Single file through the jungle
Travelling by boat is the easiest way to get around Berbak National Park. The ZSL field base is at a cross of two rivers as is ideally situated at the middle of the park. The jungle very dense and the team often have to walk miles through the jungle to perform their work. Today we are walking to a camera trap site to collect a camera trap that has been set up to record wildlife using a trail about three miles into the jungle. Camera traps aren’t as aggressive as they sound! Camera traps “trap” the image of wildlife passing the camera (often strapped to a tree) when set off by a motion sensor. They are a really important conservation tool as they help us to monitor wildlife without having to be there.
Getting to the bank is a challenge as the river is tidal and the margins are thick with palms that form an almost impenetrable barrier. Getting to the bank takes a good 20 minutes of team work to pull ourselves and the boat through.
The lead man today is Doyok who has been working for ZSL for the last three years. Prior to working for ZSL, Doyok worked in the forest for an illegal logging company, initially he was attracted by a job that would take him into the jungle but his passion for wildlife and his strong feelings to conserve his local area led him to seek a job in conservation. ZSL is lucky to have his experience, the previous years spent living and working in the jungle really pay off today. One of the many benefits that ZSL brings is the opportunity for local people to be employed and trained as world leading conservationists.
Doyok has the hardest job today, not only keeping us on track by using a compass and hand held GPS but also by choosing and clearing a safe path for the rest of the team. It is real explorer type stuff with Doyok in front cutting a path for the rest of the team who follow in single file behind him.
Walking through the jungle is hard work and that’s without being the man in front. The ground is uneven has roots and vines everywhere and is a combination of swamp and deep leaf litter. What I’m also discovering is that ground that will support an Indonesian will definitely not support me. I have suddenly disappeared through layers of leaf litter up to my waist several times today.
Slowly slowly through the jungle
Some of the vines are smooth and easy to brush past whilst others are harder to navigate. I quickly learn to stop as soon as I’m grabbed by a vine. Many have rows of backwards pointing thorns a little like fish hooks, the more you pull away the more the vine digs into your clothes and skin. It’s good to know the jungle wants to get so close to me.
Added to this today the temperature is in the low 30’s and humidity is 98%, it becomes very sweaty and hard work very quickly. To walk the three miles each way to the camera and back takes eight hours!
For those who know me well the idea of me balancing on logs to cross rivers will be hilarious, however today was no time for falling in. Not only is all my equipment in my bag but there are plenty of salt water crocodiles living here!!
Today is a relatively short walk for the team, they can spend several days at a time working in the jungle walking transects to monitor and record the biodiversity here, setting up camera traps for monitoring wildlife and also surveying and monitoring the carbon stored and absorbed by the jungle.
Even though I’m sweating and bleeding my way through the jungle I’m having amazing fun. We have seen Chevrotain or mouse deer (Tragulus kanchil) through the undergrowth, eagles in the trees above, squirrels which I think are Prevost squirrels (Callosciurus sp) but they disappear from sight too quickly. I smelt the distinctive musky smell of a civet and then saw a Binturong (Arctictis binturong) high up in the branches and then most exciting of all lots and lots of animal prints around my own!
My next blog will be about what it is like to live in "field HQ" and the dangers of the jungle.
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