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SOS Rhino : In the News: : Articles : SOS Rhino Report ‚ July 2003

SOS Rhino Report ‚ July 2003

  By: Kirstin Sprissler (Canada)

First, a bit of background on my trip to Sabah. I was in Southeast Asia with my friend (Becky Sylvester) as part of a trip with Global Vets (an organization run by student veterinarians thats intent is to set up a network of international veterinary contacts). We were in Southeast Asia for a total of 8 weeks, consisting of 2 weeks in Singapore, 3 weeks in Sabah, and 3 weeks in Thailand. The time spent in the region before working with SOS Rhino gave us a nice chance to acclimatize to the heat and humidity.

Becky and Kirsten with rhino casts

We ended up making our own way to Lahad Datu (in the essence of saving money), which was quite a bit of trouble, but allowed us to see a lot of beautiful scenery on the bus (the other volunteers arranged travel through a travel agent and flew into Lahad Datu). I suggest going by bus (at least one direction) if you have the time. We had some trouble meeting up with our SOS Rhino pick-up, but eventually met up with them (by shear luckÖweíd managed to get off the bus at the wrong stop!) Luckily even though we were late, we were given a few minutes to buy some noodles and dried fruit, (I definitely recommend bring snacks!) as well as some rubber Adidas shoes (also very highly recommended!!). We ended up arriving at the base camp quite late (after dark), and had just enough time to meet the other 4 volunteers before going to bed for the night.

Lunch Break (rice!)

The following day we were briefed on how to use the GPS equipment, as well as put into two teams and shown the maps of where each team would be trekking. We tried out our new leach socks and rubber shoes by making a quick trip to the mud volcano with a couple of the guys. After another night of socializing with the other volunteers (and frantically repacking our packs) we were off on our rhino trek!

Our team ended up being myself and Becky, Joanne (from Ireland), one leader who spoke English very well (Leni), and three Malaysian guys. One of the best parts of the trek was having the opportunity to interact with the guys and learn a bit of Malai (words like leach (pachat), fire (api), crazy (gila), rhino (badak), makan (eat), mud (Lumpur), rain (hujan), hot (panas)ÖÖand of course my favouriteÖ.îtamba nasi!îÖmeaning ìmore rice!î. All very important words in the jungle).

The first two days were definitely the hardest days of the trek, as we carried our heavy packs and walked for quite a while. On the second day we built a home base (the building of which is very interesting, and results in a communal rainproof, quasi bug-proof raised tent which hammocks are suspended within). The following days were easier, involving carrying just a day pack and doing short transects searching for rhino tracks or wallows. The jungle was actually quite a nice place to trek, it was a bit hot and humid (but not too bad once you get used to it), and there were not nearly as many insects as Iíd feared there might be. We also spent one full day at the base camp, just hanging around reading/writing while it poured rain all day. It was actually quite pleasant staying within the safety of our bug nets and relaxing to the roar of the cicadas.

Checking out a wallow

Now, onto some of the more interesting things about the trekÖ

There were quite a lot of leeches, which really seemed to have an affinity for myself, and which also seemed able to penetrate every material known to man. I happen to like leeches so wasnít too bothered by this, but by the end of our trip even Jo (who previous hated ëthose little bastardsí) didnít care about the leeches, and was very adept at flicking them off. At times when we were relatively still (at the camp), the mosquitoes and flies became quite infuriating at times, but all we had to do to avoid them was to retreat to our bug nets. Phewf. The one thing that I really didnít like about the jungle were the giant spiders that enjoying sleeping in my clothes and pack at night (Iím not a fan of spiders). I got pretty good at shooing them away, but really would have preferred had they not been there at all.:) Another ëinterestingí thing about the jungle was the ëjungle funkí that we all exuded by the end. Something about wearing the same wet clothes for a week while trekking everyday through a humid jungle and bleeding on your clothes (due to leech bites) makes you smell just a little bit strange towards the end. It becomes quite a feat to convince yourself to put those filthy, fly-covered, funky, bloody clothes on every morning.

Home sweet Home

The trekking itself was quite interestingÖwe were able to see quite a bit of jungle, and although we didnít see any rhino tracks or wallows, we did get to see a few interesting things including a very shy bearded big, a servet cat, and of course many, many leeches. Leni knows a lot about the jungle, and taught us many things every day.

Another mentionable thing about the trek was the food. There was a LOT of rice (very tasty), but not much elseÖ.we had a bit of salted dried fish as well as jungle ferns on a couple of days. If youíre worried about being hungry, bring some of your own snacks. We brought some dried fruit (fantastic), some candies and some dried noodles, all of which were delicious.

Our team

To sum up ‚ the trek was very interesting, and both Becky and I had quite a good time. I was ready to leave the jungle by the end (but would have willingly returned), whereas Becky would have liked to stay for a few more days. The other volunteers (one with our team and 3 with another team) apparently did not enjoy themselves, and would not ever return to the jungle. However I think that they were expecting a different experience than they received. Becky and I had not talked to anybody from SOS Rhino ahead of time, and thus had no expectations coming into it. Anyone who does the trek will get out of it as much as they put it. If you pay attention to your surroundings, ask questions, and interact with the locals, you will have a great experience!


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