The 2016 expedition is wrapping up and we have just arrived back in Pekanbaru after 12 nights in the field. The second group enjoyed brilliant blue skies and endless sunshine throughout their stay in Rimbang Baling reserve. This was great for afternoon swims in the river and everyone’s skin has turned golden. However, the lack of torrential downpours that the first group experienced means the river level has been very low. Going upriver has been slow and a lot of hard work, we often had to get out of the boats and push them across shallow rocks or walk along the shore while the boat driver worked hard to get the boat up the shallow rapids. What a couple of weeks ago took an hour to travel took us over two hours. It meant long days and everyone worked hard to get back the camera traps and survey the rainforest.
A second overnight group went to Aur Kuning to retrieve camera traps. They surveyed two areas the first day climbing to over 350 meters to retrieve the first camera and then another 260 meters for the second. “My favourite thing about the trip was sitting down on the second hill having a rest,” laughed Horry when they returned. “I really enjoyed spotting a tawny fish owl. It was unafraid and right next to us,” Peter said.
We also visited the school in Muara Bio village. This school only has eight pupils, but they were very attentive during Febri’s presentation about conservation and enjoyed the many games the group members played with them afterwards. The NASA pins Bob had brought from the US and the soft toy kangaroos Penny and John brought from Australia were particularly appreciated.
During the 2016 expedition we have surveyed sixteen cells, covering some 64 square kilometers. Most areas were surveyed twice, and seventeen camera traps were deployed. All areas surveyed showed presence of wild pigs, suggesting prey for tigers is common. Signs of illegal logging was also common within the reserve. Interviews with fifteen villagers along the Subayang river revealed that almost everyone is wary of tigers although most interviewees recognised that they are important and would help reduce the wild pig numbers as well as attracting tourists to the area. Despite the survey times being short and the high presence of humans in the study area, a large number of species including tiger prey were repeatedly recorded, pointing towards relatively good and intact habitat conditions in the areas of RB that were surveyed by the 2016 expedition.
I am now in Pekanbaru wrapping up and storing equipment with WWF until next year. Thank you to all our partners and participants for making this expedition a success. This project could not happen without your efforts and committment. Tigers are few and far between, as two years of our expedition work here have shown, and they need all they help they can get. If they are to survive, it will be in areas such as Rimbang Baling, where they can retreat into the farther reaches of a large reserve, away from humans and their logging, poaching and plantations. But with the support of the local people, it seems they could even return closer to the villages, where our research suggests there is a good prey base. Our work here is, amongst other things, to sway local attitudes in favour of tigers. And this kind of work is a generational game, so we are here to stay and look forward to many more years of working with WWF in tiger conservation in this beautiful corner of Sumatra. Thank you everyone for making this possible.