Because we were in the world famous Danum Valley Conservation Area, we were in one of the best places to see orangutan, and we were lucky enough to see one almost every day. These large patient gentle mothers bear only one offspring every 8 or so years, and keep the young one with them ( there is a lot to teach it!) for up to 10 years. A quote from Dr Dionysius Sharma, Executive director of WWF Malaysia - "Have you ever gazed into the eyes of an orangutan who knows you mean it no harm?...Each encounter leaves me humbled beyond words. I have seen such innocence in them. Wisdom superior to many men. Intelligence without ego. Love. Gentleness. And in some, a great sadness."
One of the first images I knew I was going to paint as soon as I got back to my studio was this one! You are walking in the steamy, buzzing jungle, and suddenly you know someone is watching you. Look up - patterns of dark and light in the profusion of leaves, and there she is, quietly peering at you. She may feed for a while, or just sit and watch - her moves are unhurried, considered - and when she wants to move on, you can follow her progress by watching the tops of the trees bend as she "snag rides" through the canopy. Get too close or annoy her in some way, and you will hear the warning lip-smacking 'kiss' noise. What a privilege to see these magnificent creatures in the wild.
This is one of my favourite paintings. It is the peace of the dawn, with the promise of a day. It may look as if it is just one colour, but it is actually many layers of different colours. You can just start to see the shapes of the dense growth...in general, riverbank forest is lush and tangled with lianas, palms, bamboo and flowering plants due to all the increased light and seasonal flooding bringing increased nutrients. Our day started at 4.45am each morning - a plate of instant porridge, then we grabbed our headlamps, pulled on leechproof socks and boots, and headed across the river into the gloom of the jungle, to one of the observation decks high up in the canopy.
Waterfalls are some of the few places where you come out of the gloom of the forest and your eyes adjust again to sunlight. Although there can be droughts in Borneo under certain weather patterns, the rainforest by definition is normally well supplied with water, and we came upon many lovely waterfalls as we walked.
...which is what I said when faced with a 50m climb up a mengaris tree on my second day in the jungle. The series of aging metal ladders casually bolted to the tree as it vanished up into the heavens would have frozen the heart of an OSH inspector. I made it to the viewing 'platform' to enjoy a fabulous birds eye view of the world coming to life, while plucking up the courage to climb down.These trees often harbour colonies of giant wild bees, in honeycombs up to 2 metres across which local tribesmen still harvest - they climb the tree on spikes driven into the trunk as the tree grew, and carry a smouldering torch to drive the bees away while they load their baskets with the precious honeycomb. The honey provides a protection of sorts for these great trees, as its value to these people exceeds that of its timber - one tree can provide a climber with 500kgm of honey.
On our treks through the jungle we several times heard elephants, and often saw their dung ( fresh one day, already supporting a forest of delicate white fungi the next day) but despite heading into likely areas, we hadn't been lucky enough to sight any. Then, on my last truck ride out of Danum Valley, there in the moonlight, a small herd quietly strolling across the logging road - what a thrill! No time for my camera, I just watched in awe as they silently disappeared into the gloom of the forest.
We thought Bill Bailey would appreciate this!
He is a fantastic patron for orang-utan being a supporter of the Sumatran Orangutan Society SOS.
Walking in the rainforest we are constantly looking up - watching for the tell-tale quivering of leaves which means a gibbon or an orangutan, or trying to spot a hornbill, or just marvelling at the pattern of treetops. It is a wonderful feeling of awe that sets in when, in a quiet spot, we take the time to stand at the base of a tree and look up the full height of one of these tropical giants. In this drawing, made up of a composite of many sketches of individual trees, I try to bring back that feeling.
This is a dawn worth getting up at 4.30 for - from our vantage point high on a hill we see the sun just starting to glow in the east and below us a vast sea of cloud. The dense mist slowly rises and evaporates, the gibbons call, birds sing, insects buzz, and down in the rainforest the sun sneaks here and there through the canopy to sparkle on the omnipresent water droplets.
Orangutans are the most intelligent of primates, next to humans. This wee character is sheltering from the daily bout of torrential rain, and might well make a parasol if in fierce sun. Most of his learning will come from watching his mum, and he will not be weaned until about 4 years old. After that he will start to travel under his own steam, but still in his mother's company until about 10. Orangutans are the first non-human species to use "calculated reciprocity" - weighing up the costs and benefits of gift giving, and keeping track for future payback. When they come into contact with humans they are great mimics, using boats and tools with great panache, and have learnt to play (and to teach others) computer games on touch screens.