set up a camera trap. Photo credit One Forest Project.
By the end of my trip to the beautiful Gunung Palung National Park, with all of its charm and biodiversity, I understood why Pak Andy calls this place home. The tropical rainforests of GPNP are just a piece of the ‘Green Paradise’ Borneo has to offer and I can truly say this is my home.
Views near the summit of Mount Gunung. Photo credit Hendri Gunawan.