Borneo Is Burning, and Humans and Orangutans Are in Danger

Pictured (left to right: My motorcycle Babieca, me, and my research assistant Evan Sloan).

On September 16, 2015, just over a month ago, I began my journey into Gunung Palung National Park in West Kalimantan, Indonesia. I was finally starting my project studying the lives of orangutans, supported by a National Geographic Young Explorers grant.

The trek began two hours south of Gunung Palung, in the town of Ketapang. Early in the morning, after dropping of my trusted research assistant Evan at the bus terminal, I returned to my homestay and began loading up my motorbike, Babieca (named after the horse of El Cid, the legendary Spanish medieval hero), with several boxes of food and supplies that I needed to transport up to the field site.

At the Bus Terminal in Ketapang on Sep 16th, 2015. Pictured (left to right): My motorcycle “Babieca”, me, and my research assistant Evan Sloan. (Photo by Kat Scott)

I promptly hit the road, driving north about 45 miles (70 km) to the village outside the national park. By 11:00 a.m. I’d made it. The day before, I had organized a group of porters to help me carry the supplies on the four-plus-hour hike to Cabang Panti Research Station. I met them at the end of the village where the trailhead to Gunung Palung began, unloaded the supplies, and we all began preparing for the hike ahead.

The first part of the hike is through degraded peatland on the periphery of the national park. I had hiked up three weeks earlier for a different occasion, and the peatlands were as green as I’d ever seen them. But since then, we’d heard rumors of fire, and we were aware that the conditions were extremely dry. Even so, I didn’t expect to see the devastation that we encountered that day.

The peatlands were now a barren wasteland. It —> Read More