The ZSL tiger conservation field team spend up to three or four weeks in Berbak National Park at a time, working every day from sun-up at five in the morning until five in the afternoon when it’s time to set up for the night before it gets dark. To accommodate the field team and their equipment, the field base is a permanent building. A field team always consists of at least four members. Working in such a remote area there need to be enough team members to carry out the tasks and also support each other.
The jungle is very hot and humid - when doing any physical activity you get tired very quickly. I am used to hard physical work as a zoo keeper at ZSL London Zoo but the conditions here put your body under extra strain. It’s dangerous work too – a large team is needed as protection from large, potentially dangerous wildlife like sun bears and Sumatran tigers. Berbak National Park has a very high density of tigers because the high productivity of the peat swap forest feeds large numbers of prey animals like wild pigs. One or two team members on their own are at risk of becoming tiger prey themselves, whereas a group walking through the jungle together is more likely to cause the tiger to shy away.
Living in the camp is quite basic. Cooking rice and boiling water is done over a wood stove; this means that every meal in the field always involves rice - whether that is breakfast, lunch or dinner. Water is collected from the roof into a butt and boiled before drinking. Taking a shower is done by tipping river water over your head using a scoop, as it is a wildlife reserve I use water only with no soap. I’m really looking forward to a warm shower and shampoo, something I never thought I would say!
In the evenings there is no TV here or radio so we sit on the porch and talk until it’s time to sleep. The English of the field team is limited but we are able to communicate and it's good fun to spend the time chatting and joking with the team. When the field team cannot get back to base camp they either sleep on the boat called a pong pong or set up a camp by tying hammocks between the trees in the jungle and using tarpaulin suspended on a rope over the top the keep the rain off. Tents would be useless here as the ground is never level and being a peat swamp jungle the ground is pretty wet.
The team here take working in the jungle all in their stride with apparently no effort; for me being used to life in London it is a whole world apart. I’m really enjoying being here and hearing the sounds of the jungle - my favourite so far is waking up to the loud, morning cry of the gibbons calling across the tree tops.
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