On a discipline go to to the Baram area of Malaysia’s Sarawak state on the island of Borneo, we method the Penan village of Lengthy Sepigen. Like most villages of the Penan individuals, Lengthy Sepigen is just accessible on foot or by boat.
We’re right here as a part of a group from The Borneo Project to go to our discipline technicians for the Baram Heritage Survey – a mission that hires Indigenous citizen scientists to patrol and monitor their very own lands. The Borneo Challenge has labored in Sarawak for nearly 30 years, supporting Indigenous communities of their makes an attempt to guard their land from logging and palm oil pursuits.
As our boats arrive, we unload our baggage wrapped in rubbish baggage onto the banks of the Selungo River. We made the journey between two bouts of heavy rain and maintain little hope for the contents of our soggy packs. However our cache of smartphones is secure in a drybag, prepared for use by our discipline technicians for the survey. We dry off and settle into our house for the night time, a primary however snug two-story wood construction. My colleague Jettie and I get the upstairs room with large home windows overlooking the river, backyard and fruit bushes vibrant with rambutan.
Lengthy Sepigen was established within the 1970s. Earlier than that, the Penan individuals have been nomadic, relying solely on the rainforest for his or her survival. However even of their extra settled way of life, the forest is important for each facet of Penan life – from food and water to medicine and spiritual protection. A median villager can establish greater than 200 species of crops, realizing which of them work as sandpaper and which as ghost repellant, which might make papers for rolling cigarettes and which give poison for blowpipe darts.
Spirits are excessive off the again of a superb fruit and searching season. Males from the village have been searching in a single day, they usually’ve made a hearth in a barrel exterior our door to grill a freshly caught wild boar, filling the air with aromatic smoke. After a fast bathe we meet with our discipline technicians for this village cluster – Sejalee and Robert, two different hunters who can stroll for days by the forest with no problem. Collectively, they’re one of many three groups concerned within the survey, in command of monitoring Penan land shared by three Penan villages up and down the Selungo river. Over espresso and crackers, we focus on the pangolin and gibbon indicators they encountered through the preliminary levels of the survey.
Every village cluster has cleared strolling paths for information assortment on 4 transects measuring 4 kilometers every in size. Three have been randomly generated, and the fourth transect was chosen by communities primarily based on their very own analysis objectives – specifically neighborhood forest areas they’ve protected against logging and want to monitor, or, alternatively, areas of forest which are nonetheless of their main state.
Subject technicians for the survey stroll these 4 transects each month, however calling it strolling is one thing of an understatement on this terrain. The thickly forested Baram area is carved out of limestone mountains, landscaped by unfastened leafy forest trails, dipterocarp roots and mossy streams. Snaking its means by the center is the mighty Baram River, the life supply for dozens of villages, round 20,000 Indigenous individuals, and innumerable endemic animal and plant species. The higher Baram area is the biggest space of unprotected and intact forest left in Sarawak, and like many locations of excessive ecological worth, it’s a race towards time to ascertain protected areas earlier than timber corporations get hold of or act on their logging licenses.
Subject technicians monitor for sightings and indicators of the spectacular array of primates, felines, reptiles, birds and different creatures that share this land. Utilizing the Baram Heritage Survey smartphone app, the techs feed these sightings right into a database to be analyzed by native researchers at UNIMAS and worldwide researchers on the University of California, Berkeley.
Sejalee retains meticulous notes of each sighting and runs us by his pocket book jottings of what he has discovered up to now. Subject technicians like Sejalee, who’ve lived their complete lives by these forests, haven’t any bother recognizing solar bear claw marks, or mud rubbed on bushes as an indication of deer, or pangolin nests. They’ll distinguish between the sounds of the six totally different hornbills that stay within the Baram area and may, in fact, inform which poo belongs to whom.
Though we educated the technicians to make use of our app, their understanding of the forest was key to the app’s design and is important to the survey’s success. Our eight discipline technicians throughout three village clusters, although geographically shut, have totally different cultures, totally different languages and alternative ways of viewing the forest. Technicians should not solely discovering totally different animals of their geographical areas, however they’re additionally figuring out them in fully alternative ways.
For instance, one set of technicians with heavy leaf-fall on their transects can’t depend on animal tracks, so as an alternative have given us a bevy of animal indicators primarily based on sound and scent. Or, regardless of the app having greater than 5 methods to mark sightings of untamed boar, each month our technicians are discovering new sighting strategies so as to add. This month, it was the sound of two male boar battling it out for territorial dominance.
Within the morning we stroll up the river to a small waterfall, slippery with moss. After chatting with our discipline technicians, it’s tempting to look in each nook and cranny within the hopes of creating our personal nice discoveries. Although the survey is in its infancy, it’s clear that the Selungo river – and the entire Baram area – is brimming with life and worthy of safety. Easy expertise teamed with conventional ecological information can produce plentiful and thrilling outcomes for science and for conservation, and we hope our discipline technicians’ small discoveries add up right into a wealthy tapestry of information, sturdy sufficient to avoid wasting this land from the chainsaws and bulldozers that place it below menace.
Fiona McAlpine is the communications and media supervisor for The Borneo Challenge.