The many surprises of Way Kambas National Park
Way Kambas National Park covers 1300 square km of costal lowland and dipterocarp forest in southern Sumatra to the east of Bandar Lampung. The park has a reputation for producing sightings of some of the rarest and most sought after mammals and birds in all of South East Asia. In particular the almost mythical and exceptionally beautiful marbled cat is being seen more and more frequently here in recent years which was one of my main targets.
(Way Kambas Jeep track © Ian Loyd Reef and Rainforest Tours)
Way Kambas is one of the oldest protected forests in Indonesia and despite heavy logging, development and poaching in the area has retained populations of some of the most endangered mammals in Asia. There are thought to be 20 Sumatran rhino and maybe as many as 180 wild Sumatran elephants (currently the world’s rarest race) in the park and we were even told that there are 30 Sumatran tigers. However we think this was an over estimate or exaggeration given the size of the park. However many tigers there are, they are certainly still doing well here and their evidence (pug marks, scats and scratch markings) is often seen even by tourists visiting for just a few days. There is an impressive list of other mammal species here too including a good population of sun bear and Malayan tapir as well as a mouth-watering list of cats that includes tiger, sunda clouded leopard, marbled cat, Asian golden cat, leopard cat and flat headed cat.
The park is also home to the Sumatran rhino breeding centre where currently four individuals are kept in large enclosures with natural surroundings in the hope of creating a viable captive breeding programme for the species which is on the verge of extinction in the wild.
While exploring Way Kambas I stayed at the lovely Satwa Elephant Eco Lodge in the village of Rajabasalama which is just a few minutes’ drive from the entrance to the park. The lodge has four comfortable private cottages scattered around its lush tropical gardens and a friendly open sided restaurant. Even the garden here offers some good wildlife watching with sunda slow loris, common tree shrew, plantain squirrel, snakes, geckos, treefrogs and many birds all commonly seen.
(Colugo © Ian Loyd Reef and Rainforest Tours)
(Water monitor © Ian Loyd Reef and Rainforest Tours)
(Lesser mouse deer © Ian Loyd Reef and Rainforest Tours)
(Painted bronzeback tree snake © Ian Loyd Reef and Rainforest Tours)
(Red-bearded bee eater © Ian Loyd Reef and Rainforest Tours)
(Trefoil horseshoe bat perch hunting © Ian Loyd Reef and Rainforest Tours)
(Fluffy backed tit babbler © Ian Loyd Reef and Rainforest Tours)
(Buffy fish owl © Ian Loyd Reef and Rainforest Tours)
The lodge has an excellent resident naturalist guide, who knows the park in great detail and can give guests the best possible chance of finding its secretive wildlife. The main activities include game drives, mostly along the park’s main jeep track, boat safaris along the fantastic Way Kanan River and for the adventurous, hikes through the forest along trails (including a known tiger territory trail to see fresh tracks if lucky). Elephant back tours are also available at the park’s elephant rescue centre.
The slow loris’s of Satwa
(Sunda slow loris © Ian Loyd Reef and Rainforest Tours)
Our first evening foray was in search of the always popular sunda slow loris in the trees around the lodge. The area around Satwa Lodge is probably the most reliable spot to see a slow loris anywhere in the world and they are seen virtually nightly! We almost immediately found a male climbing along a telegraph wire between trees, allowing for a wonderful close up sighting of this primitive member of the primate family. Loris are classified as Strepsirrhine primates, that evolved before most modern day monkeys and are closely related to the bush babies (galagos) of Africa and lemurs of Madagascar. Another interesting fact, unique to lorises is that they actually have a toxic bite which they use in defence when threatened by a predator. We saw another 2 that night including a baby that had sadly fallen from the tree and been separated from its mother.
The song of the siamang
(Siamang gibbon © Ian Loyd Reef and Rainforest Tours)
On our first full day in Way Kambas we awoke early for a pre-dawn game drive into the park which produced our first sighting of many Indian red muntjacs in the gloom of the early morning light. As it became lighter we found a skittish troop of southern pig-tailed macaques crossing the track ahead of us and later a sounder of wild boar busily rooting in the vegetation at the roadside. The birds then started to wake up and came thick and fast with our first of many splendid crested firebacks and red junglefowl (the ancestor of the domestic chicken) followed by goodies such as green and banded broadbills, red-bearded bee-eater and red naped trogons. Reaching somewhere about halfway along the track we stopped and began to walk for a while, unfortunately also experiencing our first Way Kambas leeches. Along this walk though we were suddenly drawn to an exciting crash in the canopy above us and we quickly located a fantastic siamang gibbon (the world’s largest) staring down at us from the canopy above the track. He posed for a couple of minutes before swinging off into denser cover. The silence was then broken again a few minutes later when a trio of siamang gibbons decided it was time for their morning song, and what a sound it is; starting like a long drawn out human yawn and then turning into something similar to whale song.
The tree shrew with a feather for a tail.
(Feather-tailed tree shrew © Ian Loyd Reef and Rainforest Tours)
Towards the end of another night drive we found some quite large eyeshine from a probable carnivore! Very exciting. We stopped and tried to locate the animal which completely disappeared so we decided to try and walk into the forest a little way with the lights off to try and “squeak” it in closer. We actually ended up walking a fair way into the trees and squeaked for a few minutes to no avail. Hari, our guide then turned on the spotlight to see if something had come in to investigate, and did a quick scan with the torch. “Feather-tailed tree shrew!” He exclaimed in an almost hysterical voice. We could hardly believe our eyes when this rarely seen and odd looking mammal ran along a horizontal branch at head height in front of us. Hari then skilfully kept the spotlight on it as it ran through the branches until it very obligingly stopped to rest amongst a clump of thick vines giving a superb view and photo opportunity. We were all thrilled. The treeshrew family once believed to be members of the insectivore order of mammals are now classed under the primate order.
Patience pays off!
(Sumatran elephant © Ian Loyd Reef and Rainforest Tours)
On another afternoon we took a fantastic boat trip along the Way Kanan River and soon came across an area of flattened grass at the water’s edge in one of the larger clearings with some large piles of dung nearby. Elephants! Hari whispered pointing into the forest. They were not visible but we could hear a faint rustle, and a few minutes later an unmistakable elephant trumpet! We had clearly arrived about 5 minutes too late as it was apparent the herd had been drinking here before we arrived. However Hari’s keen hearing helped us predict where they might emerge next and we tracked their movements by watching the tops of the trees shake. We all waited with bated breath in silence for about an hour until finally an elephant sounded like it was approaching us. For such a massive animal they were remarkably quiet and stealthy in their forest environment. Finally an adult emerged at the edge of the clearing and crept out just enough to see us and dash back in to the forest again. We had a good view but it was clear just how shy these elephants were of people. A second appeared further up the river where it had a drink and took a trunk full of vegetation giving us a much better view as it had not spotted us. The rest of the herd then approached the river and we could hear them drinking just the other side of some bushes.
The mysterious marbled cat
The night drive back from the Way Kanan River on one of night drives produced some great views of both lesser and greater mouse deer, colugos (flying lemurs), Malayan, masked and common palm civets, red giant flying squirrels and a Malayan porcupine. About half way back to the lodge I spotted eye shine at 20 metres back in the forest. I initially thought this was another mouse deer as I could only see one eye, but it was shining a very bright green. After following it for a few seconds in the torch it turned to face us, giving us all a view of both its striking bright green reflected eyes. The animal was clearly a carnivore with forward facing eyes and a rounded face. I eventually got it in my binoculars and confirmed it immediately as a cat, it had a wide face with large ears and I could make out some dark markings and stripes on the top of the head. It had an overall shaggy appearance and was low to the ground (not much bigger than a domestic cat). It then started to walk away from us and despite my rodent squeaking attempts we lost it. Based on its features I was fairly certain it was a marbled cat but it was not conclusive as I could not rule out the possibility of it being an Asian golden cat. Hari then exclaimed that we were about 50 metres from where he had seen marbled cat on a couple of occasions in the recent past! Frustratingly we saw many small cat eyeshines during our trip, many surely belonged to leopard cats but we felt unlucky not have had a really good sighting. However we did find scat of clouded leopard and fresh marbled cat footprints next to where our sighting had occurred. Next time maybe….
The black and white tapir
It was our final night drive and it had been mostly quiet this evening until the return journey when at some point along the upper jeep track a huge black and white beast appeared in the middle of the track. Unmistakable! Our third Malayan tapir of the trip! Not only did it obligingly stay for a record picture it actually calmly walked up the track towards us until it was no less than 15 metres from the car before veering off into the forest and immediately vanishing! We were all left speechless. We had previously observed a pair browsing in the lush riverside vegetation of the Way Kanan River but this sighting was magical! With so much wildlife potential you just never know what you are going to see next in Way Kambas!
(Tarantula Sp. © Ian Loyd Reef and Rainforest Tours)