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  Field Notes From
Proboscis Monkeys

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On Assignment
View Field Notes
From Author and Photographer

Tim Laman

In most cases these accounts are edited versions of a spoken interview. They have not been researched and may differ from the printed article.

Photograph by Tim Laman

On Assignment On Assignment On Assignment
Proboscis Monkeys

Field Notes From
Author and Photographer

Tim Laman
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One afternoon we spotted a proboscis monkey group that we had not seen before, and among them was a female carrying two babies. Excited that they might be twins, I quickly got a couple of shots of her holding the two babies. Twins are rare in monkeys, so I was skeptical, especially since female proboscis monkeys often carry one another’s babies. I left a few days later, still uncertain about whether I had photographed rare twins. When I returned six months later, I asked researcher Tadahiro Murai about them. He said he had seen them many times and was positive that they were indeed twins. The fact that they had both survived was even more remarkable. One day I chanced upon the same group. The twins had grown into cute little bundles of fur and were large enough that it was difficult for their mother to carry them, especially when jumping across the river. She leaped in and swam across without them. They whined and whimpered, afraid to cross on their own. But she didn’t return, and the rest of the group had already crossed. So they finally leaped in and swam across. I was relieved to see them reach safety.

After more than 20 years of handling cameras in all kinds of places, I prided myself in never dropping anything. My clean record ended during this assignment. I worked in a small boat with a huge 400mm zoom f/2.8 lens mounted on a tripod. Whenever I moved around the boat, I took the lens off the tripod. But one day I left the camera mounted when I stood up to relieve myself. I heard a noise and turned to see my tripod, lens, and camera going over the side. I grabbed the tripod and hauled it out, but the lens was already saturated. I couldn’t continue without my largest lens. And if I didn’t get the lens dried before things started to corrode, the assignment would be a write-off. I headed back, started packing, and drove to town that night. The next morning I caught a flight to Singapore to get to the nearest Canon service center. They disassembled my lens and camera, dried it, and put it back together. It worked perfectly. After losing three days, I was back on the river. I developed a new system for tying my tripod securely into the boat, and was much more careful when nature called.

One day after a group of proboscis monkeys had crossed a river by leaping into the water and swimming, one monkey remained. He was hesitant. He stepped out to the end of the branch, assumed take-off position, and then stepped back. Stepped out again, back again. Thought about it for a while. Back out to the end, back in again. He did this so many times that my arms ached from holding up my camera. And then he went for it. Sailing through the air from the 25-foot-high (eight-meter-high) launch point, he arched down toward the water, arms and legs spread front and back. But instead of landing in a belly flop like his comrades, he snagged the drooping branches on the other side. He was the only one to make it across without getting wet.

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