Malaysian Tiger Trip- trek preparation

This is the 2nd entry from Brookfield Zoo’s Brian Czarnik, Senior Keeper Large Carnivores, journal from his trip to Malaysia to learn more about wild tiger conservation in conjunction with Malaysian Conservation Alliance for Tigers (MYCAT). 


The zookeeper group Malaysian Conservation Alliance for Tigers (MYCAT) was picked up in the morning from the hotel and we were told to think about which group we wanted to be in: YIN or YANG. YIN was promised to be a little more relaxing with shorter and easier hikes. YANG was said to be rough. Needless to say YIN sounded nice to me since it was nearly 100 degrees outside. But since the few people I knew on this trip picked YANG, and I thought it would make for a more interesting blog, team YANG it was.

During the four-hour drive north from Kuala Lumpur to Taman Negara National Park, we were divided into two smaller groups to enable us to get more done. Along the way, I noticed large plots of land that were used as palm oil plantations. Palm oil, a substance found in many food and cosmetic products, is a tricky thing. It provides the locals with a huge income, but it has a devastating impact on local wildlife, including the tiger. We continued on the highway well past the southern entrance to Taman Negara National Park where the touristy activities begin. Wildlife and poachers tend to stay away from areas with high human activity levels. 

At the entrance to the forest, we transferred into two small pickup trucks that would be our mode of transport through the forest. As we raced along each of us developed a death grip on the bench we were seated on. I was amazed at the tall trees and the sheer density of the forest. You couldn’t see any more than ten feet ahead of you. Our destination was a small clearing near the river. I waded in about ankle deep and watched as a local caught fish with his bare hands. It was a sight to see.

After walking around the river bank (I guess this was a way to get our feet wet, quite literally) we were loaded back into the trucks and driven to an observation deck. At the top of the deck it felt like I could look out over all 1,677 square miles of the park. Here I had my first chance to talk to Dr. Kae Kawanishi (pictured below, left), a Tiger biologist and the General Manager for MYCAT. 


At the observatory, we were given a safety briefing with two important rules for our upcoming hikes. If we saw an herbivore coming at us (elephant or gaur) we were to find a big tree and hide behind it. If a carnivore approached us (meaning tiger or leopard) we shouldn’t run but slowly back away from it while maintaining eye contact. A guide told us a story of how a woman holding her child once walked 3 km backwards to her village until people came out to help scare away the tiger who had been following her the whole time. After our safety briefing, I looked out into the forest we’d be walking around first thing in the morning. I was amazed knowing how many feline species besides tigers inhabit these forest including the clouded leopard, leopard cat, and the golden cat. I’d be very lucky to catch a passing glimpse of any of these beautiful animals.


We ended the evening caught in a downpour at a local café type place that seemed a little surprised to be suddenly filled with a bunch of Americans. In the morning, we’d start our long six-hour jungle trek. Six hours… that’s not so bad, or is it?

Posted: 6/23/2016 12:14:35 PM by Bryan Todd Oakley

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