Indonesia / Travel / Wildlife

Adventures in Pulau Buton – SULAWESI

3 Jan ’17

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I spent 6 weeks on Buton island, east of Sulawesi as a volunteer staff member for Operation Wallacea. In between collecting data for a REDD+ funding application, trying to inspire students by teaching them the ways of field science and having an overall awesome time with the other staff, I walked around trying to photograph some of the iconic species found on the island.

The journey to the island of Pulau Buton, east of mainland Sulawesi was quite a long one but provided some amazing sights.

operation-wallacea-makassar-flightWaking up at dawn in Makassar to take the first flight to Baubau, our final destination for this Operation Wallacea season.

makassar-garuda-flight-atrEarly morning light over mainland Sulawesi, 45min until we land in Baubau, although a little sleepy we are so excited!

Muddy_road_indonesiaFor the most parts the roads were fine but heavy rain throughout the season gave us a few logistical issues… It’s not an adventure in a tropical paradise without muddy roads!

operation_wallacea_sulawesi_boatIn some cases, we had to ditch the road and get on local boats to make our way around bad stretches of track or simply to move fast enough to get the students back to the airport on time.

operation-wallacea-indonesia-campStuck at camp with incredible downpours. The rivers flooded a few times and we had to move some logs around to redirect the flow out of our kitchen area.

operation-wallacea-hammockNothing better than being comfortably tucked in my sleeping back and hammock when surveys are cancelled due to the downpour and the river level blocking all paths.

operation-wallacea-hiking-sulawesiEach camp required a certain amount of walking to be reached. You have to earn the jungle life! Above you can see our group crossing farmlands before entering the forest in the background.


rhacophorus-edentulus-sulawesiThe Celebes Flying Frog (Rhacophorus edentulus) – A gorgeous rhacophorid that was commonly found around one of the camps. I could not go one night without taking at least one photo of them!

A toad calling at night. This was a familiar sound at the central camp every night, this dude was one of the biggest and best looking individuals on the riverside.

rhacophorus-georgii-sulawesiAnother stunning frog (Rhacophorus georgii) that was only found 2 or 3 times in our 6weeks surveying on the island. We were in the forest flagging tracks and re-opening transects when I saw this one. You can see the skin flaps along the limbs that help this species glide from tree to tree!

1o9a1459Brown Accented Butterfly (Cethosia myrina) –  A protected species in Indonesia. I saw it a couple of times on roads while birding and looking for cuscus.

sulawesi-bear-cuscusSulawesi bear cuscus (Ailurops ursinus) is a marsupial and endemic to Sulawesi. They were easily spotted alongside village roads early in the morning.

spectral-tarsier-sulawesiOne of the amazing nocturnal animals that we got to see. The spectral tarsier has huge eyes giving him good night vision, despite lacking the reflective layer, or ‘tapetum’, typical of most other nocturnal primates and thus they have no traditional eye shine. I was able to find some just by following their calls at night, they were extremely vocal!

flying-lizard-sulawesiAn absolutely tiny and most likely born a few days ago, flying lizard!

wild-Cyriopagopus-sulawesiCyriopagopus sp. Not much is known about this rather large tarantula in the wild and most information I could find came from pet owners in the united states… They won’t move far from their web-nest and we were sure to see them at night if we waited long enough, this one was eye level with me and gave me a great opportunity to take some photographs.

1o9a2101A beautiful Asian vine snake (Ahaetulla prasina) posing nicely for me. I was looking for frogs when I spotted this young one (recognised by the brown coloration as they are bright green when adults).

sulawesi-hornbillKnobbed Hornbill (Rhyticeros cassidix). This endemic and absolutely stunning bird was high on my “to-see” list for this trip. Wildlife being wildlife I kept on missing them or only getting glimpses through the canopy until the very last day on the island when keen-eyed Lupi, our mammal scientist, spotted a pair on our way back from searching for Cuscus! They were eye level but very far so I had to use both extenders at some point to get the frames I wanted. We watched a pair forage for a while and everyone had massive grins on their face. Being able to observe such an amazing bird at good range for binoculars was spectacular.


I love spending weeks on end in research centres, jungle camps or simply on jungle adventures. You get to meet awesome fellow biologists and being able to exchange on our love for the natural world and travels is priceless. We do learn a lot from talking to each other around the table at night or while taking breaks from the deadly hills.

operation-wallacea-scientistNia, our bat expert who proved to also be an amazing dance teacher for the staff and students!

operation-wallacea-jungle-sulawesiNia taking a break from our exploratory walks marking transects before the students arrived.

jungle-trek-sulawesi-opwallFirst stop after the “mega hill” outside of North Camp and the entrance to most research transects.

operation-wallacea-indonesia-camplifeKati (left) and Rachel during our weekly Indonesian lessons which proved extremely handy to record data and for us as there are a lot of similarities with Malaysian and we were headed to Borneo again after Sulawesi! Kati was an awesome teacher 🙂 !

birding-sulawesi-opwallMorning birding walk with both staff and students. We were looking at a cuscus at that particular moment as the birds were a bit scarce that day!

nicolas-rakotopare-science-lecture-jungleBeing able to give talks to students about wildlife, photography and conservation were an excellent experience. Jungle amphitheatres like this one were the perfect context to talk about the rainforest species and my adventures documenting them!

Overall, discovering Indonesia through this first trip to Sulawesi was an amazing experience and after talking to many of the local scientists, and making countless new friends, I have added a dozen places in this part of the world I want to go to and photograph! The crazy humidity and wetness of the climate were very tough on the gear, clothes and mind but this is what science in tropical environments is about.



I am a nature photographer specialising in wildlife photography. I have a special passion for this type of photography which comes from my background as an ecologist & conservation biologist.

Comments (2)

  • August 30, 2017 by Marine


    La qualité de ton travail est époustouflante, Nico. Je peux rester des heures à faire défiler tes articles et à savourer chaque photo.
    Tu es tout simplement le meilleur !

  • January 31, 2018 by Véronique


    Photos incroyables d’une destination peu connue! Félicitations pour ce travail et merci de le partager!

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