Sunday, November 6, 2011

postheadericon Yep, its pretty Steep! Research starts in Crocker Range

One month into our latest survey and I’m pleased to report that things are progressing very well.  After a number of meetings with Sabah Parks, the State authority who manage the Crocker Range National Park, we settled into our new home in the village of Ulu Senagang, nestled just within the park boundaries and walled in by high ridgelines. 

As usual, our first task was to begin planning where we will deploy the camera traps within the park, decisions which are ultimately based on maximizing the chances of capturing cloudeds and other wild cats on camera, as well by the logistics of physically getting there. Our plan is to spread 36 camera stations over 150km2 – no easy task even on relatively even forest, let alone a mountain range. From talking to Sabah Parks employees and local people it quickly became apparent that the Park is rarely accessed (at least on official/legal business) and thus established trails are therefore few and far between, particularly on the scale that we’ll be operating.  

Our strategy, then, was to determine ridgeline formations from basic topographic maps, features which aid our movement and which we have demonstrated are used extensively by wild cats, transfer the spatial info onto our GPS units, and then follow the routes deep into the park, setting up cameras as we go. At this stage we had little idea of what the travel routes would be like, how open the forest would be, and thus how far we could reasonably expect to move each day. 

So, loaded up with several days of food, camping gear, camera trapping gear and our trusty GPS the team headed up out of the village and climbed to the first of several ridgelines that would take us northwest, and into the park. Unfortunately, but unsurprisingly, this was no gentle introduction to Crocker’s forests, and after a slippery and relentless 400m ascent, and with burning muscles, we eventually reached the relatively even terrain of the ridgeline. Once there we were pleased by how relatively clear the forest was, and although the trekking was at times pretty tough, we moved swiftly and set eight camera stations and covered a distance of over 24km in 4 days. 

Great!  Well, kind of…  Our rapid movement through the forest is largely because the routes we have been following are also being used by local poachers from surrounding villages, hence the relative openness. One month in, we have now covered over 150km of routes, and on all occasions, regardless of how deep into the forest we have travelled, we have always found signs of people, their camps, and snares and their shot gun cartridges.  Clearly the use of the forest by poachers here, in terms of area, is extensive. What is less clear is how many people and how much poaching is occurring.  We have found some great camera sites and are very optimistic of getting some wild cat photo captures, but the threat of camera theft by the poachers is very much playing on my mind.  In the next few weeks we will begin checking our cameras… stay tuned for (eventual (-: )updates