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From the field - fly-camping in the Harapan Rainforest, Sumatra

Jenny Williams
10 February 2012
Blog team: 
Kew's GIS and South East Asia team report from their study sites deep in the forests of Sumatra. In this - their second post - they venture into the jungle, seeing all sorts of things on the way.

Fly-camping: life on the river - a photo essay

Half the Kew GIS team staff took the two small wooden motorboats and our local team members out for three days on the river to explore the harder to reach sections of the Harapan Rainforest. Whilst there they stayed in fly-camps - temporary advanced camps usually some distance from base camp which get their name from the idea of flying in and out out (i.e. quickly!).

 If the rain had been on our side, the river would be twice as full as it currently is, and we could have taken a speedboat.

This however, was the relaxing way to travel, if you don’t mind crashing into a few hidden, submerged trees and pushing the boat up a few rapids!

 There is plenty of wildlife along the river. We saw a lot more than we were able to photograph and often had a few stowaways!

Frequent sightings were: 1) enormous monitor lizards - usually much larger than the little one in the photo. The biggest we saw was close to 6ft long;

2) troops of Macaques;

3) and many birds, especially Kingfishers (this one was still for a second, but obviously far away!).

We found a fly-camp base by the side of the river where we could set up our tents. Some machete action was needed to clear the tangle of roots and plants. We also set up our water purification system. I was warned over and again that it would need clean-water as a source, but we only had river water so thought we would give it a try. I don’t think that clay sediment which doesn’t fall out of the water when still was the ideal test candidate - and after a few litres of water, the system stopped working altogether. I think some sort of pre-filter is required. Our system seemed a great idea at first but was not really practical in this instance.


It is a hot day everyday and the bees at our campsite seemed particularly happy to crawl along my arm drinking in the sweat - lovely!

We couldn’t find a cook to accompany us on our journey, but all the local staff as well as Pak Deden, the botanist from Bogor, were ready and willing to cook up delicious food every meal time.

In a thunderstorm, there is no better place to be than out in the jungle under a relatively dry tarpaulin with some lovely Indonesian food - as long as the leeches stay away (I only got one bite that evening!)

- Jenny -


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