Long range reconnaissance patrol. Bob, centre standing.
We all have vivid memories of our time in the military.
Many of those memories are for differing reasons. Based also from the senses of sight, sound, smell, hearing, touch and the all important sixth sense.
One of the best memories I’ll ever take from the world’s tropical rain forests (the jungle) is one that occurred in the mid 1970s when I was patrolling as a lead scout on a long range recce patrol in the jungles of Borneo.
We were half way through our day’s patrolling. Our senses have been naturally reaping havoc all day. Looking through the trees, not at them. Looking for man made sign on the ground and on the vegetation around us. Listening for man made sounds, talking, coughing, chopping with an axe or machette etc. Smelling for smoke from fire, food, cigarettes etc. All in the day’s work and constant, constant constant.
Jungle noises differ from the time of day. You have the dawn chorus of birds and insects, to monkeys in the trees alerting all of your presence. A real bummer when you think that you’re being really professional and quiet in your patrolling. Then in the evening before last light, the birds and insects all screaming away again before signing off for the night.
However, there are signs of danger, and that sign comes in the form of silence. If there’s a predator around or any form of danger, amazingly the forest will eventually go silent and let you know.
It’s now silent, but where’s the predator…or is it us?
I was uncannily aware of the silence…I stopped in my tracks, took a knee, looked back at my patrol buddies and cupped a hand to my ear.
As I looked forward, about 10-12 yards to my front a large male orangutan stepped out from behind the buttress of an ageing tall hardwood tree. Followed by the heads of the female and children peering around the buttress.
The male was calm but inquisitive and stood his ground. I had moved forward a couple of yards, and from an angle could see the improvised mattress of rubber plant leaves providing their comfortable nest between the buttress’s.
I again looked back at my patrol…they looked as astonished as I was.
The commander who was right behind me now as second man, rightly indicated for us to make a box movement to our left and skirt around the family.
That we did, remaining as silent as possible, which was difficult given that every creature in the vicinity had gone quiet. When we moved back beyond their nest and back onto our line of march, we all took a look back…the male had returned to the nest and was sat with the mother and kids…looking quite the settled family.
After a few minutes the jungle noises got back to normal…and so did our patrolling.
For the next 20 years, sadly I never got the chance to see another orangutan living freely in the jungle. Given that most of our training is in far off primary forest with a tall thick canopy, and well away from any human habitation, roads or navigable rivers that’s alarming.
I write this with much sadness in response to the news stories of orangutans losing their natural habitat on a daily basis…so fast that eventually they’ll be gone forever.
Big business and Governments shame on you!