Sun, 03 Sep 2000

A look at smallest primates at Tangkoko

The following articles on this page were made possible through the courtesy of the Hotel Santika Manado, Bouraq Airlines and Manado-based Maya Express travel agency. The articles were written by The Jakarta Post's Harry Bhaskara

TONGKAINA, Molas, North Sulawesi (JP): Our bus took a left turn just as it approached the magnificent Bitung Port at the tip of Sulawesi island. It headed toward Tangkoko natural reserve, about one hour away.

This remaining leg of the day trip could have gone quicker if the seven kilometers of road ahead -- out of some 20 kilometers remaining -- were in good condition. They were not and the bus had to skirt its way down the road to avoid the many potholes.

Close to Tangkoko the twin peaks of the Dua Saudara mountains soared majestically as if they were right in front of our eyes, showing off their beautiful greenish blue color.

The road ahead was full of bends. There were signs of newly fallen trees on a number of slopes along the road. At one point, a group of loggers were seen sitting on a side street taking a rest.

Tangkoko is a small reserve about 9,000 hectares in size at the northern tip of the 90-square-kilometer Minahasa regency in North Sulawesi. It is located about 60 kilometers from the North Sulawesi capital of Manado. The reserve encompasses three volcanoes -- the twin peaks of Dua Saudara, which loom over the busy port of Bitung, Tangkoko and Batuangus.

The day was getting late and our group of foreign and local tourists planned to arrive at Tangkoko forest by 6 p.m. We left the Hotel Santika Manado at close to 2 p.m.

Six p.m. is when the Sulawesi tarsiers, said to be the smallest primate in the world, come out of hiding to look for food.

Like many other destinations in this province, there were no throngs of tourists. We arrived at the gate of the Tangkoko reserve all alone, just like the locals coming home from a shopping trip in Manado.

After our guide made certain we all rubbed our feet and hands with mosquito-repellent tissues, we headed for the reserve on foot. Because the forest lies along the coast near Bitung, we could hear the waves roaring. This explains why we were hot and perspiring despite being surrounded by trees: Tangkoko is a coastal reserve forest close to the highlands.

The time was 5 p.m. and one hour later we stopped in front of a huge tree in the dense forest. The ranger who accompanied us pointed his finger at the tree, and as we all strained our eyes in the rapidly falling darkness we were able to see two tarsiers sitting in the branches.

Their bodies measured about 15 centimeters in length and they had long tails. They did not look that impressive with their light brown skin, but it was unique to see a primate of this size.

As we made noise the tarsiers took refuge in the tree trunk, where they normally sleep during the day. The distinct alarm-like sound of forest insects at sunset is said to be their wake-up call to look for food. And they eat the very insects that awake them.

A few minutes later the tarsiers reappeared. This time we were more prepared and let them jump into the nearby tree branches. World-class athletes would have been envious of such leaps, so fast it appeared they were flying rather than jumping. We were barely able to follow them.

As soon as we spotted one of them in the dark we turned our flashlights on it and it sat where it was, unmoving. We quietly stepped in to get a closer view and there it was in all its glory. It stared blankly at us, hypnotized by the flashlights.

We went further into the forest to look for a giant spider that lives in the split of a massive tree trunk. The spider, named Tarantula by locals, measures about 30 centimeters in diameter and is said to be very poisonous.

If we had arrived at the forest earlier, we could have seen the big and colorful Sulawesi hornbill, tailless black monkeys, white-necked mynas and other spectacular birds.

The trip to the forest ended and we took another one-hour walk back to the bus before heading back to the Hotel Santika, which took us another two and a half hours.

It is possible to spend the night in Tangkoko and go trekking in the mountains in the morning. A very basic but clean cottage and good food is available for those who wish to pursue this option.