Malaysian Tiger Trip- Into the Jungle

This is the 3rd entry from Brookfield Zoo’s Brian Czarnik, Senior Keeper Large Carnivores journal about his trip to Malaysia in conjunction with the Malaysian Conservation Alliance for Tigers (MYCAT) to learn more about tiger conservation in the wild. 


It’s not easy to prepare for a hike in Taman Negara Park. Before heading out, we (Team Yang) spent a good 30 minutes applying sun block, insect repellent and putting on leech socks, or in my case pulling up my tube socks as far as they could go. It seemed like the layers of chemicals were instantly met with layers of sweat in the 90 plus degree weather which was only getting hotter by the minute.

Our team of nine walked off the road and right into the jungle following an elephant trail. Despite the fact that these animals that can weigh 3-5 tons, they sure didn't clear a very wide path. I spent the first 20 minutes or so on edge: I thought there was a cobra or tiger waiting to strike around every corner. After 20 minutes without incident, I was able to put all the animal thoughts behind me and I focused on looking over the ground for any sings of snares. 


Camera Traps
We hiked single file and tried to stay within eye sight of the person behind you. The forest was a lot denser than I thought it would be, and I realized how easy it was to get lost or have an elephant completely separate you from the rest of the group. During our hike we checked on various camera traps and replaced the memory cards. On several trees we noticed claw markings, but after closer inspection, we realized they were from sun bears, not tigers!


After a few hours of hiking, we stopped in a cave that was home to bats (and elephant droppings) for a quick lunch that we brought in. The noodles were nice and hot from our packs, no microwave required! After lunch we began to look for another way back since MYCAT wanted to cover more ground. We walked back the same amount of time we had walked in, but felt something wasn’t quite right. Our guide had a GPS locator so we knew where the road was that we needed to get back to the park entrance, but it didn't seem the steep ridges, limestone cliffs, and flowing rivers were working in our favor. Our six-hour hike was looking like it would be extended. I was lucky in that my friends had brought a lot of water; mine was gone since I only brought one water bottle to make room for my camera gear. 


Animal Adventures Begin
There was a long hike ahead of us to get to a safe crossing point. And here is where the animal adventures began; this wasn’t for the faint of heart. At one small river crossing we heard a loud rustling maybe 15-20 yards in front of us. Maybe an elephant, who knows? We had to keep going in the direction it came from, so we were hoping whatever it was, it was moving away from us. I was pulled out of my hiking daze by a sharp pain, and then again and again. I had walked over some bees and had taken two stings to the hand and five more on the hip for my troubles. Five minutes of a very painful hot feeling and then some swelling were my souvenir from the encounter.

The jungle was coming alive as the hot part of the day was now turning into evening and it was important to stay safe and vigilant. Our group was not quiet; the noise was intended to flush out animals, assert our presence and keep us safe. And it worked! We flushed out a porcupine and soon after a great hornbill flew over us. It was very clear: we had to get out of the jungle before dark and that straight line back to the road was not a possibility due to the terrain. Our spirits were down, but the consolation prize was covering more area in our search for snares and other signs of illegal poaching. After all, this was the intent of this trip.

On The Road Again
Just when everyone was using the last bit of strength they had and reconciling themselves to spending the night under the trees, we found the road! I have never been so happy to see a strip of pavement in my life. After all was said and done, we covered 12 miles of forest in just over 10 hours.

It was a day of hiking I will never forget. Physically the hardest but emotionally the most rewarding day I have ever spent in a rain forest. We spent the evening pulling leeches off ourselves, looking at the camera trap photos and discussing what we saw. Due to sensitivity we can't disclose exactly what we saw because, it seems the poachers these days use social media just like everyone else! I’m happy to say that it did appear that the camera traps were in great locations. The paths were forest highways for all kinds of wildlife including black leopards, wild pigs, elephants, and… other mammals.

 Tomorrow will be yet another long day of hiking and this time I will bring more water.

Posted: 6/27/2016 1:52:08 PM by Bryan Todd Oakley

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