On the road…again!
Afghanistan to Zambia
Chronicles of a Footloose Forester
By Dick Pellek
The Goat And The Peacock
The tiny island of Pulau Peucang off the western tip of Java was the site of one of only two guard stations for Indonesia’s Ujung Kulon National Park, a virtually pristine expanse of lowland wet forest and scattered islands that cover about 120,600 hectares. It was also the site chosen to build a modest research station to study the ecology of the one-horned Javan rhino and other animals in that uninhabited forest and wetlands ecosystem. Furthermore, Ujung Kulon is the last known place where the Javan tiger was photographed prior to its extinction. Although getting permission to visit the island and to stay there required written authorization from Ujung Kulon National Park Headquarters, several researchers and even a few well connected tourists came to stay for periods ranging from a few days to several months. It was during one of the previous tourist trips that a bizarre story was begun.
An Italian tourist who had visited many months before the arrival of the Footloose Forester brought with him a goat to slaughter; as food for himself and for the handful of game reserve guards who lived and worked there. For whatever reason, he never got around to killing the goat, so on his departure he left the goat with the chief guard for later butchering. In the meantime, the few young children of the families of the guards took a liking to the goat; and the goat responded by showing outward friendliness toward them. In the end, the chief guard decided to keep the goat as a pet. But it was the wife of the chief guard who told the Footloose Forester about the goat and, based on her obvious pleasure in the telling, she was probably the person who pleaded with her husband to keep the goat as a pet.
By the time the Footloose Forester arrived at Pulau Peucang to conduct his field research phase concerning the soils and vegetation of Ujung Kulon, the goat and his new human friends had established routine patterns of activity. The goat would often be seen in their presence, especially when he was hungry, and he stayed under their shelter when the rain pounded down, which was pretty often.
During the rainiest of months on Java, it rained hard for days at a time. The Footloose Forester remembers that it once rained for 26 days in the same month. Even the deer from the forest sought refuge under the flooring of the research station. You knew they had crawled under the floorboards when you heard their antlers scraping the bottom of the rough wooden boards; and you could see them through cracks in the floor. Indonesia had some of the heaviest rainfalls that the Footloose Forester had ever known; and both man and animal were grateful for dry shelter.
But there were dry and sunny days, as well. At such times, the goat exhibited another routine that caught the attention of the Footloose Forester. Since the goat was free to roam anywhere he wanted, whenever he wanted, one of his promenades on dry sunny days just before sunset was toward the tree line just beyond the rear steps of the research station where Footloose Forester liked to sit to observe the antics of a family of Javan macaques. Both the macaques and the goat seemed to prefer the late afternoon before sunset to preen in the waning sun and to visit the open spaces near the tree line.
Javan macaques often sat in waning sunlight to preen and to play
That was also when a peacock would emerge from the forest; mount the raised stump of a fallen tree uprooted in a storm; and call out. At first the Footloose Forester thought that the peacock was calling to a mate. But it was the goat that sauntered over to the tree stump and waited. Then the peacock flared out his beautiful iridescent tail feathers and began a dance as the goat stood there and watched.
Seeing the peacock doing a dance on the tree stump was always a treat
The next time it was dry and sunny near sunset, the peacock again appeared, again mounted the same tree stump and once again, called out. And the goat would saunter over and stand there while the peacock flared his tail feathers and began to dance. After the third time that the Footloose Forester observed the peacock appear from the forest at sunset and mount the tree stump; and after the goat would arrive from his normal hangout near the human families, the Footloose Forester was convinced that the goat and the peacock were friends. It rained a lot in Ujung Kulon, so the sunset ritual of the dancing peacock and the audience of an attentive goat did not take place often, but it was a privilege to see and remains as one of the fondest memories of that jungle paradise.