Malaysia… I’m back. Somehow I just couldn’t stay away. But, while it’s only been a week, I’ve got to admit that I’m glad I chose to come back to the Merapoh Rainforest Station.
It’s hard to believe how much has changed in the 10 months since I was last here. As a conservationist, the place left a lot to be desired previously. The extent of the conservation efforts was basically being involved in two anti-poaching treks a week and a little bit of community education work. While this is all important stuff, it was definitely a lot less, nor the kind of experience, that I was expecting. Merapoh, and Malaysia, have lots to offer in terms of conservation, and it’s only now that I’m beginning to discover the full extent of what that means.
Landing in Kuala Lumpur on Monday, I had been told that I’d be spending most of the week based there, doing a little bit of office work until the full team returned to Merapoh on the weekend. The other interns were conducting behavioural surveys watching the nest of a Black Naped Monarch in Kenyir. On Tuesday evening, the manager Izereen got a call from the team. I could see from watching him that he was a bit torn about what to do. With all of the conversation being held in Malay, it reminded me that I really needed to refresh the little of the local language I had and hopefully learn a lot more of it! Next thing I know, the decision had been made, and Wednesday morning we headed off Kenyir. We needed to film what’s going on. Apparently it was something that had never been seen before with this species, which means it’s never been recorded either. How could I refuse? The opportunity to highlight something that’s never been seen before on Life Gone Wild, and contribute to work that could lead to an academic paper being written? Yes please!
So, that’s exactly what’s happened. This past week now I’ve been based out of Tasik Kenyir (Lake Kenyir) on the edges of Taman Negara National Park. I’ve been… well, sitting mostly. Sitting and watching. We’ve been conducting the behavioural surveys for 12 hours a day, from 7am to 7pm (basically, all the daylight hours that we had). The nest is maybe three metres off the ground, and 3 metres back from the forest edge. We’d set ourselves up across the road (mercifully in the shade for most of the day), sat and watched the birds and recorded as much behavioural information as we could. We would record every time the birds would leave the nest, return to the nest, call, preen, perch… any and every action we could observe. Pivotal to the process, was getting one particular behaviour on film. While our observations were useful, there’s nothing like a bit of photographic evidence to back up what you’re saying (especially for something brand new!) So of course I had the tripod setup, trained on the nest, filming as much as the weather would allow!
Of course while conducting these observational surveys I was also being treated to just a tidbit of the vast array of wildlife that calls Kenyir (and Malaysia) home. While my previous Malaysian experience had been seriously lacking in wildlife sightings, this one week has MORE than made up for the lacklustre findings from last time. Listening to the dawn chorus of the gibbons, having scorpions crawl out from underneath my chair and between my legs, catching flying lizards out of the corner of my eyes as they glide down and land on the trunks of trees, hearing langurs leaping between trees, or macaques screeching as they fight, and of course being eaten alive by mosquitos. Without a doubt though, the true treasure of this area is the bird life. Izereen says that over 700 species call Malaysia home, and you can see plenty of those here in Kenyir. On top of the Black Naped Monarch, we’ve seen (to name a few) flycatchers, spiderhunters, bee eaters, malkohas, trogons, broadbills, and perhaps most importantly, hornbills.
Malaysia has 10 species of hornbill, and so far in Kenyir I’ve seen 4 of those. Most of the time you don’t even see them though, you just hear them. Be that the cackling laugh of the critically endangered Helmeted Hornbill (for more information on these guys, check out my previous article HERE), the almost honking cry of the Rhinoceros Hornbill (or the helicopter-esque sound of their wings flapping in flight), or the kraaark of the Bushy Crested Hornbill, they really are a special family of birds. On a personal note, walking back to the cabin after a long day of watching the nest and witnessing the Helmeted Hornbill fly across the path ahead of me is one of those wildlife moments that I’ll never forget. Their unmistakeable gular pouch, long tail, and distinctive casques making sure I couldn’t mistake them for anything else. Knowing how rare these birds are, having researched extensively and written about their plight, to see them first hand nearly bought me to tears. If you ever doubted how passionate I was about wildlife, well I guess that’s a pretty good indicator!
Of course you can hardly talk about time in the tropics without mentioning the sheer power of a tropical storm. With the lightning and the thunder booming and crashing above you, as the rain buckets down, and there’s nothing you can do but sit in awe at the amount of water falling from the sky. Coming from a country of what feels like perpetual drought, I’d say I’ve seen more rain here this week than I did the last 5 months in Australia. If you’re really lucky though, and you manage to get one of the afternoon storms, you get to witness an absolute treat; Golden hour after a tropical storm. The forest starting to come back to life after the downpour, with the low clouds creating a mist in front of the sun, and the sun itself turning the sky all sorts of colours… I don’t know if words can quite do it justice, so here’s a photo that I took on one such occasion.
By now you’re probably wondering what actually made the Black Naped Monarch’s behaviour around the nest quite SO special. Well that would be telling now, wouldn’t it. And I wouldn’t want to spoil the surprise. So make sure you check out the upcoming video on Life Gone Wild, and keep an eye out in the future for publications that stem from this pretty cool discovery!
Make sure you come back next week, when I will have kicked off a brand new project focussing on the biodiversity of reptiles and amphibians here in Merapoh (and maybe even inside Taman Negara National Park), learnt how to handle snakes. I might EVEN provide a little more information on what we’ve been seeing watching the Black Naped Monarch’s nest. Who knows what else could be in store!