Sunday, September 16, 2012

Duchess of Cambridge shrugs off leeches in Borneo rainforest

With just a hint of a smile, he said: “We saw a spy in a tree.”

It was in fact veteran royal photographer Ken Goff, who had been positioned by royal aides high up in an adjacent tree to get the “money shot” that everyone was after - but for just a moment there was a glimpse of what the Duke, and the Duchess of Cambridge, were really thinking.

However it was clear on Saturday that nothing was going to overshadow the trip to the Danum Valley field centre in Sabah, Borneo, which the couple had hinted would be the personal highlight of their nine-day tour to South East Asia and the South Pacific.

Even as their aides were involved in urgent talks about the unfolding topless pictures crisis, the Duke and Duchess stuck resolutely to their plan.

On arriving the couple attended a short briefing with a group of Malaysian and British scientists, including Dr Glen Reynolds, the director of the Royal Society’s South East Asia research programme, which explores the impact of deforestation.

 After the Duke said he would like two children during a walkabout in Singapore, family was clearly once again on the couple’s minds as they asked the scientists about the behaviour of Borneo’s most elusive inhabitants, the orang-utans.

“Are orang-utans quite social animals and do they have big families or are they solitary?” asked the Duke.

The Duchess asked: “Do they have any young at the moment?”

When told the scientists often see the young she said: “We’re very jealous. We still haven’t managed to see one.”

They were then fitted with harnesses and helmets before making their way across a suspension bridge into the jungle where they were hoisted up 130ft into a giant parashorea tomentella tree using a “counterweight pulley system” which had been set by rope access technicians to their combined weight.

As they waited at the base of the tree, the Duke showed he was determined to maintain a sense of humour as he looked at his wife in her harness and quipped: “Girls don’t have the same wardrobe malfunctions as men do. I hope I don’t have any wardrobe malfunctions.”

He continued to make his wife laugh, perhaps to ease her apprehension, with a reference to his uncle, the Duke of York’s recent abseil down the Shard building in London for charity.

“It’s not quite as impressive as the Shard,” he said, looking up into the tree.

“Size isn’t everything,” said Dr Reynolds, joining in the joke, before the Duke replied laughing: “That’s true.”

The Duchess, looked upwards at the route of her debut ascent into the canopy, and taking a deep breath, said: “I’m going to go “whee” and just fly up.” “Is it ok to squeak as we go up?” asked the Duke, making his wife laugh as her feet were lifted off the ground.

With their feet dangling, suspended in the air, and sweeping views over the top of the canopy, they were greeted at the top by Dr Kalsum Yusah, 32, from Sabah, who completed a PhD in entomology at Cambridge University two years ago and is now based at the field centre.

Dr Yusah said: “They enjoyed it immensely and they weren’t scared of the heights. They asked about the primates, birds and insects and they were interested in how the forest is sustained.

“They enjoyed it because it gets them into the midst of the canopy, where there’s nothing much else going on.”

After spending around 10 minutes up in the air, they were lowered back down to the ground.

“That was rather surreal, wasn’t it?” said the Duchess.

“It was amazing, such a treat, really brilliant to be up there. I could have stayed up there for hours, even though there were a lot of ants.” The Duke described his first tree-top experience as “super”.