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SOS Rhino : In the News: : Articles : Lincoln Park Zoo Chapter of AAZK holds 13th Annual Bowling for Rhinos Fundraiser
 

VOLUNTEERING WITH SOS RHINO IN BORNEO

 

By: Serena Atkins

Even now, when asked 'how was Borneo?' I'm not sure whether to answer 'unbelievably awful' or 'absolutely fantastic'. My trip to Sabah, one of the Malaysian states of the island, was split between the charity SOSRhino and the tour group Borneo Adventure. I had been a little apprehensive about volunteer work for SOSRhino, not least because of the inclusion on their Necessary Items List of leech socks. Leeches have always been on my Why On Earth Weren't They Left Off The Ark? list. But they weren't that bad. No, really. Okay, so the bites tend to go on bleeding all over your clothes, but they don't hurt, or itch and swell to the size of a marble. I had a competition going with the two Sabahans with me to see who attracted the most. I thought I had Severinus ('Nus) stumped with The Leech That Got Into My Knickers, but then a horde of fire-ants (their name is well-earned, I promise) got into his mosquito net one night, and two tiny worms crawled under his skin - he had to pour hot wax on himself to persuade them to leave.

SOSRhino stands for Save Our Sumatran Rhino, of which there may be only 300 left in the wild. The main problem facing the rhinos is loss of habitat. Tabin was not protected until 1984, and there are only about 8,000 hectares of virgin jungle left at the heart of the reserve. I asked 'Nus how long it would take for the forest to return to its original state, and he shook his head "long time," he sighed. The forest may never be the same again. But, with the help of the Malaysian government, SOSRhino works to preserve the jungle that is left, and find out more about the rhino's habits. Our mission was to look for rhinos or signs of them. There are probably 16 in the 120000 ha that make up Tabin Wildlife Reserve, so our chances of seeing one were slim, but we did find some dung ‚ this would be analysed to find out which individual dropped them - and set up a 'camera trap'; a bit like a speed camera with a limit of 0mph.

We spent a week in the forest, sleeping on hammocks with waterproof sheets hung above them. We lived off instant noodles. When I chose mine, I hadn't yet realised that 'prawn flavour' in Sabah means 'Margate on a bad day flavour'í (I bought several packets of what turned out to be fish-flavoured crisps). On the fifth morning, despite knowing that I would be scrambling and slipping up and down impossibly steep slopes and sheer waterfalls, and would not eat again until supper, my stomach rebelled. In the end, it was the Oreos and sesame snaps that kept me going. Every afternoon, bruised, scratched, soaked through with sweat and stinking to high heaven, we would return to the campsite. No shower, obviously; so after having been assured by 'Nus several times that there were absolutely no leeches whatsoever in the stream, I sat in it and watched the beautiful metallic blue, green, yellow, or black and white butterflies fluttering about my head, while blood-red, electric blue and crimson dragonflies hovered above the water, and tiny shrimps and fish tickled my feet. Then we sat around the fire eating sardines by candlelight, and finally retired to bed and the eerie sensation of watching the glowing green bulbs of fireflies weaving their way between our hammocks. At this point, I forgot the trials of the morning and began to wonder whether this was the most beautiful place on earth. Then a leech found my toe, and the deafening night chorus started up.

Several people asked me if I was not concerned, travelling alone in a strange country. But whereas in England a man may harass a passing blonde for half an hour, begging for her phone number, refusing to go away and generally being a pain in the neck, his Malaysian counterpart will shout "hello, Miss," and leave it at that. In all, I can think of no more enjoyable way of doing one's bit for conservation than visiting The Land Below The Wind.

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