Sunday, May 13, 2012

Return to the Forest

One month after my first foray in the forest of Eastern Thailand, I found myself preparing for another to check on the cameras that we had set in the forest. However, this time I would not be accompanied by my English speaking supervisor and had to get by on my own with the Thai I had managed to scrape together in two months.  It was a challenging prospect, but one I faced eagerly to show that I could handle the responsibilities alone.

One of the cameras we use to capture photos of wildlife in the forest.
One of the good things about this trip is that I would be following one of the same routes I had experienced previously, which happened to be a well established trail. Given that my parade through the forest was quite literally rained upon the first time, I made sure to consult my military savvy brother and picked up some gaiters to deter water from entering my boots on this trip. I felt wiser for my previous experience and was hopeful that I could complete a camera trap trip without getting myself into much trouble.

Fresh blood from a bear stains the forest floor
I was accompanied by four rangers, two with automatic rifles; however, upon reaching our entry point into the forest, we heard the unnerving howls of two bears locked in what sounded like a violent battle on our prospective route. The rangers looked into the forest and listened intently. Out of all the animals in the forest, I had been told that both rangers and poachers alike fear the bear more than any other, even tigers (the Indo-chinese variety seem to conflict with humans less often than their counterparts in other areas). Upon entering the forest we saw fresh blood on the forest floor, which gave us all the more reason to be attentive. No one wants to run into an injured, angry bear. Thankfully, no bears were encountered save for the images of those captured by our cameras.

Changing the settings of a camera to be placed and recording data. The camera would later capture a tiger walking by.

Walking through a forest with wild elephants with a bag of peanuts? I like to live dangerously.
Although being in the forest again was a fantastic privilege, I have to say that the trip was relatively uneventful, likely for the better. On the first day, the rangers and I established a brisk pace through the jungle and set up our cameras without too much trouble. Camp was established a bit later in the day this time around since we had trouble locating a source of drinkable water. We eventually settled under the canopy of a spectacularly large tree. I had enough time to have a small “shower” in a stream, vainly scanning the bushes surrounding me for animals that could be lurking in the dark. I eventually retired to my hammock, though the uncomfortably hot weather made for a restless night. 

A nest with two bird eggs along the trail.
Cooking the night's dinner under a large tree.
My somewhat better looking night shelter.
On both days, the weather cooperated quite well. For much of the first day and part of the night, we were surrounded by towering dark clouds hammering the humid air with thunder. I did my best to will the clouds away lest I get the same soaking I did the month prior. We were fortunate to not get a single drop of rain.

Rangers pause under a large tree.
A flashy caterpillar finds itself on my camera case.
A rather surly looking toad rests on the forest floor.
The collection of photos we had retained were interesting. Although we had photos of elephant, bear, gaur and wild pig, we did not see any tigers. It is somewhat concerning, though we did see an old scat of a tiger during our trip. I later convened with my supervisor to discuss the results and the strategy moving forward for additional research. 

A butterfly takes advantage of me resting to suck up some delicious sweat on my camera case.
After the 25km trek in 30°+ heat, a cold cola is a welcomed treat.
With the internship almost complete, I feel confident that I am both contributing to FREELAND with my increasing responsibilities and developing important experiences that will help me contribute even more to conservation in the future. I cannot thank my supporters and FREELAND enough for giving me this wonderful opportunity.

The FREELAND team talks with a park supervisor to discuss ways of mitigating the impacts of a dam being built in the area, which could potentially increase poaching and encroachment.
A tiny tick I pried from my arm after the survey.

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