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SOS Rhino : In the News: : Articles : Rhino Survey February 2004

Rhino Survey February 2004

  Kate Mornement

I arrived in Kota Kinabalu (KK) four days prior to commencing my volunteer work with SOSRhino. It was nice to be able to relax and unwind a bit before the hard jungle work that lay ahead. Dr Edwin Bosi (the Program Officer for SOSRhino) was attending the same survey that I was, so we met up in KK for dinner the night before we were due to fly into Lahad Data. Edwin was really nice and very knowledgeable about all things ìrhino.î

When we arrived in Lahad Datu we were met by some of his field assistants (Tinju, JJ and Amit) in a 4WD. Before we began the 3.5 hour drive to the SOSRhino Base Camp, we went shopping for food and supplies: Lots of dried (salty) fish, canned sardines, rice and noodles. Iím glad I bought some tuna!

After the long and very bumpy drive, we unpacked the car and loaded everything into a boat for a short trip to Base Camp (built on the river bank). We arrived at about 6pm and it was already almost dark. Base Camp consisted of very basic palm-leaf/timber huts, joined by a timber walkway. There was a large open communal hut where we ate our meals and a small hut on the river which served as the combined shower/toilet. The first night was a restless one as the rats in the hut kept me awake most of the night. I was paranoid of them crawling on me. Thank God I had a mosquito net although it offered little protection!

The next day Edwin had a meeting with the principle of the school in the nearest village. I also attended the meeting which was really interesting. SOSRhino are trying to help the local community by improving the school so that they too will support the work that SOSRhino are doing. I spent the rest of the day lazing around base camp and packing for they survey.

Finally, the day had arrived. Eight of us (two teams of four) left Base Camp early to make the 3.5 hour boat trip deep into the jungle of Tabin Wildlife Reserve. The water was quite low in some parts of the river as it hadnít rained for days so we ended up having to push the boat in the really shallow areas, fun! There were also many trees that had fallen across the river (following the great floods three months prior) but the boys had no trouble navigating the boat through these. We saw so much amazing wildlife on the way including monitor lizards, monkeys, birds and butterflies. When we arrived at our survey camp site (which was basically just a clear patch of land on the bank of the river) the boys got to work with their machetes and built our camp in about an hour- not bad! The camp consisted of a structure which held our hammocks and mosquito nets in place and sheltered us from the rain.

The following day we began the survey. We left camp at about 8am after noodles for breakfast. We trekked for about 7 hours stopping for lunch on the way. The terrain was fairly flat so I coped pretty well. The Second day of the survey was much, much harder. The terrain was very rough and the sweat was pouring off me- yuk! Again we walked for about 7 hours. Sometimes it feels as though the jungle is holding you back. Vines become entangled around your feet and trip you up, thorny threes scratch you, leaches try to suck your blood and the insect bites drive you nuts! But it is such a beautiful and (for the most part) untouched place. It seems quite ancient. Along the way we saw elephant tracks, an Orangutan nest, tiny little insect-eating bats and a tortoise which made up for the hard work. On the final day of the survey we left camp at 8am and arrived back early at 2.30pm which was nice. I was pretty tired from all the walking.

By 6pm that night the other team still had not returned to camp. There is a rule that each team must be back by 5pm because it becomes dark soon after, so we were concerned. At 8.30pm they had still not returned and Edwin was worried (his son was a member of the other team). He sent out France and JJ (the other two members of our team) to track them. They returned at 3am having lost their tracks in a stream. By 7am the next morning they guys had still not returned. Edwin was very worried and asked France and JJ to track them again, hopefully with some luck this time. Just as the guys were about to leave (about 8.30am) the other team came strolling over the hill beside our camp looking sheepish. Sarinus (the team leader) had become disorientated after their GPS failed but quickly located the Tabin river. Finding that they were unable to return to base camp on time, the team decided to make a fire and slept on the sandy bank of the river. At least they were ok. It was such a relief to see them.

The following day was a well-earned rest day. The guys went fishing and came back with lots of fish as well as a mouse deer (which they stole from a monitor lizard!). The next morning we rose early, packed our things and pushed the boat halfway back to Base CampÖwell, almost. It was so nice to have a semi-proper wash and some clean clothes to change into. The next day we drove to Dahad Datu and I flew back to KK. I had an amazing time volunteering with SOSRhino. They are doing such important work in an effort to save the remaining Sumatran rhinos and it was a privilege to be a part of it.

Thank you to Dr. Edwin Bosi and the SOSRhino team.

Kate Mornement, Australia.


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