We have now retrieved all camera traps. Not far away from one trap, the team found civet scat and tracks. This is a fantastic finding but of course everybody was anxious to see if there was also a civet trapped on the camera. Unfortunately not. But again mouse deer, wild boar, porcupines, macaques, great argus and even pangolins romped around in front of the traps. The tiger, too, remains hidden.
Jatt, Anh and Ryan started their overnigher in the rain north of the last village in the reserve, Ludai Dusepakat. A new dirt road, about three years old, gives the villagers better access to the outer world. The result is obvious: plantations all over and more logging. Very hilly landscape and dense forest made it difficult for the team to cover ground. Nevertheless they found sambar deer scat and tracks as well as a muntjac tracks. Well done. Before their return, they conducted an interview. Interesting is the fact that the villagers speak their own local language. Interviewees reported an overall decrease of wild cats in general, but in December 2014 a tiger was reputedly heard close to the village. In what way this information can be trusted is not clear.
Thursday to Friday night heavy, heavy rain poured down for more than 12 hours without a break. As we came down to the river this morning to start our return trip to Pekanbaru, we could not believe our eyes: the river level had risen so much that the “jetty” of our Field Station had disappeared – all steps were completely submerged. Nevertheless we made it back safely and almost dry.
Two more weeks have gone very quickly. It was a hard slog sometimes, so well done everybody. Thank you for the very constructive discussions and your contributions.
We realise that elusive tigers is frustrating and that the effects of all our hard work may not be immediately obvious, especially if you do not come across our main target species. But we ask you to be patient. This is our first year in Sumatra and, as we say in the Reality Check, science is not safari and the planet will not be saved on a single two-week expedition. Instead it takes years, sometimes decades, for conservation successes to establish themselves and take a firm hold.
For example, we spent ten years working in the Altai, researching snow leopard presence, building local capacity and trying to create economic incentives for local people to keep their snow leopard neighbours alive. When we started, there was no national park, little awareness, research or infrastructure, and rampant poaching (I am sure this must ring bells with you in Sumatra). Now we have a national park, national park staff, anti-poaching patrols, several research initiatives, much more awareness and many ways for local people to benefit from the presence of the snow leopard. Poaching continues to be a threat, as is the Altai gas pipeline, but all in all this is a remarkable turnaround and success story, and we are very proud to have played our part in this. We’ve had many successes through citizen science voluntourism over the years (see www.biosphere-expeditions.org/achievements) and the Altai is yet another excellent illustration of how citizen science-led conservation expeditions can make a genuine difference.
We all hope that in time, Sumatra will join this list of successes. Please do not underestimate your contribution, even if you did not find tiger evidence on your group. You already know how underresourced Rimbang Baling Wildlife Reserve is and how difficult it is to make a living through anything but plantations, logging or otherwise environmentally harmful activities. Running the expedition to this remote place for three months makes a big difference to the rangers, public perception in the area, especially how the tiger and nature is perceived, and so many more things besides. Do not underestimate the effect the expedition has on these levels. And in time, as we build our networks, we will get deeper into the forest to protect the tiger and its habitat. Thank you for being a part of this process.
Finally, I would also like to thank all the team for your supported and commitment throughout. It was a pleasure and fun working with you. After Ramadan, Anthony will take over from me as an expedition leader. I wish slots 4-6 the best of luck.
Stay sharp …