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Dangerous Creatures

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It is easy to understand why an elephant can be dangerous. They have feet the size of dinner plates and the males can impale you with their long sharp ivory tusks. The circus may lead you to believe that they enjoy being dressed up and ridden, but even the Pygmy elephant of Borneo, a creature smaller than its enormous cousin can be extremely dangerous.

An Australian tourist came up on an elephant with her baby at the Danum Valley research center. As she approached them with her camera she was warned by her guide. Pachyderms can be unpredictable, especially when they are protecting their babies. As she approached the animals, she appeared to be larger in tenor visual viewfinder and the mother considered the photographer a threat. The insult resulted in the father entering the picture and impaling the Aussie, killing her. If you come across an elephant in the wild, the best course of action is to slowly retreat.

Sensible reactions are not always the logical choice. A group of volunteers, while collecting samples stumbled upon a wasp nest. The immediate reaction was to run, especially because of the life threatening allergy of the team leader to wasp stings. It is hard to say if the threat of being stung or the risks of running through the jungle are more dangerous. The wet ground, tangles of branches and slippery rocks all pose additional injury potential. The a risk runners stopped after 90 meters to if d themselves at another nest that required them to flee again. The race ended with a single sting, a banged up leg and a lot of high blood pressure.

The forest leeches would be happy to assist in lowering the heightened pressure. In a healthy forest the leeches are plentiful, patiently waiting, perched on leaves, desperate for a warm blooded mammal to pass. Despite its multiple eyes, the leech discovers its prey through its heat signature and jumps on when given a chance. Once now warm body it makes it's way like an inchworm to a site where it can attach and inject a mild analgesic and coagulant, and drink until it is full. The blood filled creature silently drops from the host and does not need to feed again for another 6 months. The leeches are not dangerous because they do not spread disease. But, they are unpleasant, especially when they are discovered under a blood and sweat soaked shirt or by an ear where it seems that they are sucking on brain fluid. Their fairly benign lagniappe is a small bite mark indicating their presence and perhaps some itching.

A journey to the bathroom can contain more treaturos critters, such as fire ants or scorpions, so no matter what you need to pay attention. The elephants aren't the only dangerous creatures in the forest.

Posted by Baronessonthego 02:59 Archived in Malaysia Tagged danum earthwatch malua Comments (0)

Wild Beasts

Up Close and Personal

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The Earthwatch program we were participating in revolves around scientific research. We spent our volunteer days in the forest collecting soil samples, measuring trees and assessing the canopy. We assisted the researchers by collecting data so that they could assess the effect that logging and plantation industries have on the rainforest and the effect on climate change. Although much of the work is done simply accompanied by the symphony of the local wildlife, the jungle is full of wild birds and animals.

There is always a hope that a pygmy elephant might join for a sunrise stroll, but after hearing about an Australian tourist who was recently gored while insisting, despite warnings, to take photos of the elephants, the lack of personal sighting may have been for the best. We did, however as a group, see a range of creatures that would rival a zoo. Animals were spotted on forest walks, during our night drive and sometimes while we enjoyed our meals at the camp. Each call, sighting or track of these amazing creatures was an awesome reminder of the importance of protecting the biodiversity of the rainforest.

Sitings included:

Common palm civet
Malay civet
Small toothed palm civet
Flying foxes
Honey buzzard
Thomas' flying squirrel
Giant ant (mahogany ant)
Oriental small clawed otter
Leopard cat
Pig tailed macaque
Monitor lizard
Angel headed lizard
Bearded pig
Fire ants
Hairy caterpillar
Under the bed bats (horseshoe bat)
Golden ant
Rhinoceros hornbill
Crested fireback
Short nosed tree frog
Praying mantis
Oriental magpie robin
Oriental pied hornbills
Rhinoceros beetle
Rufus Woodpecker
Long tailed macaque

Tracks included:

Samba deer
Clouded leopard

Calls included:

Barking deer
Helmeted Hornbill

Posted by Baronessonthego 21:26 Archived in Malaysia Tagged earthwatch malua Comments (0)

Malua Celebration

Steamed chocolate cake

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Recipe as translated from the kitchen at Malua

Ingredients A

Cocoa powder: 1 glass
Cooking oil: 1 glass
Sugar: 1 glass
Evaporated milk: 1 glass
Condensed milk: 1 glass

Beat ingredients A until fluffy.

Add 3 eggs to ingredients A and heat in a slow fire (not to boiling point)

Let ingredients A cool.

Ingredients B

Flour: 1/2 glass (sieved)
Baking Powder: 1/2 t.
Baking Soda: 1/2 t.

Mix ingredients B together.

Add ingredients B to ingredients A and mix until smooth.

Put foil in bottom of pan and butter it.

Add batter to pan.

Cover top with foil.

Steam approximately 1 hour.

We enjoyed the treat of this steamed chocolate cake for a team member's birthday. It was topped with buttercream frosting and decorated with a prank of bitter berries. They were edible but a shocking contrast to the sweet frosting. The birthday boy played along that they were most delicious and many fell prey to the joke.

Apparently a glass can be any size. The thing that matters with this cake is simply the ratio of ingredients. I guess baking chemistry rules are exempt in the jungle!

Posted by Baronessonthego 02:54 Archived in Malaysia Tagged danum earthwatch malua Comments (0)


A Day in the Life

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Every day at a research camp is identical and no two day are the same. The routine is mesmerizing and it is impossible to escape the rhythm of the routine.

The sun gently rises into a canopy of mist which hangs over the river for the early morning hours. The generator begins to whir and the natural light is soon accompanied by lit bulbs. Plentiful river water is used to wash down the bathroom floors and whisk bugs away, back into nature, to leave a clean floor for a brief and welcome moment. The cooks wash up and begin to prepare the morning meal.

Breakfast includes local cereals- corn flakes, muesli and choco-pops. Toast, jam and peanut butter are available and prepared food includes noodles, fried eggs and sometimes a tofu dish or rice as well. The kitchen was recently expanded, though it is difficult to understand how the cement sets In the near 100% humidity environment. The low-tech room includes a refrigerator, 4 gas burners and a pantry shelf. Even with this simple setup our 3 meals and afternoon tea seem to be prepared with ease. Water is boiled daily and filtered to provide the camp with plenty of hydrant for the hot muggy days.

The camp has access to plenty of water from the local flowing river. It provides water for the toilets, showers and sinks. All of the run off returns to the river so everyone is mindful about what they release back into nature. Rain water collects in a large cistern for the showers, and the first bather after a day in the jungle may even enjoy the treat of a sun-kissed lukewarm shower.

Following breakfast, accompanied by strong coffee or Sabah tea, we join as a group to stretch. It is a welcome release to untie our tight bodies before heading into the forest. We take deep breaths while we still have fairly fresh air to inhale and do a final gear check.

We alternate projects in groups of 3 or 4. Data collection usually includes measuring trees, collecting soil samples or assessing light. The trick to successfully interviewing nature is to avoid the ever present leech. It is important to notice the jumpers on your work mates as well. Team work is essential in the jungle to avoid excessive blood loss. It is much easier to flick the suckers away before they attach and leave a small hole that later itches while it heals. Heat seeking leeches actually look more like brown inchworms as they look for their prey. However annoying they may be, they are a sign of a forest with healthy biodiversity, and after filling with blood will not bite for another 6 months, so the brief encounters have a variety of endings. A recently landed leech may be spotted and flicked away. A sticky leech can be rolled into a ball and flung back into the woods (or tied into a knot by a playful researcher) or it may attach, suck blood with the help of the injection of an anti-coagulant, and once full, drop off unnoticed, save the blood stained shirt it leaves in its wake.

A boxed lunch is usually enjoyed in the field. It is a special treat when a break can take place by the river instead of in the leech-infested jungle. The river often provides some relief from the Olympic style leech long jump simply due to fewer leaf launching pads. Lunch is followed by some additional data collection and leech flicking before we return to camp and wash ourselves and our clothes in the river or enjoy a cool shower.

Sometimes there is some data entry or dirt activity before tea, and a lucky person can sneak in a little rest or reading. Tea is the best meal of the day. It may consist of donuts, fried bananas or green bean spring rolls. There is always something sweet and likely fried as the afternoon snack.

At 4:30 the generator is give a well-deserved rest. The shuttle-cock is not. The research assistants convene up at the newly expanded badminton court that is strategically placed between huge light experiment boxes that block what little wind blows through Malua. They jump, grunt and whack in a highly competitive manner in high end sneakers using top of the line rackets. The sport is taken seriously and when the electricity resumes, the battlefield lies in rest until the next day.

Dinner is served at 7 and always includes rice, with a variety of accompanying dishes- beef, chicken, fish, tofu and fruit for dessert. Around the table we share the trials of the day, connect with our fellow researchers and sometimes a local host story emerges.

Prior to settling down under our mosquito nets for the night, we enjoy a lecture about deforestation or biodiversity or perhaps a film. It is usually an early night for the clan and soon after the lights go out the whir of the generators and comfort of the fans stop for the night. The cicadas and frogs provide a soundtrack for sleep and the mist settles back down over the river.

Posted by Baronessonthego 22:38 Archived in Malaysia Tagged earthwatch malua Comments (0)

The Forest Mystique

Jungle Juju

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The job of the researcher includes collecting samples when the forest allows them to be taken away. There is collective understanding in Borneo that there is something mystical about the primary rainforest. Malaysians rarely work in the logging industry and those jobs tend to be taken up by Indonesians who are looking for work. It requires a lot of courage to venture into the depths of a forest full of danger.

Many of the dangers are visible and avoidable. When a Pygmy elephant barrels through the jungle you can step away. A highway of fire ants can be bridged by a wide step. Even a wasp nest can be avoided as long as it is seen before the flying threat spots you. Falling branches are unpredictable and the deadfall can be fatal. Massive branches fall regularly in healthy and unhealthy forests. They're generally noticed when there is a sound of gunfire that comes from above. By the time you hear the bang, the branch has already flattened everything in its path.

The primary forests are full of vines that can trap your feet and mud that can unexpectedly sink you to your knees. Trees may be covered with spikes and vines laced with poison tipped thorns that may cause hot red welts when they stab quick drying hiking pants. At least these dangers are standard and typical. The others that lurk in the shadows are those that keep the locals from venturing beyond the comfort of the logging roads.

A researcher at Danum Valley had plans to collect river samples from a variety of sources to test a theory about erosion. Most of the rivers gratefully gave up a amount of water and silt for the cause. But there was one river that did not want to participate. The first attempt to go to the river resulted in a flat tire. Another approach by boat ended in engine failure. The forward gears in the Land Rover jammed and when the driver attempted to enter the jungle in reverse only, only the first and second gears would engage. On the seventh attempt to acquire the final sample necessary to complete the project, the researcher approached the edge of the forest and presented an offering. She asked the rainforest to allow her to remove a small sample and explained that her research is intended for the future health and well being of the land. She was able to collect the sample with no incident.

Whether the risks are hidden within the trees or in plain sight, it is clear that the Rainforest is in control and a power in its own right.

Posted by Baronessonthego 03:15 Archived in Malaysia Tagged danum earthwatch malua Comments (0)

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