Discovering the Tangkoko Locals

"She seems more than a little irritated" I thought to myself as I backed slowly away from a full grown female Black Crested Macaque with her infant nearby. At this point she was emitting something resembling a growl and had bared her teeth slightly reminding me that I was not a particularly welcome visitor in her domain.


When I photograph wildlife I do my absolute best to not be intrusive, but this opportunity in the Tangkoko Nature Preserve had caused me to take leave of my senses momentarily as I pursued the below photo. Given the mother's warnings, I decided I was best served to slowly move my way in the opposite direction of their group and continue along the small line in the jungle trees that passed for a trail in search of the other local residents.

An infant spending time playing in the jungle undergrowth and treefall debris

The Indonesian jungle on North Sulawesi is an awe inspiring place. From Black Crested Macaques to Spectral Tarsiers, to an untold number of various spiders, snakes and who knows what else, it is teeming with life around every corner, in every conceivable form. The group of Macaques that we were so fortunate to observe close up is one of several that live on the preserve.

A young Black Crested Macaque plays with other juveniles of the group

My daughter captured a fairly amusing image (below) as we were mingling with the group of about 75 monkeys for an hour or so. I love the fact that photography is something we are able to do together, and that she shares my passion for conservation and learning as much as possible about the natural world around us. This trip afforded opportunities in around these things in abundance.

Taken by my daughter Kayden - A young adult Black Crested Macaque, who looks in utter disbelief over something.
A Bear Cuscus in the upper canopy. This photo was taken at 300mm and heavily cropped to provide something resembling a closeup shot.

After working our way through the jungle and away from the group of Macaques who were happy to see us go, we encountered our first Bear Cuscus of the day. The Bear Cuscus is an arboreal marsupial that lives in North Sulawesi and predominantly resides in the upper canopy of the jungles there. After putting a pretty good kink in my neck observing and attempting to photograph them at long distance, I finally managed a shot or two that were passable. Diurnal animals, but largely active at night, This Bear Cuscus was just starting its day when we arrived a couple hundred feet below. We spent quite a bit of time watching them navigate the upper canopy and once again resumed our hike to find the local Tarsiers.


Moving along the trail, our guide spotted a pair of Sulawesi Scops Owls in the lower canopy. Using a small, low-powered flashlight angled from directly beneath them so as not to do damage to their highly sensitive eyes, we set up to shott. Being as quiet as we could in the undergrowth, we took a few minutes to take some photos and above all appreciate the mean mugging we received from one of them as we were finishing up. The photo below quickly became my favorite from that pause in our hike.


I could feel their annoyance at having been roused from their slumber earlier than they would have liked. It would seem that certain things are universal regardless of where you are from in the animal kingdom.

A pair of Sulawesi Scops Owls. We used a very low powered flashlight and no flash to grab this shot so as to disturb them as little as possible.

From there we continued our search. With daylight starting to run out, and our time in the preserve getting shorter, I was starting to get nervous that we were going to miss out on what we had made the trek to see. We saw Kingfishers of various species, continued to fight insects that seemed to have launched a coordinated offensive with great prejudice due to our presence, and pressed deeper into the Preserve. Passing ironwood, ebony, and teak trees a couple hundred feet tall added to the otherworldly atmosphere of our walk through the jungle.

A Green-Backed Kingfisher near the water's edge in the jungle.

After what felt like forever to me (it wasn't), we finally came upon what we had made the trek to see. The Spectral Tarsier. Nestled into a tree trunk and just starting to wake up and call to their compatriots in the area, we got to spend some time with a couple pairs of Tarsiers. Their eyes are completely immovable in their skulls, and because of this they can rotate their necks in similar fashion to that of an owl. Extremely sensitive to light, we had to take great care not to damage them with our flashlights, camera flashes etc. Using the same low powered flashlight from below, and climbing trees to get the 5 meters up needed to see them, we managed to get a few decent photos. I am convinced that we were never making the Tarsiers feel as though they were in danger, but rather their looks can be attributed to their absolute horror at my amateur tree climbing skills.

A pair of Spectral Tarsiers in the Preserve. Nocturnal and fairly difficult to find they are fascinating to observe.

Spectral Tarsiers feed mostly on insects, and are entirely carnivorous. They will on occasion even feed on bats and lizards if they make the mistake of wandering within range of the Tarsiers grasp.

Using a longer focal length and a little tree climbing, I was able to get a closeup that I will never forget.

Nocturnal, and with some of the most advanced night time eyesight of any animal, they are an incredibly unique. Beyond their somewhat odd appearance, and the fact that they are voracious predators, they also have a very distinct set of vocalizations they use to communicate with one another throughout their particular corner of the jungle. In the short video below, which I will admit was shot strictly for sound and not image quality, you can hear the call a Tarsier makes to communicate with others of its kind.

After we had the chance to spend an hour with these fascinating animals, we began our trek back out of the woods towards our car and a three hour drive back to food and sleep. Our brief day in the Tangkoko Nature Preserve was something I will never forget, the same way I won't forget the tarantulas emerging from the trees along the trail at dusk right about eye level during the walk out.


If you want to learn more about Tangkoko, or visit if you are ever in North Sulawesi Indonesia, check out this website -


https://www.indonesia.travel/us/en/destinations/sulawesi/bitung/the-tangkoko-nature-reserve

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