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Indonesian Odyssey

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My first venture into wild Indonesia was to the heart of tiger country in Kerinci Seblat, Indonesia's largest National Park, in the Bukit Barison range of Western Sumatra. This area is renowned for its extensive bio-diversity and spectacular scenery. Co-inhabitants of the tiger include elephant, rhinoceros, sun bear, clouded leopard, tapir, deer and wild pig.

It was a long and arduous journey to our first camp. The winding road gained altitude through the mountains and we seemed to drive faster around the bends than along the straight! Tiredness was overcome by an eagerness to begin the research. Accompanied by Don Hasman, an accomplished explorer and Jakarta Post journalist, a park ranger, and three members of Garuda Nusantara Foundation, we made an early start the following morning. Don Hasman and the park ranger were to prove invaluable companions as they shared their experience and knowledge of the local terrain.

The Primary Highland Rainforest was a mass of trees and foliage that took my eyes skyward, whilst the call of monkeys reached into the depths of the forest and carried across the valleys. It is a marvelous expanse of nature's grandeur, and a place of pure air and water - pure delight, Tanah Air!

As the river winds its course below, dawn mist rises from the valley floor to the heights of the tree canopy, the visible breath of a new day. Dew ladens the leaves and sparkles like jewels in the necklace of a spiders web. The rainforest awakens. Fluttering shadows are cast from above by magnificent butterflies, as hornbills soar over the tree canopy while monkeys vibrate the branches in periods of frantic activity and noisy crescendo. The conditions were favourable; hot but not too humid, becoming cool at sundown.
Wildlife Adventures

Walking along the valley peaks gave the sensation of being on top of the world, whereas traversing at the river bed was akin to being walled in by greenery. The area is quite inhospitable to man, its extreme terrain and dense vegetation makes pitching a tent virtually impossible. Every square metre seemed to be fought over by some form of growth, each species vying for nutritious ground and the potential share of sunlight. Water is a guarantee from the gracious skies and is the root cause of such abundance. It is amongst such a struggle of life that we intrepidly staggered forward, the wonder of it all making the effort a worthwhile sacrifice.

Although the rainforest teems with vibrant life the wildlife is seldom seen, mostly keeping out of sight in the high tree canopy. However, tell-tale signs reveal the mysteries lurking within the forest. Muddy trails imprint the animal tracks, a python discards its shed skin on a rock, leaves fall and branches crack, all bearing witness to the unseen. Silence is broken as the acrobats of the tree canopy move across the leafy highway. The deafening shrill of the cicada beetle drowns all other noise and is a familiar sound of the rainforest.

Sunlight falls dappled from the heights to the forest depths, dancing from leaf to leaf in an orchestra of ethereal light, accentuating the rich colour within. Underfoot is another world of flora and creature. Although it's almost impossible to penetrate the undergrowth yields a reward with each new sight. On five occasions, leeches arrived unnoticed and departed with their fill, leaving me with a blood filled boot from the still weeping wounds. Beauty and beast mingle side by side, lichen smothers rock and tree, wild ginger blazes red, whilst particular leaves sting with a sharp and lingering pain.

Wildlife Adventures

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Trekking onward, stumbling over logs, enveloped by lush grasses and traversing along treacherously slippery mud banks, the adventure continued. Several times rivers had to be crossed. Wading chest high in the waters we made human chains to carry cameras and equipment to safety before ourselves. Saturated by the colour of its surroundings, the water reflected the red of the soil, green of foliage and blue of the sky that penetrated from above.

We were constantly aware that this was the tiger's domain. The tiger is seldom seen but it's presence is sensed in many ways; this is its kingdom and the tiger's reign is undisputed. The tiger is sleek, powerful and beautiful, certainly the King of the Sumatran forests. It is a deadly predator, camouflaged and concealed, ready to pounce, and it is perfectly adapted the the rainforest. Like a flash of fire the rainforest regent strikes its prey, everything yielding to its majesty.

Predominantly nocturnal, tigers hunt under the cover of darkness and travel great distances in a single nights search for food. Their diets are varied, ranging from fish and insects, to deer and more often wild pig. Being predators, tigers dwell in very low densities in undisturbed habitats, however, they face acute problems from loss of this habitat and poaching, and are an endangered species as a result.

Wildlife Adventures

We followed deer and wild pig trails, the hunting routes of the tiger, and located the drinking pools where they regularly visit in ambush for their prey. At times we walked the winding and precarious road to gain distance, later to be informed that old, less agile tigers, wait along the roadside for unsuspecting passers-by!

The adventure was a great experience and gave me much pleasure to be in such a location, soaking in life at its source. With a wide-eyed sense of wonder at its splendour, I was aware of its bio-diversity, a thriving ecosystem of awesome scale yet fragile delicacy. An enriching experience of nature's grandeur, of creation's first morn, that for which our senses were so acutely designed for. It was a harmony of natural beauty and balance, a treasure beyond price. An impression to be shared on canvas - The Rainforest Regent and Sumatran Sovereignty.

Wildlife Adventures

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Ujung Kulon National Park is on the Northwest tip of Java, and its importance was emphasised by its designation in 1992 as a World Heritage Site. The Park contains the world's only viable population of Javan Rhino, approximately 50, which is the smallest population of any endangered large mammal species. Other important conservation species within its boundaries include: Banteng (wild cattle); leopard; Javan leaf-monkey and wild dog.

The mature Secondary type Coastal rainforest and beautiful rocky coast of the Handeleum Islands was our location for researching the Javan Rhino. Relaxation at the Park headquarters was shared with tame rusa deer and loping monitor lizards. Thousands of fruit bats passed over at dusk while mud-skipper fish came out from amongst the shallows of the mangroves.

Canoeing to our destination we ventured up the idyllic Cigenter River, quietly meandering deeper into the forest, powered by gentle strokes of the oar. Palms reflected in sways of coloured form as a solitary kingfisher maintained its distance ahead of us, regularly plunging into the rich waters. Overhanging branches and vines require manoeuvering around, providing perfect support for pythons. Crabs scurried along the river bank amongst the palms and mangrove roots, finding safety in a multitude of burrows.

Wildlife Adventures

Leaving the canoe we headed toward some cascades, known to be a favourite area of the rhino. The conditions were very hot and humid, the yellow muddy soil underfoot added to the difficulty of walking through the dense jungle. Following indistinct trails through the undergrowth we often had to crawl under lengthy bamboo canopies in relative darkness. At my feet beautifully elaborate fungi adorned decomposing wood. Raising my gaze I came face to face with a large spider, its web stretched in anticipation across the trail. Monkeys crashed through the trees as a banteng bolted from the waters edge.

The steep drops down the slippery banks into the Cigenter River were one of the many natural hazards we encountered. I had an ominous encounter with the deadly Indonesian ground snake. Worn by journeying in the energy draining heat and humidity, I came across the snake which seemed devoid of movement and looked baked by the intense sun. However, a careless nudge with my foot proved otherwise! Rearing up in defence and assuming striking pose, the snake's hiss hastened my retreat.

The cascades were a welcome resting point and a great source of inspiration. Water flowed freely over the stepped rocks which in turn provide comfort and pleasure for the rhino as it rubs its thick skin on the abrasive surface. We discovered fresh rhino tracks and their size confirmed the massive bulk of this elusive animal. Distant movement was heard through the almost impenetrable vegetation.

Wildlife Adventures

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Travelling along well-worn paths through the dense rainforest, the timid Javan Rhino takes advantage of the abundant leaves and fruit as it browses, often breaking young saplings to feed on shoot ends. They uproot saplings and spread their dung, thus helping to regenerate the rainforest. The rhino is seldom seen and difficult to study due to its rarity, jungle habitat and secretive nature. Even in such a pristine area, these large animals live at a density of only 1 per 100 square kilometres, and they suffer drastically from loss of habitat and hunting pressure.

Retracing our steps we crossed an open area of grassland, observed by several black bulls, as a large herd of banteng grazed. Blue-throated bee eaters rose up from the ground before us. Returning with the setting sun, a peacock cried out as it gracefully glided from tree to tree, trailing its magnificent tail in its wake. Exotic memories were entrenched in mind and soul, later to be revealed in paint in the familiar surroundings of my studio.

Wildlife Adventures

Tukanbesi Treasures

With a desire to experience the richness of Indonesia's underwater environment I embarked on my first sub aqua expedition. necessary instruction was gained from a week's diving in the tropical paradise of Bali, a fantastic introduction to this new world of discovery.

Wide eyed and gasping oxygen from a rapidly emptying tank I explored the Liberty shipwreck at Tulamben. The Liberty was a U.S. cargo ship torpedoed by a Japanese submarine in 1942, and its crew ran the listing ship aground at Tulamben beach. in 1963 the volcano, Gunung Agung, erupted and carried the ship 30 metres offshore. The wreck, now covered by coral and paraded by teeming fish, testifies to life's death-defying triumph.

Wildlife Adventures

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Schools of batfish cruise the liquid highway, smaller butterfly fish hover over the corals as miniature damsel fish dart in out of protective haunts. A foreigner to this environment yet not estranged, my clumsy movements contrast greatly with the adept fish as they seemingly glide in flight through the water. Currents are the winds of the depths, creating a natural rhythm of fluid that flows and reverberates through coral and fish alike.

From Bali we flew to Ujung Padang, Sulawesi, took another flight to Kendari from where a five hour ferry trip brought us to the island of Buton. There, Jack, a Balinese dive instructor, underwater photographer Chris Chandler and I teamed up with a member of the Wallacea Institute, the organisation which is closely involved with conserving the Wallacea region. The coral reef environment suffers particularly from over-fishing, illegal bombing and cyanide poisoning. Our final destination was one of the Tukanbesi Islands, Hoga, where a research camp has been set up to study and monitor the coral reef and sea life surrounding the island. To reach Hoga required a further adventurous ferry journey to a midway island and the final transport by fishing boat. Needless to say, there was great relief on landing at our expedition base with everyone and all our equipment intact!

The small uninhabited island of Hoga seems quite harsh with its arid ground and craggy rocks, ideally suited for the monitor lizards and cobras that crossed my path. however, white sands lined with palms and turquoise waters more than compensated for its less welcoming interior.
Wildlife Adventures

A resident kingfisher gives call as it flits from tree to perch, butterflies flutter between the adjacent islands while an osprey surveys the coastline. Setting sun endows the sea and crowns the day with glory.

The coral reefs of Hoga provide a variety of dive sites, from coral gardens to steep coral walls dropping off to the depths of the Banda Sea. Here there is diversity of organism - hard and soft corals; giant gorgonian fans; crustaceans; sea shells; anemones; nudibranchs and as many types of fish as you can imagine.

Amongst the many wonderful encounters there are the more memorable. Bumphead parrot fish impress as they pass by in purposeful formation. A moray eel peers from its cavern with gaping mouth as an octopus manoeuvres into a similar hideaway. Much prized by illegal fishers, the Napoleon wrasse lurks in another recess, its large mass decorated in mosaic pattern. Smaller fish create the more frantic business of reef life, whereas an emperor angel fish, the high society of elegance, moves at its own pace.

Wildlife Adventures

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Shafts of light filter down through the surface highlighting long fin banner fish in their beam, a hawksbill turtle takes flight with the grace of any feathered wing. The symbiotic relationship between anemone and anemone fish is yet another fascinating marvel of reef life.

Lion fish are a hidden danger behind the beauty of their apparel and there are others in this kingdom which demand caution. My dive instructor, with a forceful instinctive shove, saved me from a near disaster as my next movement of hand was to be placed on the spines of a potentially lethal stone fish. Its camouflage was incredible, only the most observant trained eye of my dive instructor could distinguish its mottled tones from the similar surroundings of its resting place. Winding in and out of coral a banded sea krait, whose potent venom is 10 times the fatal dose for an adult human, periodically rose to the surface for air, the snakes banded body glimmering with a defined beauty of its own.

Between dives, fresh fish was cooked by Jack with typical Balinese artistry and enthusiasm, diving two or three times a day required plenty of nourishment and respite back at base camp on the island. Coconuts were collected by shimmying 15 metres up swaying palms, further emphasizing the natural bounty of this region.
Wildlife Adventures

Diving can be hazardous and the sea is often perilous, one dive inparticular proved to be an eventful occasion. On entering the water from a boat we had an exhausting and painfully slow exercise to the reach the drop off. With alarm we heard the distant sound of exploding bombs and saw devastating evidence of coral bombing, the dead grey tones of extinguished life left a stark barrenness alongside the thriving citadels of living coral.

Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea or walked in the recesses of the deep? - Job

Gazing into the dark depths of the Banda Sea, I seemed to be staring into infinity, and at that moment was aware how infinite it was. This awareness became more acute when I realised my oxygen tank was empty! Ascending carefully, avoiding the dreaded bends, tank sucked dry, I finally broke the surface with a gasp. Floating in the vastness of the Banda Sea, with neither a boat or anyone else in sight, this was another humbling experience.

Wildlife Adventures

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The myriad of life forms existing beneath the water's surface are amazing and dazzle the eye with an array of diverse colour, form and behaviour. This is a world that is unseen to the eye that only scans the surface of things, it is discovered and marveled at by the vision that seeks the hidden depths. In human awkwardness and ingenuity we delve into the underwater environment, with a sense of exploration and a limited capacity we appreciate that which is somewhat alien to us. However, the exuberance of life permeates our being and we soon gain an empathy with our new found surroundings. Leaving the watery world to stand on the more sure ground of land, we have gained an endearment to that world which we have briefly visited and associated with, yet are never truly a part of.

Wildlife Adventures

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Journeying Northwest from Denpassar through the varied Balinese landscape, we traveled to Bali Barat National Park to research the Jalak Bali Starling. Passing through the central volcanic region we arrived at sundown in time to watch fishermen in the shallows of the Bali Strait. Using nets under lamp light, the fishermen waited patiently seeking prawns.

Pre-dawn, we ventured out in a small boat to share the sunrise with dolphins. They were pre-occupied with an early morning harvest of fish, aerial displays broke the task with exuberant joy as they momentarily left their watery kingdom.

Bali Barat National Park is the lone natural habitat of the Jalak Bali Starling. The park consists of mud flats, mangroves, coastal forests, savannah, monsoon and river forest, providing diverse habitats for many bird species. Concealed by the dense vegetation, the refreshing waters of the nearby Bali Strait contrasts greatly with the dry environment of the park. Thick obstructive undergrowth is punctuated by abundant displays of flowers, dispelling the harsh aridity with an oasis of lush colour. Dried water holes bear witness to seasonal rains, but they don't deter the Jalak Bali Starling which gains moisture from its daily intake of dew-fall, insects and fruit.

Wildlife Adventures

The Jalak Bali Starling is Bali's only endemic species of bird. It is highly endangered, barely 20 remain in the wild due to the combination of loss of habitat and intensive trapping for exotic bird collections. Roosting and nesting communally in stands of coconut and kapok trees, these elegant birds take flight to feed in pairs. It is hoped that with sufficient conservation these pairs of Jalak Bali Starlings will successfully breed a sustainable generation for the future benefit of wild Indonesia. The charm of their looks and enchanted melody of song must surely be preserved for a continual encore of the "Balinese Symphony".

Wildlife Adventures

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The Wildlife Adventures section of the website comprises of writings and images based on BAS' research trips around the globe. If you have any questions about the artists wilderness experiences then please contact BAS , there is much more gained from such wildlife adventures than can be expressed on these pages. Here you will learn of his wildlife encounters and the impressions that the varied locations made on the artist as he sought inspiration for his wildlife and nature art . More locations will be added to this section as BAS continues his passion for being immersed amongst the natural wonders of the world.


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