21 Sept. 2015 – End times

Went out with Sergio to set monitor baits for the last time (for both of us) this morning at 6:30 AM. I’ll be leaving in the morning for Sandakan, and then flying back home to Portland, Oregon on Tuesday, and he will be leaving for Cardiff University in a few short days (and then he’ll be visiting home in a few months). Sadly,  we didn’t have to meet up with Meg, as no civets were caught, but I am glad that they weren’t, as it would not have been much fun for them to be stuck out in the rain all night last night.

The rain had started a bit after midnight last night, in the form of a raging storm. Howling wind (which slammed our door open and closed a few times), thunder, lightning–it was wonderful, and much needed, as I couldn’t fall asleep due to the heat.

All of the monitor lizards the we captured today (5) were re-captures so we didn’t have to record any data, apart from ID chip numbers. After we released our reptillian (to be scientifically correct, they are actually non-avaian sauropsids) friends, we carried each of the five sets of chicken gut-covered tracking equipment two kilometers back to the boat. After a short and fairly odiferous boat ride back to DG to unload it all, my final day of work here was complete. I took a shower and began to pack up my belongings.

Nearly everything packed now, apart from a few things at my desk. The lads (Doyo, Alut, and Joe) and I just enjoyed some last-minute Malay haircuts from Alut, the master barber himself (with Koko as his assistant). They tried to talk Joe and I into mowhawks, which Alut gave himself and Doyo, but we declined and went with marginally different styles.

Prior to our new haircuts, we had a truly amazing dinner, thanks to our wonderful ladies Kila, Hasner, Azlina, and Ryko. It has been so wonderful since I first arrived here. Everyone has been very welcoming and frinedly; I will miss you all.

Thank you Meg, Danica, Sergio, Joe, Abbie, Katey, Charlie, Aubery, Masayo, Doyo, Azlina, Alut, Kila, Koko, Ryko, Yusri Samsir, Hasner, Peter, Budin, Benoit, and all of the little ones.

Until we meet again,


20 Sept. 2015 – Time is running out

I helped Charlie finish some pitfalls for her reptile study this morning. Essentially, they are large flowerpots which have been placed in the ground for the animals to crawl/slither into, and not be able to easily escape. We then used some strips of tarpaulin to make a low fence, hoping to funnel snakes and lizards into the trap. While the pitfalls are open, they have to be checked every three hours, as reptiles will not survive long in them in this climate.

Charlie, Meg, and I reset the civet equipment, which requires the use of used cooking oil as bait (it appears as though the smell of french fries will attract more than customers at fast food restaurants), some small electronic noisemakers, to attract their attention from a distance, and camera traps, to see if they have been in the area. The six sets of equipment were placed in all-new locations recently, in a formation of two in the vicinity of each boat landing that we made, which made resetting go quite quickly.

It’s hard to imagine that tomorrow is my last day at DGFC. It has gone by so quickly. Though I am excited to go home and see my family (and then start classes and work on Monday), I will miss it here, especially the company.

19 Sept. 2015 – Doyo taken ill

Searching for lorises again this morning with Abbie. For whatever reason, for the second day in a row, Boss has not been able to be located. Abbie joked that she might be on holiday, while hoping that she is okay. Hopefully the loris’s collar will give us a ping tomorrow.

We told Danika about the issue with Boss, and she and Katey are worried as well about the sudden possible disappearance.

Doyo has taken ill today, first noticed by Charlie by his lack of humor this morning (as he is quite a character). We were told by Meg that he will be taking the day off tomorrow and may be going to the clinic. We are all hoping for his steadfast recovery.


18 Sept. 2015 – Equipment repair, part trois

Sergio and I set out at 6:30 AM to set out baits for our friendly monitor lizards. By the time we had finished setting and were hiking back, we’d already caught a big boy (who ended up being huge, at 15 kgs). We took a short boat ride back to meet Koko at the jetty, and then the three of us took the long boat ride to Batangan.

We passed Doyo and our compatriots as we headed back upriver, and he gave us a hearty salute, while everyone else smiled and waived. I saluted back and yelled out to him “You’re amazing!” The saying has become somewhat of a favorite phrase that Doyo uses while we work together.

Finally, Sergio, Koko, and I were able to get the clouded leopard equipment at Batangan fixed. Once our labors in the hot sun and clouds of mosquitoes were finished, we sped back downriver. At some point along the ride, I had fallen asleep, and woke up when the boat lurched suddenly. It has been a very busy day already, and it’s not even 11 AM.

17 Sept. 2015 – Everything is awesome

Went to sleeping sites with Abbie this morning to track our lorises and tarsier. We finished in near-record time, clocking in under two hours. We even got to see Kipas (the tarsier) today. Boss and Coyo (choy-yo), which are the two lorises other than Dahi, were located very quickly.

Along our walk through the jungle, Abbie and I talked about how being here teaches you to take nothing at home for granted. What a gift it is to have electricity–not having to wander around in the dark to find the restroom; having hot, running water for showers; refrigeration. How wonderful it is at home to get out of the shower and feel clean, and not be sweating immediately. Temperate climates, snow, dry air–all things which this part of the world never experiences in-country.

Do not misunderstand me; this country is wonderful, without a doubt, it is just different from home for me. The wildlife is stunning, and I love traveling by boat every day. Temperature-wise, it is quite warm, but one acclimates rather quickly (though you’ll still sweat all of the time due to the high humidity). Life here is very simple, which may or may not be an unknown blessing to those who live here year-round. Doyo told me yesterday when we were looking at animals while on the boat that to see things in the jungle, you must focus only with your eyes, and clear your mind. What a true perspective, which transcends across all of life. By clearing one’s mind, it allows you to see.

The Malay language is another wonderful part to this country/culture. Unlike many languages, it is perfectly phoenetic, with each letter having only one sound. The only letter which sounds different from English is the letter “C”, which makes a “CH” sound. Due to this phoenetic nature of the language, it allows one to learn the spelling of words by hearing alone.

On our way to find the now-elusive Dahi, Abbie and I saw a large bearded pig and her piglets (which have stripes when they are young) running through the forest, likely startled by our presence.

In the evening, I joined Charlie, Joe, Katey, and Doyo croc tracking. About halfway through our boat ride to Batangan, it appeared as though our clutch went out, and we had to limp back to DG. On the way, we got a full download off of one of our civet radio collars, which as a welcome surprise. No sign of our two collared crocodiles though. Due to the slash and burn currently happening in Singapore, there is a smokey haze across the country (you can read about it in the news, as people have been admitted to hospitals and have been recommended to wear masks and/or stay indoors in other parts of the region), which made the stars barely visible tonight. We did have a sliver of a red moon though, which was quite cool.

16 Sept. 2015 – Batangan

Doyo is amazing. On our way to Batangan with him and Katey, she spotted a gibbon, multiple crocodiles, and an eagle. Once we arrived, we hiked up to the clouded leopard equipment that I was working on the other day with Charlie and Koko, which was still in need of repair. After about two hours of hammering, digging, and wrenching against the steel structure Doyo and I were able to get it back in shape well enough to operate, though it was still missing a part to be functional. After our work was done, we hiked further uphill to a viewpoint which looks down on one of the last remnants of primary forest in the region–only because the area is surrounded by steep slopes, making access for logging and/or plantations difficult.

Sleeping sites this evening was similar to last time, but we did see Dahi for a second or two. Abbie, Katey, Doyo, and I searched her tree with headlamps once night descended, but she would only appear for a second in one spot and disappear, and then again in a different portion of the tree. We came to the conclusion that she likely had her baby with her, which explained her seemingly erratic behavior perhaps trying to keep her baby hidden from prying eyes.

15 Sept. 2015 – Rodents rather than civets

Sergio and I set out bait for moitors early this morning, and were on-call for civets. We finished very quickly with the six monitor baits, with Srgio settingup the chicken guts while I cut some foliage with his parang to use as camoflage. We returned without receiving word from Meg about the civets, meaning that none were captured. Sergio and I heard gibbons again this morning, and on our way back to the boate showed me a tree with sun bear markings and a nest high up in the tree.

Later on in the day, I reset civet tracking equipment with Meg (and Doyo this time). Though there weren’t any civets this morning, they did find a tree shrew (similar to Scrat from “Ice Age) in one trap and a large rat in another. We finished in under an hour tonight. Time for a quick shower and dinner.

14 Sept. 2015 – Clouded leopards and civets

Set out clouded leopard equipment with Charlie, Masayo, and Koko at Batangan, but one set was missing a few parts and also needed a bit of maintenance, so it will be finished tomorrow. Meg and her crew today caught a civet, which is great news. Apparently it was a pregnant female, who woke up for a second from her anesthesia during data recording, which didn’t cause any issues, but was a bit startling for them for a few seconds.

I took a short nap late in the afternoon on the tile floor in the main facility while the power was still off, which is one of the few places in the heat of the day where it stays relatively cool. I still woke up with a damp shirt though.

After my brief nap, Meg and I went out on the river with Alut to reset some civet tracking equipment. We reset four of six locations, and left the one which had the pregnant femalethis morning, along with another that was overrun by ants.

13 Sept. 2015 – Not much

Slow day today. All that I got to do in the field was evening sleeping sites with Abbie, Katey, and Alut. We set out again to look for Dahi and her baby in the forest, where she had been tracked in the daytime. Apart from finding a few mosquitoes, we weren’t able to find anything. Once Dahi’s baby is found, she will be collared, and become the focus of Katey’s study, otherwise Katey will have to find a new subject to study.

12 Sept. 2015 – A Brief (Unofficial) Guide to DGFC

For those of you interested in visiting, volunteering, and/or working at Danau Girang Field Centre:

While there is a general guide for volunteers at DGFC which will be given to you once accepted, there are some important factors to know which are missing from the text. The following list contains information compiled from my personal experience, as well as the ideas from my peers here at DG.

  • The guide dissuades people from bringing electronic devices, such as laptops, due to the high humidity in the region, but as a PTY/volunteer you will have space in the PTY office, which is quite dry enough (all of our PTYs have their own laptops here). Having a laptop here will also make both work and correspondence much easier, though one should not expect it to last much longer than a year’s stay at DG.
  • In that realm, though we currently have an internet connection (albeit slow), after speaking with Meg (who has been here for three years), I learned that it is not uncommon for them to be without internet for up to six months at a time, so make sure to inform home of this prior to your departure.
  • Even with a Malaysian SIM card, cell signal is very limited here–in my case, I only have extended network coverage (meaning no Viber/Whatsapp/etc) at the jetty, which is a 5-10 minute walk from the main facility. Thankfully the service plan is quite cheap; with my 25-day 1gb data plan, it was about RM26 (in the region of $5 USD).
  • The guide recommends bringing “jungle attire,” which you should definitely do, but know that you will only spend part of your time in the jungle, otherwise you will want sandals and light, comfortable clothing, such as shorts or loose trousers, tank tops, t-shirts and whatnot. I’ve been told by some of the ladies here that they wish that they had brought a near multitude of sports bras. In a typical day, you will probably change clothes two to three times minimum, so keep that in mind. As a long-term resident, you will have access to laundry facilities, but there is a waiting list.
  • I cannot emphasize it enough, but wherever you are planning to travel in the world, learn at least some basic phrases in the native language (in this case, Malay).
  • Apart from your arrival and departure days, it will be unlikely that you’ll have the opportunity to go into a town (as DGFC is 45 minutes from Batu Puteh, and >2 hours from Sandakan). At your arrival, I would recommend buying snacks/drinks (remember, no alcohol), a parang (if you’d like one in the field–they are a wonderful tool, be careful though), bug spray, a SIM card, and anything else that you might need during your stay. Things are fairly inexpensive here, as a four star hotel in Sandakan (the Four Points) costs only approximately $40 USD per night.
  • Bring things to do while you’re not working. Most of the time, you’ll spend your free time indoors or at the jetty for cell signal and/or lounging in a hammock (consider bringing one along), so use your own judgement as to what you want to do.
  • A pair of running shoes (there is a long concrete path), a yoga mat, or perhaps some resistance bands are all good ideas to pack if you’d like to get some good excercise here.
  • Bring a good headlamp and extra batteries (or a rechargeable headlamp)–these will be very beneficial for any night activities, from night walks in the jungle to using the restroom.
  • Consider buying a plastic tub once you arrive to keep snacks, electrical cords, and other items on your desk in overnight, to prevent any damage from rats.
  • Did I forget to mention that we have rats? I have yet to see one here, but I often see at least a few droppings around in the mornings before the cleaning is done. Geckos are extremely prevalent here and though they may seem cute at first, they are a bit of a nuisance. There’s no point in trying to shoo them out–they will get inside, and the large ones (barking geckos) can cause sleeping to be a struggle, unless you can sleep through an air raid (such as myself). Earplugs, perhaps?
  • Again, bring more things to do in your free time than you’d think-movies, card games, board games, books, a gameboy…Midday and evenings past 8 PM are typically free.
  • Bring things to decorate your bit of office space with–think family photos, etc.
  • If there are any favorite foods of yours that might not be widely available, consider packing them along.
  • An insulated travel mug is great for keeping water cool and tea/coffee hot during hours without electricity.
  • Get your rabies vaccine if you want to work with mammals! Yes, it is expensive, and yes, it will be worth it.

There may be more to come, so stay tuned for updates!