Sumatra here we come!

Taina Strike

I’m met at the airport by the lovely smile of ZSL Indonesia’s Dudy Nugroho who is behind the meticulous planning of this capture. That smile and wonderful calm manner is to get us through many a moment of “ aaaagh we haven’t yet got x and we GOTTA get z…” and how he doesn’t break out into a cold sweat and flat out panic in the terrifying mess of vehicles that is Jakarta traffic is beyond me – and I thought commuting to London was bad!! Lucky me – I wouldn’t put my survival on my bicycle at more than half a second out here! John Lewis of Wildlife Vets International joins us too – he’s done this all before and it’s fantastic to be working with him. We arrive in Bogor, West Java, where ZSL Indonesia has its head office, just as the volcano that the city nestles up against turns pyrotechnic pink and over-the-top orange… My body is suddenly unsure if it’s sunrise or sunset… I greet someone “selemat pagi” – good morning and I get a bemused but polite “selemat malaam” – good evening, in return. Aaaah… yes… jetlag!

Mt Selak in Bogor, West Java

Like a total newbie I’m itching (and not just from mozzies) to hit the jungle and start the capture work… BUT there is much to do (and learn) from thorough preparations which ensure that our prospects of catching a tiger are optimised. Combing through the drug- and equipment lists we piece together what we have, what we will pick up in Sumatra and what we need to order NOW!! We have a happy reunion and fruitful meeting with Indonesian vet colleagues at Taman Safari Indonesia, who we lectured with on the tiger-human conflict course last year. They are helping us with logistics and official support. Pak Tony Sumampau, their Director of Conservation invites us to lunch in the REAL Rainforest Restaurant set under huge trees and tropical vegetation surrounded by Sumatran elephants and enchanting birdsong, a rare treat! Then it’s on to meetings with LIPI the Indonesian Institute of Scientific Research for permits allowing us to take blood samples from the animals. We also need permits from the department of forestry under who the wild tigers fall, and finally the Indonesian Veterinary Medical Association where it is important that we register to get temporary permission to work under their auspices.

Lots of permits and endless checklists!

Back at head office boxes are packed, those last minute orders checked – and changed! Transponders and receivers double checked and I try on a GPS collar for good measure. We pore over maps, photos and satellite images of the terrain we’ll be working in - best approaches, what to avoid, where tigers were last caught on camera traps and what time they have been seen. Every bit of data influences the capture, affecting even the choice of drugs we use to immobilise the tiger. We’ll pull all the info together once we’re on the ground.  

 

My Bahasa Indonesia (Indonesian language) continues to improve as I reply to someone’s “Terima kasi” – thank you – with a cheery “Nasi goreng!” – Fried rice! Hmmmmm … not quite what I had intended! But it does make people laugh. I try to learn a new phrase every day… watch this space! Last night we examined new camera trap photos and for the first time I see four of the tigers we might (fingers and toes tightly crossed) capture… my heart jumps - AWESOME! AMAZING! INCREDIBLE! WOW… I run out of adjectives and resort to my excited babble of really? REALLY???!!

 

Camera trap photos of the tiger we are hoping to collar – look at those eyes!

John, who has captured so many tigers in so many different conditions over the years, brings us back to earth with a very pragmatic “we’ll be very lucky to get ANY of these tigers, guys…” I do know that… but I can’t help being excited! Sumatra here we come!

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