Great Apes

Hardy wildlife pho­tog­ra­pher Craig Jones talks about the chal­lenges of shad­ow­ing orang­utan res­cue teams

NPhoto - - On Assignment -

Back in March I vis­ited the re­mote In­done­sian is­land of Su­ma­tra, in or­der to shadow a res­cue team from the Orang­utan In­for­ma­tion Cen­tre (OIC). I’ve been mak­ing self-funded trips to Su­ma­tra since 2012, rough­ing it with the res­cue teams in the jun­gle, then do­ing aware­ness­rais­ing talks and ex­hi­bi­tions back in the UK. OIC has a net­work of peo­ple that help them, and I tag along, win­ning their trust and get­ting more and more ac­cess.

Each year when I go back to Su­ma­tra, I find more and more dev­as­ta­tion. The place is dy­ing as we speak, as the forests are be­ing dev­as­tated for palm oil plan­ta­tions. Caught up in the mid­dle of all the de­struc­tion, cor­rup­tion and con­flict are four of the world’s rarest an­i­mal species – the Su­ma­tran rhino, tiger, ele­phant and orang­utan.

Bugs as big as golf balls

There are lots of chal­lenges when it comes to pho­tograph­ing in this en­vi­ron­ment. The tem­per­a­ture is about 36 de­grees, but the hu­mid­ity can be up to 80-90 per cent – it’s bloody aw­ful! Here’s the best way I can de­scribe it: put the shower on at full heat, close all the doors and win­dows and then go back in the bath­room 20 min­utes later. That’s what the hu­mid­ity is like. What’s more, there are bugs as big as golf balls and in­sects who’ll eat you alive… you have to check your boots ev­ery morn­ing.

The hu­mid­ity causes fungi to grow on your gear, and of­ten I was shoot­ing in pretty dark con­di­tions, un­der canopies and in the for­est. Noise could be a prob­lem as I was shoot­ing at such high ISOs, and it could be hard to get a fast enough shut­ter speed too. I had to get the shot, though; there is no sec­ond chance with an orang­utan res­cue. For­tu­nately my Nikon D810 never let me down.

My go-to lens when pho­tograph­ing orangutans is the 24-70mm f/2.8, which is great for wide-an­gle work and por­traits. I also use a 105mm macro for closer, more in­ti­mate por­traits of orangutans, and a 70-200mm, 300m and 600mm. Lug­ging all this gear around in such hu­mid­ity is hard. For­tu­nately, I am pretty fit for my age and do a lot of train­ing and moun­tain bik­ing. I used to be in the armed forces too.

In­tense ex­pe­ri­ences

I think my stand-out shot from my last visit to Su­ma­tra (I don’t like to say it’s a favourite) was of a young fe­male we found in the com­pound of a lo­cal war­lord. Cap­tur­ing a crit­i­cally en­dan­gered species gives these guys sta­tus and power.

I got a pic­ture of her in a small cage, sit­ting in her own mess. Her fur was stand­ing on edge and she was cov­er­ing her mouth and bit­ing the bars – orangutans get ner­vous and anx­ious, just like hu­mans. Her stare went straight through me. There was lots of shout­ing and com­mo­tion go­ing on as the team tried to re­lease her, but I just lay on the floor near her for about 10 min­utes, try­ing to get some in­ter­ac­tion go­ing. She slowly sat up and re­laxed a bit, though her right fore­arm was still hid­ing her mouth. Al­though we couldn’t free her that day, I have heard she’s sub­se­quently been re­leased. It’s one of the most pow­er­ful im­ages I have ever taken. The ex­pres­sive faces make for fan­tas­tic por­traits The OIC is run by In­done­sian peo­ple want­ing to pre­serve their wildlife A suc­cess story – an orang­utan is safe again

01 Cov­er­ing the mouth like this is a clear sign of stress

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