Here is now a selection of pictures from the 2016 expedition:
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.
The new group 2 arrivals have settled into the daily routine of Subayang field station, waking up to the call of gibbons and the daily scientific survey work. We have also been collecting the camera traps that the previous group deployed two weeks ago. So far they have captured; mouse deer, barking deer, pig-tailed macaques, wild pigs, poachers and bird catchers.
On Wednesday half of the group went to the village of Aur Kuning, three hours upriver from the station, to survey two areas we had not yet visited. One which was far into the jungle and they sure had some stories to tell upon their return. “There was no path, we had to cut our way through the jungle. It was very steep, and very very slippery,” says Brodie.
Ulva, one of the local placement participants, laughs as she tells us, “Everyone fell over many times on the slippery rocks and steep hills.”
The group spent the night in the village of Aur Kuning, and by the sound of things they were very well looked after. “It was all very good. The food was good and the house we slept in was good too,” reports a tired but happy John.
The other half of the team stayed behind and surveyed areas closer to the station recording long-tailed macaques, wild pigs, sun bears, water buffalo and siamangs. We also saw signs of illegal logging and traps set by poachers to catch song birds. Song bird competitions are common in the towns and therefore so is the demand for wild song birds. Birds are judged on the length and beauty of their song and the owner takes home a price.
Today we are having a well-deserved day off. It is tough work surveying the densely forested and hilly terrain within the Rimbang Bailig Reserve. But a day’s rest and a refreshing swim in the waterfall should see us fit to get back into the rainforest again tomorrow….
The first group of our Sumatran Tiger expedition has come to an end. It has been a successful 12 days surveying a total of fourteen cells for tiger prey species and signs of illegal logging and poaching. We have also placed a total of seventeen camera traps, which the next group arriving on Sunday will be busy retrieving. It was often tough going, tromping through deep water, up steep muddy hills, cutting our way through dense jungle, and all whilst leeches were enjoying our blood. What a great effort by all!
Interviews were also conducted with members from villages, or rubber plantation workers that we met in the field. Most local people are scared of tigers, but there seem to be strong mythical beliefs that tigers are the guardians of the forest and that when a human is killed by a tiger, it is because they have done something bad.
“I wish there were more tigers as there are too many bad people these days,” said the vice-headmaster at the elementary school on Batu Sangan village!
The large number of wild pigs is also a reason that many of our interview subjects expressed a wish for increased tiger populations. We see signs of wild pigs everywhere and often spot them along the river. The locals do not hunt wild pigs due to their Muslim faith, and wild pigs are a nuisance as they eat the villagers’ crops.
We also visited two schools, talking to the children about tigers and the importance of their habitat and prey in the area. Illegal logging and poaching for deer is common and on the fringes of the Rimbang Bailing Wildlife Reserve forest is being clear-cut for palm oil plantations. Our school visits were well received, and both teachers and children were excited to see us.
Now a day to recharge and reorganise in Pekanbaru before the next group is ready to head into the jungle on Sunday morning.
Everyone arrived safely at base on Sunday. After a couple of days of training, we’ve had our first field surveys, all successful and good fun. We’ve had sunshine, evidence of animals, torrential rain, amazing swims in the river and much more. Everyone is well and enjoying their time. A sample survey result is below. More in 10 days or so, or earlier, if I can get a message through 😉
CELL AND SURVEY SUMMARY
AB130 (village cell)
Surveyors: Giovanni, Irfan, John, Steve, Matthias
Survey date: 19 July 2016
This cell is east of the village of Tanjung Belit with some parts of the village extending into the western edge of the cell. The border of the Rimbang Baling Wildlife Sanctuary runs through the cell and the sanctuary starts just east of the village. There are good rubber plantation paths that lead into and across the cell, which is not overly hilly. There was also a relatively wide river with good sand or rubble banks to walk on.
Survey description and access:
Our survey was for about 3.5 km, along rubber paths and the river, which took us about 3 hours to cover. This was an easy cell to survey with flat ground and good paths or rivers to walk along. Access to the cell is simply via Tanjung Belit and then walking into the direction of the cell along a concreted path until the cell starts and then onwards on rubber paths and along the river.
There where rubber plantations everywhere we went and some evidence of logging, such as stumps of large trees and an abandoned logger’s camp. We also heard some chainsaw noise. Once the concreted village path ended, so did the litter and humans, and we only encountered one rubber worker, as well as a couple collecting tree bark for drying and selling onto a factory to produce insect repellent.
Evidence of wild pigs is common, particularly rootings. We discovered one mineral lick in the cell with evidence of good use, which we set a camera trap at. We also encountered a local breed of cattle, the sepi cow, which was domesticated in Java from a forest bovine only 50 or so years ago, according to Febri. These roam freely in the forest and are periodically claimed by their owners. We encountered two of them, about 2 km as the crow flies from the village, wearing bells and running from us as soon as they became aware of our presence. Other than widespread evidence of wild boar and the sepi cows, we saw water buffalo, macaques, goats and chicken, the latter three all close to or in the village.
Human/tiger dimension (interviews):
The above suggests that the villagers do not fear tiger attacks in this cell. This was corroborated by an older man we met when walking into the cell. He did not want to do a formal interview, but he told us that when he was a child, villagers used to send tiger hunting parties into the forest once a week. He never saw a tiger himself and we estimated him to be around 60, so the tiger hunting parties would have happened in the 1960s.
We have arrived at Subayang Field Station and started some initial surveys to get the lay of the land. It is tough going through the jungle and despite following a creek bed it took us one hour to cover only one kilometer. We encountered armies of leeches and we all donated some blood today, luckily the little buggers are harmless. WWF is building a water-lab next to the station, so there is some construction going on at the moment, but disturbance should be minimal as they will only work the heavy machinery when we are out in the field – or so we hope and have been told. Two girls from Tanjung Belit, the closest village and jump-off point for the station, Elsi and Ari are cooking us our food. It has been absolutely delightful so far, you are in for a treat. Now I look forward to meeting the first group in Pekanbaru on Sunday morning.
So today was the usual whirlwind of checking equipment, shopping, repacking, reviewing datasheets and the research, safety, evacuation and all sorts of other plans A, B, C and D.
We are mostly done – perhaps just another morning tomorrow – and then off into the field. Our research plan for the expedition is:
1. Conduct wildlife survey (tiger and other species) in the following cells. Surveys include visual transect surveys as well as camera-trapping. Cells include those with and without villages for comparative analysis of the areas of tigers and their prey animals prefer.
Cells with villages in them: W137 or X136, Y131, Y132, Y135, Y136, Z131, AA130, AB130
Cells without villages*: X131, X132, X133, X134, Z134, AA132, AA135, AB135
*surveying these cells is likely to involve multi-day trips, carrying tents, hammocks and food, and staying with a local community. Participants can volunteer for these multi-day trips.
2. Conduct interviews with local people in the area (not necessarily in cells above) to ascertain human-tiger encounters and conflicts, as well as attitudes of local people towards the tiger.
3. Visit schools in the area (not necessarily in cells above) and conduct tiger educational activities, including distribution of tiger educational materials.
4. Document illegal logging and poaching activities (such as snares, traps, gun cartridges, etc.) for analysis by WWF and to be passed on to the national park authorities and rangers.
5. Work with local village headmen and communities to establish community bases for multi-day surveys. Also work with headmen and villagers to identify community members who can be trained to help with community-based tiger surveys using camera traps and other survey methods. The aim is to train and establish teams of community surveyors to assist in year-round tiger surveying and anti-poaching activities.
6. Opportunistically survey for birds, using existing skills amongst participants, and create a bird list as another indicator of local biodiversity.
And finally, for good measure, some pictures from the Red Planet breakfast room. Given this is a fairly religious Muslim country, where talking about sex and alcohol is not very high on the agenda, we are guessing that not many people realise at all what’s hanging up on the walls.
Greetings from Pekanbaru. Ida has landed, suitably zombified after a 42 hour trip and three flights from Seattle via China and Jakarta. She’s checked into the Red Planet hotel and tomorrow will go to the WWF offices to prepare the expedition, then go shopping (amongst other things for a SIM card, the number of which we will give you) and do all the little things that need to be done.
It’s 30 deg C in Pekanbaru and humid, as expected. We’ll be back with more news tomorrow, but before we go we wanted to share this gem with you: A new pizza place has sprung up opposite the Red Planet.
Yes, you read right, it’s “Panties Pizza”. And it gets better when you read the tag line…
…”I love Panties, as I love U”?!? Perhaps they slipped in the dictionary from “pasta” to “panties”?!….
Hello and welcome to the Sumatra expedition diary
My name is Ida Vincent and I will be your expedition leader on this Biosphere Expeditions project, helping our local partner WWF Indonesia with their Sumatran tiger conservation.
Our local scientists Febri and Ifran will train us in all aspects of the field work once we arrive at the Subayang Field Station and Dr. Matthias Hammer, executive director of Biosphere Expeditions, will also be joining us for the first few days, to help with getting set up.
I trust all your preparations are going well, and I look forward to meeting the first expedition team in just over two weeks on 17 July. I will be at hotel Red Planet for the 08:00 assembly. It is important that you are not late, as we have a busy day ahead of us transferring to the field station and starting the training, so we can get to work.
I’ll be about a week ahead of you and once I am in Pekanbaru on 11 July, I will be in touch again with my local mobile phone number and other updates from the field. I hope your preparations are going well and you are ready for an expedition experience, for this is what it’s going to be. For those of you still hoping for a tiger safari, please have a look at the expedition report from last year, available via www.biosphere-expeditions.org/reports 😉
Please do have another look through your dossier too and familiarise yourself with all the information and make sure you have all the necessary kit.
I look forward to working with you on this expedition.
As regards the research work, have a look below, where methods and equipment are explained. The more you know now, the easier it will be for you during the first two training days, so do swot up, if you can. In addition to studying the dossier, have a look at the “Methods & equipment” playlist. The bits that are relevant to the expedition are first and foremost our cell survey methodology, followed by GPS, compass & map, Garmin etrex 20, PBLs, camera trapping and binoculars. Enjoy!
The Sumatran tiger’s fight for survival
The Sumatran tiger’s habitat is threatened by illegal plantations and logging, forest fires, poaching, human encroachment and corruption. Listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List, and with as few as 400 estimated individuals left alive in the wild, it is facing a fight for its very existence.
Biosphere Expeditions has just finished its first year helping in the conservation of the Sumatran tiger in Rimbang Baling Wildlife Sanctuary. For twelve weeks, six separate teams of volunteers from across the globe covered 136 square kilometres to collect data for WWF scientist Febri Anggriawan Widodo, who has been managing a tiger research and monitoring team within the WWF Indonesia for the last three years.
Febri says that “the expedition’s research has provided a host of data critical for both the conservation of tigers and landscape management of Rimbang Baling Wildlife Sanctuary. With the help of our citizen science volunteers, we have collected information about mapping and the population distribution of tigers, co-predators and their prey, as well as some behavioural data. The expedition has also helped me to better understand the local community’s perspective on tigers, poaching and human-tiger conflict. We deployed camera traps and, during a total of 265 trap nights, captured hundreds of animal pictures including clouded leopard, leopard cat, Malayan sun bear, binturong, yellow-throated marten, pig-tailed macaque, long-tailed macaque, barking deer and wild pig. The Sunda clouded leopard (Neofelis diardi) is a co-predator of tigers that indicates Rimbang Baling is still home to five wild cat species based on previous surveys by WWF Indonesia. Also, we have camera-trapped potential prey of tigers such as wild pig (Sus scrofa), indicating that there is plenty of prey for tigers. Although no tiger pictures were captured, we have obtained tiger information via community interviews. There is good evidence that tigers still occupy the area with local people telling us about recent tiger signs around their plantation or in the deeper forest. None of this would have been possible without the help of my volunteer expedition team and I am very grateful for the assistance.”
With means of income few and far between and only three rangers available to cover a large area, blatant illegal activities such as logging, poaching and unlicensed plantations are evident throughout the more populated areas of the wildlife sanctuary, even if there are large swathes of remote forest – more than 70% – away from people left in the sanctuary. Nevertheless, a sea change is necessary in the populated areas and many villagers during interviews said they would welcome with alacrity alternative and legal means of generating income, for example through ecotourism. The consensus amongst the community was also that this would be highly beneficial for the next generation, who are the future of the area.
One such initiative has started already. The Batu Dinding Community Group was a crucial part of the expedition. It provided critical services such as boat and vehicle transport, food, cooks and local guides and other logistical support. Batu Dinding Community Group is an initiative set up by the WWF two and a half years ago to empower local people and provide alternative incomes through eco-tourism.
In addition to conducting surveys in the wildlife sanctuary, the expedition has also been active in local schools, delivering presentations to students and teachers about the tiger and its habitat, and what changes are needed if both are to survive. Febri adds that “it has been great to see our citizen science volunteers lead sessions and games with the students, expressing their joint passion for the rainforest across all language divides. A large factor in saving the tiger’s habitat is local education. With the head teachers backing us and the students themselves all keen for us build on this aspect of the project, we have had a very positive effect. We look forward to building on this next year.”
When asked at the end of the expedition “why just save the tiger?”, Febri responded “the tiger is like an umbrella. To save the tiger is to save its habitat. If you save the tiger all the other species survive too. If you save the tiger, you save the forest”.
Picture slideshow of the expedition: