I woke up on Day 5 to the sound of rain pounding the corrugated metal roof.
Once it started letting up, the crew began making preparations to regain the time lost the day before. While getting ready, I got the opportunity to try cacao fruit off the tree. The cottony casing around the seeds is sweet, but it is the bitter seeds that cannot be eaten that are processed into chocolate.
Once we were ready for the field, the cars dropped us off a few kilometers down the road. We began a several mile loop that went quickly into the forest. It seemed much cooler than the first day, but I might have also adjusted by now to hiking in the jungle with heavy pants, long sleeves, and a hat. Our faces still all looked like we were taking a shower – sweat dripped down and off our chins after the first 20 minutes.
We stopped in the middle of the loop at a stretch of trail that the tech guys on the crew determined would be a good place to try to capture footage. They went to work – one with a machete to make a flat edge on the trunks of two trees facing each other across the widest part of the clear space; the other assembled the camera boxes.
The team leader – Karmila – set to work noting the GPS coordinates and recording the necessary observations of the site. She showed why this site was critical on the map.
On the trail loop, we saw elephant tracks. After finishing the trail loop, the walk back to the house was a bit more grueling in the open road, without cover from the sun. It was a few km back, and we were just about back to the house when some local plantation security police stopped us. They asked the crew about what they were doing and where their permits were. I wasn’t sure if my presence – a foreigner – heightened the situation at all, so I kept silent and kept smiling in what I hoped was a reassuring way. The crew asserted that according to their maps they were not on the plantation lands, and the situation – after some great length – dissipated.
I took a bucket shower with well water near the house, and when everything was packed up, Karmila, Agoeng, myself, and Hari made the long drive back to Pekanbaru, first through 3 hours of oil palms and then through 5 hours of Sumatran roads. I picked up my first leech that night during a pit stop in the oil palms and didn’t catch it until I could feel the itch on the bottom of my foot. I suppose it would not have been a complete jungle experience without one.
On the long ride back, I thought about how each of the team members plays such an important role to the function of the team and, ultimately, to the protection of tigers in Sumatra. They are former loggers and former university students, and now the fate of many of these tigers rests in their ability to capture footage of tigers in the wild and establish the presence of tigers in these areas. It’s a unique position to be in, and I am heartened by the team members’ passion for what they do – seen easily through the number of tiger t-shirts the team wears – and impressed by the range of skills they contribute.
As a former office worker, I definitely saw how it takes more than office work to protect these tigers, and WWF has certainly employed skilled people to carry out its mission to protect these animals. I was happy to see that it is these individuals at work to protect Sumatra’s tigers. After watching them at work, I have confidence in them, their passion, their knowledge of the forests in Sumatra, and their determination to make a case for tiger protection.
More couldn’t hurt of course, and it takes money to purchase equipment and maintain it. Habitat and corridor encroachment is happening fast though, and if you ever wanted to help, the current Year of the Tiger is the right time.