I never thought jet lag could induce hallucinations, but after I flew four time zones past the international date line, snagged a 90-minute nap in Jakarta and endured a six-hour van ride, I had to wonder whether the sedated monkey getting its belly shaved in front of me was a dream.
Here at the Cikananga Wildlife Center, a wooded area about 200 miles southeast of Jakarta, 18 rescued female macaques were being prepped for sterilization surgery, a critical first step in their lengthy rehabilitation process.
Their stories varied, but these creatures were all victims of Indonesia's animal pet trade, forced to perform as dancing monkeys, or topeng monyet, on the streets of Jakarta, the capital.
Cikananga was the first stop in December on a week-long trip to Indonesia that would also take me to the island of Borneo. My spouse, a veterinarian, worked for a surgical instrument manufacturer that provided the specialized tools required for these operations. Travelers can volunteer at Cikananga (for a fee of $185 a week, including food and lodging) for as little as one week, assisting in medical treatments, feeding, observing behaviors, cleaning cages and other tasks.
Thanks to a five-year campaign by the Jakarta Animal Aid Network, animal acts have been outlawed in the city since 2013. (The organization now is seeking a national ban.)
"This is a huge step forward toward better animal welfare in Indonesia," said JAAN co-founder Femke den Haas. But because JAAN had no rescue center of its own, the animals had to go somewhere, which is how they ended up in Cikananga.
To help with the medical treatments, Den Haas turned to International Animal Rescue Indonesia, a nonprofit launched in 2006.
Four-year-old Josha, dressed in an army outfit, used to spend her days begging for money so her owner could collect a few rupiah from passersby. When she was rescued in March 2013, her thumbs were missing and her waist had scar tissue from a chain she'd been tethered to.
Besides Josha's physical abuse, consider that she and other macaques had been taken from their families and deprived of the freedom of the forest where they belong.
Working as if on an assembly line, wildlife veterinarian Paolo Martelli, assisted by Karmele Llano Sanchez, a veterinarian originally from Bilbao, Spain, and IAR Indonesia's program director, performed tubectomies to keep these primates, which are not endangered, from reproducing.
"Finding release sites is quite difficult, plus the [sites'] … capacity is often limited," said Martelli, the chief veterinarian at Ocean Park, an oceanarium and marine mammal park in Hong Kong.
But first the macaques must learn to forage for food and avoid predators.
And, Sanchez said, they must be socialized into groups to mimic how they would live in nature. Once that's accomplished, they'll be sent to Penjaliran off western Java, "a beautiful island with a really nice forest," Sanchez said.
If you go
THE BEST WAY TO JAKARTA, INDONESIA
From LAX, connecting service (change of plane) is offered on All Nippon, JAL, Cathay Pacific, China, Singapore, Eva, China Eastern, Philippine, Cathay, Delta, Thai, usually connecting to Indonesian airline Garuda. Restricted round-trip fares, including taxes and fees, begin at $878.
To call the numbers below from the U.S. dial 011 (the international dialing code), 62 (the country code for Indonesia) and the local number.
WHERE TO STAY
Sheraton Bandara Hotel, Bandara Soekarno-Hatta, Jakarta; 21-559-7777, www.sheratonbandara.com. Though it could be classified as an airport hotel — it's less than two miles from Soekarno-Hatta International Airport — the 225-room luxury resort has three restaurants, a fitness center and tropical garden. Doubles from $150.
Kosenda Hotel, No. 127 Jl, KH Wahid Hasyim, Jakarta; 21-3193-6868, www.kosendhotel.com. Great location in the Thamrin area of the city with easy access to major shopping and entertainment. Features 60 rooms and a rooftop lounge. Doubles begin at $200 and up a night.
WHERE TO EAT
Sambal Tapas Outdoor Bar & Lounge, Sheraton Bandara. Small plates, cocktails and live music. Open 11-2 a.m.
Linjani Restaurant (at the Sheraton) is great for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Serves an extensive selection of Indonesian and international cuisine, buffet-style or a la carte with decadent desserts.
Waha Kitchen, Kosenda Hotel, www.wahakitchen.com. Open 24 hours. "Modern Asian cuisine," with breakfast favorites and dinner choices such as Waha fried rice with chicken and prawns.
TO LEARN MORE
Cikananga Wildlife Center, www.cikanangawildlifecenter.com/?page_id=40
International Animal Rescue Indonesia, www.thegreatprojects.com/indonesia