After receiving a Degree in Surveying & Mapping Signs and a Masters in GIS & Remote Sensing, Raymond honed his skills for 3 years as a Research and Information Manager for an environmental impact assessment consulting company in Kota Kinabalu, the capital of the Malaysian state of Sabah.
In 2000, he crossed over to WWF to take a more active role in protecting Borneo’s wildlife. Currently he is doing his PhD on Forest Assessment and Wildlife Habitat Modelling using Remote Sensing & GIS.
Reading the land to understand the wildlifeRaymond and his staff are regularly on the tracks of orang-utans, Sumatran rhinos and pygmy elephants. Already, the pygmy elephant’s entire habitat has been mapped while a detailed survey has been completed in the Heart of Borneo, namely in the Ulu Segama Malua area. The aim is to get an accurate picture of orang-utan distribution and identify factors that influence the species distribution.
This kind of work is no simple walk in the woods. “Working in the field is challenging as you are always exposed to danger. Field workers have to always be careful when dealing with wild elephants”, warns Raymond. “Satellite collaring of pygmy elephants is one of our main projects, and carries its share of risks”.
Indeed, an angry elephant can become particularly nasty to any animal in its vicinity – including humans.
Living the way of wildlifeRaymond is ready for work at 6:00 am (which means he gets up at 4:00 am), emulating the habits of the wildlife he studies, which are the most active early in the morning. Field staff resume work in the afternoon, when the mammals go out to seek food. At nightfall, staff huddle together to evaluate data collected that day, and make any changes to the approach if necessary.
This is gruelling work, especially when it comes to tracking a pygmy elephant for weeks at a time. But says Raymond, “to us, even finding a footprint of one rhino (or more) is one of the best experiences, which gives us hope. So far the progress [of our research] is encouraging.”
Before you head out in the fieldRaymond runs through the checklist of the skills one needs for this line of work: Relevant background in the field of biology, forestry and ecology. Familiarity with GIS and remote sensing. Knowledge of habitat characteristics. Merged together, these abilities make it possible for a seasoned practitioner to read the landscape from the eyes of an orang-utan or an elephant.
But the human side is no less important, and Raymond reminds of the need to be able to collaborate with government authorities and agencies, such as the Sabah Wildlife Department, Sabah Forestry Department and Sabah Foundation. “We are lucky that our partners are not only committed, but also pro-active in their roles”, he says.
Finding waysThis kind of support in the field is critical to WWF’s work. But at a larger scale – the Heart of Borneo say - Raymond acknowledges much more will be needed. In his view, the single greatest challenge to realize the Heart of Borneo initiative is to secure sustainable income - without putting the forest in jeopardy.
If he had the necessary funds, he would focus on forest restoration and initiate a model project that can demonstrate that wildlife tourism and sustainable timber harvesting can support the government in the long run. A worthy goal to work towards to.