“It was an early start but that wasn’t so bad this morning as I was woken up by the incredible sound of gibbons calling to each other not far from camp (followed by quirky Malaysian pop music, courtesy of one of our guides). The first of us to wake up were sitting by the fire sorting out breakfast and lunch for the day and having some impromptu English/Malay lessons when, all of a sudden, our two guides, Robert and Englai, spotted something on the forest floor. I turned around expecting to see a bearded pig or a Muntjac which we encounter quite regularly in the forest, only to find a masked palm civet poking through the undergrowth just 10 meters from camp! They’re normally shy and elusive animals and primarily nocturnal but he didn’t seem to notice us and just went about his business foraging through the leaf litter and wandered off. A good start to the day!
Eventually we set off lugging camera-traps, transect tapes and packed lunches into the forest to some of our more distant research points. The terrain here is stunning but no walk in the park. Traversing massive boulders and bashing through dense vegetation whilst dodging the occasional leech and horsefly… all in a day’s work. All was going well until we accidentally stumbled across a bees nest! Guides and researchers scatter in all directions to escape the angry swarm. Unfortunately, I wasn’t nearly as agile and at home in the forest as them, so in my haphazard escape, I stumbled into a hole, twisting my knee!
We all scrambled to safety, dusted ourselves off and continued on our way, none the worse for wear (for the most part). After about two hours we reached our points and spent the rest of the day placing our camera-traps as well as taking measurements such as tree DBH’s (diameter at breast height), canopy closure and photographs of the understory vegetation. It is tiring work but thoroughly rewarding and well worth the effort – these measurements will help HOSCAP Borneo understand the importance of these habitat variables on the presence of small carnivores in the area, with hopes of using this data to provide recommendations for small carnivore conservation management in forests that are to be harvested for timber.
After we fired up our last camera-trap, we made the trek back to camp arriving an hour or so later. We popped the kettle on the campfire and stowed away our equipment whilst I rested my leg which had been pretty sore since I fell into that hole after my run-in with the bees! An eventful day on all accounts, and injuries aside it was another day spent in one of the most spectacular places on earth, gaining hands-on research experience with a unique project. Plus, this morning, I saw a civet, so pretty fantastic!”
Sami Asad is one of the three research volunteers working with HOSCAP Borneo in the upper Baram, Sarawak, Malaysia. For the past 3 months, Sami has been carrying out habitat surveys and placing camera-traps as part of HOSCAP Borneo’s small carnivore occupancy study.