17 Days in The Wild – An Urban Dweller’s Experience
By: Nicholas Fong
Recently I had the opportunity to join the Imbak Wildlife Survey Expedition organized by Sabah Foundation from 5-22 July 2012. The expedition aimed to explore wildlife diversity within and outside the Imbak Canyon Conservation Area (ICCA), and to obtain basic information to facilitate future work on conservation and management of wildlife.
Surprise of surprises, I was made the team leader of one of the 13 groups and tasked to drive a 4WD vehicle across a big river. We spent many days in the jungle without proper place to sleep nor proper food, and faced the risk of having to camp in an area where illegal hunting was rampant – gunshots were heard almost every night!
My teammates from WWF-Malaysia and I flew in to Sandakan and thereon, it was an adventure for us. We drove in a 4WD vehicle to ICCA in the district of Tongod, about 300km from Kota Kinabalu.
ICCA houses a variety of biological resources and has quite a number of fantastic waterfalls. Presently, four base camps have been established namely Tampoi Research Station, Gunung Kuli Research Station, Kapur Research Station and Pinang-Pinang Research Station.
The journey took us five hours on poor-conditioned roads and difficult terrains. Few kilometres before the base camp was the Imbak River which we had to drive across. The water level was unbelievably high. Fortunately, we managed to drive across without any problem. We reached the base camp before dusk. After dinner, we had a briefing session by the organizer and distribution of equipment such as camera traps, GPS and most importantly, our food supply for the rest of the expedition.
The day after, we were deployed to our respective base camp – some went by helicopters (as the survey area was inaccessible) while the rest by 4WD vehicles. Upon reaching the base camp, we unpacked the necessary equipment and erected the tent.
Everyday we would do our recce – set up camera traps at suitable locations where wildlife tracks, dung and wallows were. We took turns to do the survey – at a single time, some had to stay back at the base camp to look after our belongings as the area was easily accessible by anyone.
We also found 14 species of mammals and 27 species of birds. Of the 14 species of mammals, two were found to be vulnerable and 1 endangered based on the IUCN redlist.
The number of mammals sighted was low largely due to the area having been logged and the habitat severely degraded. Hunting activities were also rampant
Overall, the expedition was a success except the radio for communication was malfunctioned and we were unable to contact the outside world. Fortunately, nothing happened except for leeches and mosquito bites.
I had mixed feelings at the end of the expedition. Sad as I didn’t have the chance to observe key species like rhinos, elephants and orangutans. Elated as I had the opportunity to drive a 4WD vehicle across a river. Also, I saw several beautiful waterfalls and crystal clear flowing water.
It was an opportunity of a lifetime indeed and should there be future opportunity, I shall be all set to take it on…with full gusto!
Nicholas Fong is the Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade Officer.
WWF-Malaysia (Sabah Office)