I have always been an avid traveler, as well as a wildlife enthusiast. Throughout my life, I have worked with various organizations to perform conservation work such as performing surveys with the forest department to monitor the highly endangered crocodilian species called Gharial, and worked with the Snow Leopard Conservancy-India Trust in Ladakh to mitigate snow leopard-human conflict. I have been actively traveling to multiple national parks/wildlife reserves not only in India but also in countries like Nepal, Rwanda, Tanzania, Bhutan, and Kenya, to observe how the flora and fauna differ from one habitat to the next. One place in particular, which left a lasting impression on me, was the Taman Negara National Park in Malaysia.
Once while working on a research paper on tigers, I came across a project in Malaysia called ‘Malayan Tiger Conservation’, specifically in Taman Negara, which is known to be the oldest rainforest in the world. The project was in collaboration with a local NGO called ‘MY CAT’. MY CAT is one of the major organization involved in the collection of samples and images using camera traps, in order to determine the Malayan tiger population at Taman Negara. I decided to apply, knowing that this would be a great opportunity to learn and grow as a wildlife conservationist. The project involved working with the anti-poaching unit to save one of the rarest cat species in the world – The Malayan Tiger. This would also give me a chance to learn the techniques and technologies used to track down poachers and be able to implement these in the future.
Taman Negara was magical! I have never seen any other forest as dense and thick as that of Taman Negara. The sheer girth of the trees was an indication that the forest is ancient and supports unique life-forms, which are found nowhere else on the earth. The forest canopy was impenetrable thus giving one an impression that the forest floor is always hidden from the outside world and covered in dark. The fresh-water streams, which emerged from the forest of Taman Negara were a blessing in disguise and provided relief after walking in the humid jungle for 8-10 hours every day.
At Taman Negara, we were housed in dormitories, which were basic but very comfortable. We worked along with the local tribal people of the area called ‘Batek’. We had a few Batek guides who helped us when we were working inside the jungle as they knew the workings of the jungle and its people. Frankly speaking, we would have not been able to work if the Batek’s were not there, their knowledge of the jungle and its denizens was just amazing.
Our daily job included collecting data, detecting the occurrence of any illegal activities such as, poaching, smuggling of wood and reporting it to the forest department as well as disarming the poaching snares. A typical day on the project started with us waking up at 6 am, getting ready by 7 am, eating our breakfast and then heading out for jungle treks, which were more like patrols. We cooked our food in bamboo, which is the traditional way the Bateks cook. We trekked in the jungle for about 7 to 8 hours per day.
It was challenging and one had to be careful and aware of the surroundings. However, with the help of our experienced guides and leaders, we performed quite well. During one of our treks, we were able to disarm approximately 10 poaching snares. We had to use GPS in order to navigate our way, which was challenging for me as I was learning to use the GPS for the first time. However, by the end of my time in the national park, I had become efficient in using the GPS. The trek itself was breath-taking, with fresh water streams flowing (where we usually jumped to cool ourselves off) and sounds of the jungle surrounding us. Though we didn’t come across tigers, we saw hornbills, wild boars, pit vipers, monitor lizards, gibbons, and many other species and not to forget the infamous leeches.
I was surprised to see that Taman Negara, being such a famous national park and also one of the oldest rainforests in the world, had a lot of illegal activities taking place such as logging and poaching. I was actually taken aback to see vast areas of the forest being removed for palm oil plantation and for timber. It was very heart breaking to come across various poaching snares inside the jungle. This is the reason why organisations such as WWF and MY CAT are crucial, since they are doing such an incredible and creditable job to save the habitat, and educate people regarding the harms we are inflicting on our natural resources. They have made a tremendous impact in slowing down the rate of illegal activities. During my time at the park, one of the key aspects of the project which I enjoyed the most was disarming the poaching snares and knowing that I would be saving a tigers’ life in the process. These Malayan tigers are highly endangered, beautiful, intelligent animals and knowing that the work I was doing would help them, gave me great joy and pride.
If you get an opportunity to do something like what I did, and if you have an interest in outdoor activities, want an adventure of a lifetime and want to do well for the wildlife, then you must visit Taman Negara. I would recommend performing some prior research about the area and on the Malayan tigers before you embark on your journey. I would highly suggest reading more about the Batek people and their ways of living. After my experience, I can frankly say that the time I spent at the project and at Taman Negara, was the best time of my life and would be surely remembered as fond memories.