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SOS Rhino : In the News: : Articles : Sumatran Rhino Survey March 2004

Sumatran Rhino Survey March 2004

By: Julie Burns

After a long flight from Chicago, IL. I arrived in Kota Kinabulo on March 8, 2004. I was greeted at the airport by Laura Bazan of Carlotta's Borneo and brought to the Hotel Beverly. After check-in Laura and I went over my itinerary for the next two weeks. That evening I was introduced to Dr. Edwin Bosi (program officer for SOSRhino) Ann (administrative assistant for SOSRhino) and also Dr. Petra (scientist for SOSRhino), who I had the pleasure of meeting previously in Chicago. After a night of Indian food, dancing, and learning more about what to expect in the jungle, I fell asleep with great expectations. The next day I met with Ann and Thaya, a masters student from Sri Lanka working with SOSRhino on nutritional studies, to shop for necessities. Anticipating the adventure it was an early night.

Julie and Laura

March 10, 2004

Laura and Thaya, to catch the 9:40am flight to Lahad Datu, picked me up from the hotel. We met up with Dr, Bosi and Don (a member of the field staff and Dr. Bosi's son). With Mt. Kinabalu peaking over the cloud line it was a beautiful flight. After our arrival in Lahad Datu we shopped for supplies until the late afternoon. The markets were very interesting, and this is the last place to shop for essentials i.e.: kapung Adidas, required foods, and various last minute items. It was now early afternoon and we began our travel to the SOSRhono base camp, on the bank of the Sagama River.

It was approximately a 3-hour drive through palm plantations until we reached the village of Campo Purit (the drain). Here we boarded a boat and started the last leg of travel to the SOSRhino base camp. The boat trip was spectacular. It was night, the moon was out, the jungle was alive with sounds, and the motor that was donated to SOSRhino worked beautifully! When we arrived at base camp the field staff was amazing; they unloaded gear, and prepared mounds of food for dinner. After the meal we all sat around the table for introductions. The field staff is comprised of men/boys from all around Sabah. Three of them were from the local villages where SOSRhino has their community outreach program. After intros we pulled out the maps to form a plan for the Rhino surveys. It was decided that my group would consist of Dr. Bosi, Don, Husrin, J.J., Amit, and Thaya. I was thankful for Thaya because I didn't want to be the only rookie.

Now let me explain about the base camp. Five buildings in all, built by the field staff with the thatch work done by local women. There are four "chalets" for sleeping and one large one serving as the canteen area. There is a shower built on the dock, but there is also an outhouse built back behind the camp. I used the outhouse once but decided the Shower was nicer, you wouldn't sink up to your ankles in mud if you slipped off the 2x4"s leading to the outhouse. The camp as I mentioned earlier is built on the banks of the river. It is a lovely peaceful area. The camp does have a generator, which is turned on after it is dark. The field staff has CD's and DVD's that they play while the generator is on so it was quite lively. I had brought a volleyball set for the field staff as a donation. I am sure that they would also appreciate any music and/or movies.

March 11, 2004

Waking up to the sounds of the jungle was awesome. I was very excited about what the day would bring. We left base camp around 9:30am. The boat was loaded with gear and food as we made our way through a tributary that connects with the Tabin River. The boat rip was about 21/2 hours until the field staff chose a sight for our camp. During the trip I experienced Purple heron, Oriental Darters, small crocodiles, elephant tracks and tons of beautiful foliage. It was nice to have Dr. Bosi with my team because he is so knowledgeable about the area. He was able to point out the things I would have never seen. Once we unloaded the gear the field staff once again amazed me with their abilities. They immediately went into the jungle to gather the nessecary materials for building camp. I still wasn't sure how this hammock thing worked but I soon found out. The hammocks are set in a row along long tree limbs that have been staked to the ground. A small cooking area and fire was set in front. The camp was set along the riverbank, which made for a tranquil campsite. The field staff prepared a dinner consisting of rice, ferns and fish. It was delicious. We made a game plan for the following day and retired. With a little help from Dr. Bosi and Thaya I was able to figure out my mosquito net.

March 12, 2004

Hey, where's my three-in-one? After a breakfast of noodles and 3-in-1(coffee, cream and sugar in one packet) we readied ourselves for the survey. I was a little concerned because I never found leech socks but I was past the point of no return. We planned about a 4-kilometer hike to an area that hadn't had much surveying. The hike was up to a ridge, along the ridge and then back to base camp. Thaya and I were shown by a handmade rhino print, what we were looking for. With Husrin as the machete man we headed out. The practice is to use a stick to push the leaves off the ground exposing a rhino print. To be quite honest there were times that I was using the sick for walking, fascinated by the jungle, it was hard to keep focusing on the ground. The leeches (god bless the sign of a healthy ecology) were freaking me out. I had three bites in all, none of which I could even feel. However when you have five or six of them hanging off your pants in the crotch area is very disconcerting. That was one picture I would not let Dr. Bosi take. Using mosquito repellent, they all fell to the ground. We stopped for lunch on the ridge, the view and the breeze were spectacular. The entire survey was about 6 hours long. We didn't find any rhino tracks or dung. Back at camp we swam, washed and lounged. Husrin caught a fish, which was cooked for dinner. We went to bed around 9:30pm. During the night there was a very heavy rainfall creating a symphony of sounds.

March 13, 2004

I couldn't believe it was time to go. The field staff broke down the camp and we loaded back into the boat. It was another interesting boat ride back to the base camp. We stopped briefly to take pictures of the elephant tracks along the riverbank. We also saw long tailed macaques, monitor lizard, otters, serpent eagle and hornbills. We also saw the Village of Tabak with a population of 150 ‚ 200 people. The village is a participant in the SOSRhino outreach program, and also where Jelly (Sulezi) and member of the field staff was raised. When we returned to the base camp it was time to relax. After a couple of hours of reading and conversing we went back out in the boat to find the Proboscis monkey along the Sagama River. We spotted 6 to 8 of the Proboscis one of which was a very large male. During the excursion we also saw a gray leaf monkey, and a huge male orang-atan. We were very lucky to see the orang-atan in the wild. Normally you can spot their nests, but they are very elusive. Back at base camp we dined on fresh fish which was brought to us by the village chief of Tabak also Jelly's grandfather. After dinner we all sat around and recapped the survey, discussed the plan for the next survey, which was to begin in the morning. I also took the opportunity to thank the field staff and Dr. Bosi for such an incredible experience.

March 14, 2004

We woke up around 6:30am to breakfast. The plan for the day was to travel back to Lahad Datu, and then onto Sepilok. It was about a 2 1/2-hour drive and we arrived at Sepilok right at 3pm, which is feeding time for the orang-utans. The SOS Rhino team is conducting reproductive studies on the pair of rhinos at Sepilok.

Dinner that night was at an excellent seafood restaurant, and I was introduced to Mr. Khoo and his wife Ann. Mr. Knoo is a director for a leading palm plantation and is also interested in becoming active in SOS Rhino's Borneo project. The Khoo's invited us over to their house for breakfast the following morning.

The hospitality in this country is so unbelievable.

March 15, 2004

After a delightful breakfast with the Khoo's we went back to Sepilok to try and collect a sperm sample from the rhino, this I had to see! It was very interesting, although with all the effort contributed, they were unsuccessful in collecting a sample. Dr. Bosi said they would try again the following morning (which was successful). I had come to end of my SOSRhino experience because I was leaving to spend several days diving at the island of Sipidan.

It is hard to express what a great time I had. I owe Dr. Bosi, Laura, Petra, Thaya, Cindy, and the entire SOSRhino field staff a big thank you for making my vacation greater than I could have ever imagined.

Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!


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