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  SOS Rhino : In the News : News From The Field : MONTHLY FIELD REPORT JUNE 2004
JUNE 2004
  We have two volunteers from Ingram Scholars Program, New Orleans, USA. Star Wallin and Taylor Jackson arrived in Kota Kinabalu on 24th May 2004 and headed to Tanjung Utik at the end of the month. While in Kota Kinabalu, they met with Dr. Edwin Bosi who fine-tuned their summer project proposal. Thus, the two students undertook a brief research on the perception of the villagers on an eco-tourism venture within their villages. Star and Taylor were also involved in a rhino survey starting June 17th, 2004. They also stayed with the village chief in Dagat and enjoy the unique Malaysian food, cooked by the chief’s wife. SOS Rhino’s field assistants Hayro and Suzali accompanied the students as interpreters.

Field supervisor Sarinus and his team were also in Dagat to clear the grasses around the forestry house. The Forestry department has kindly allowed SOS Rhino to use the house as our base camp in Dagat. A proper toilet has been built. However, the house needs major renovation and requires bunk beds, plywood sheets for covering and reducing the heat from the galvanized or corrugated zinc sheets roofing. We also need many water tanks. To get clean water is a major problem here in Dagat and Tg. Utik. Water tanks are a must items - the more the better as the area do experience long spells of droughts.

Pix shows the plantation gate at Dagat

On 13th June we were in Lahad Datu to purchase the generator set, satellite phone and 15HP boat engine. These equipments are purchased, courtesy of Kerry Crosbie from the Asian Rhino Project in Australia. Kerry is the Chairperson of the Asian Rhino Project. She was one of the participants of the Rhino Challenge in May 2004, and visited SOS Rhino’s community outreach program. Kate from the Rhino Foundation, UK was with her. While visiting the COP, they presented a soccer ball to the villagers in Dagat and visited the primary school at Kg. Parit (also known as Kg. Tidung 2). They went on a river cruise and watching wildlife along the Segama river.

Pix shows Kerry and Kate at Dagat with the women folks

Pix shows Kate presenting a soccer ball to Harun, the village chief’s son

Pix shows Kerry and Kate on a river cruise and watching wildlife

Pix shows Kerry entertaining the school kids with her video camera

On the 14th, the Program Officer and field supervisor went over to the Forestry Department’s office in Lahad Datu to pay a courtesy call on Mr. Jurimin Ebin, the officer-in-charge. As he was away we managed to get the permit for Joseph Schroeder, another volunteer from Columbia, USA who has arrived from Kota Kinabalu. A permit from the Forestry department is important so that one can enter the forest reserve. In the evening we met up with Dale Williams, the Project Director of OMSF (Oceanic Marine Sanctuary Foundation) in Sabah and Randall Quirk, Owner-Operator of Nature House from Florida. We met earlier during the Imbak Scientific Expedition in May 2004 and were so keen to visit our COP. In their entourage were Dale’s mom, Rowena, Allan and Rajan. On 15th, we all headed for Tg. Utik. Coincidentally, Dr. Taranjit Kaur the crocodile researcher has also arrived from Kuala Lumpur and joined us to Tg. Utik. In the evening, we had a BBQ party, courtesy of Dale Williams. His group joined us to Dagat and later, watch wildlife along the Segama river before leaving for Sukau in the afternoon.

Pix shows the BBQ in progress

Pix shows a group photo together with Dale and Randall’s group

On the 17th I led a team to undertake a rhino survey to an area as far as the Tabin river can be navigated. With me were Joe Schroeder, Star Wallin, Taylor Jackson, Sarinus, Suzali, Amit and Hayro. Disaster struck us early in the trip. The side of our timber boat was damage by river corals (granite stones), as we tried to push it across a shallow rapid littered with these stones. We placed the boat on its side to prevent water from gushing in. This time we were pretty prepared and took along our new chainsaw. Tabin river is notorious with fallen trees especially after major floods. This makes navigation very dangerous and can easily damage the boat and engine. Probably this is nature’s way of reducing encroachment into forest reserves. Sarinus pealed off one of the side planks that are supposed to keep your back comfortable. With it came the nails. The plank was sawn and nailed onto the damaged site. Water continued to sip in between these woods. Suddenly the chainsaw rope snapped and now we were handicapped by a failed saw. A sharp machete became handy. We decided to make camp along the river to repair the damage. Suzali who has so much experience with boats decided to sacrifice his elastic stockings knowing that leeches would benefit. He nicely tucked it between the two planks. However, little water continued to sip through but with some clay, the leak was plugged.

That night, it rained heavily on our camp and also, over the upper part of the river. In the early morning we have to quickly get breakfast and jumped into the boat with our possessions as the camp was soon submerged with water. This is called the flash flood and can be dangerous for inexperience campers. The sudden flood was a blessing in disguise as it allowed us to reach the site where the team never managed to reach before. We decided to stop and camp when we found ourselves facing an elevated strong rapid with large boulders. With such a heavy boat there was no way we could have overcame the obstacle.

Along the way upstream, we saw very minimal species of animals and birds. The most common findings were monitor lizards (Iguana), Kingfishers, Oriental darters. There were two trees with Orangutans nests. The larger and taller tree has four nests.

Pix shows the damage boat under repair by Suzali

The first day of survey involved trekking about 4 km towards the eastern part of the camp. We saw many wild pigs wallows and plants browsed by animals. One young sapling showed an obvious sign of rhino presence and browsing. The sapling was lying horizontal to the ground, the shoots showed browsing activity and horn marks on a tree trunk next to the sapling. We saw an old hoof prints about 50 meters from this sapling.

When we returned to camp we saw the remnant of logging activity called ‘kuda-kuda’. This is literally translated as horse-horse, the action depicting horse riding. These are round logs about eight feet long that were laid like railway slippers. The logs or timber are slide on these slippers to the Tabin river.

Pix shows remnant of ‘Kuda-Kuda” track

Jungle trekking is sometimes tricky. The first person cutting through the forest triggers not only the leeches but also the bees. Amit’s earlobe was stung by bees and also put everyone to flight. Fortunately it was a tiny bees or warps. We call them ‘penyagat anting-anting’ or ‘ear bees’ because of their liking to sting the ear lobes. As for the leeches, there are basically three types; tiger leeches with beautiful and colorful stripes, large and small brown leeches. The person third and fourth behind the leader usually ‘catches’ the most leeches. An oversight can be detrimental. We lost at least two trays of eggs to a monitor lizard. We should have known better by hanging our food!

Pix shows sapling trampled and shots browsed by rhino

Pix shows rhino horn marks on tree trunk

The second day of survey covered the western part of the camp. Here, the jungle is secondary and degraded. Trekking through this forest was extremely difficult because of the think undergrowth. However, as we made it to the ridges the trekking became easier but more dangerous as they are littered with rocks and stones. We did not see any evidence of rhino but we stumbled upon a male giant forest tortoise. We have collected the plants the tortoise was eating and two ticks that were holding on tightly to its carapace. There were few wild pig wallows.

Pix shows the female giant forest tortoise and the plants eaten

Pix shows one of the wallows found during the survey

The third day of survey was to check out Mount Hutton. This is the highest peak in Tabin Wildlife Reserve. The height is 571 meters above sea level. It was about 2.3 KM from camp using the GPS but the trekking time was more than three hours. Usually, it takes between 2-3 KM per hour. All team members conquered the mountain and will soon receive a special certificate. There on top of Mt. Hutton is an old oil drum and a flag with SOS Rhino logo. In fact, other SOS Rhino field assistants have previous conquered this peak.

Pix shows survey team on top of Mt. Hutton

Pix shows the old drum at the peak of Mt. Hutton

On the way to Mt. Hutton we stumbled upon a female giant forest tortoise. She was eating a different species of plant. She was carrying a tick on their carapace. The sex of giant forest tortoise can be determined by looking at the length of the tail and the curvature of the plastron. A male will have a long tail and flat plastron. A female has a short tail and an inward depression of the plastron.

We were lucky to encounter many creeks and we use the water for drinking. We drank directly from the creeks without any filtering or adding iodine. We do encourage our volunteers to be more cautious.

From my experience rhinos like to feed along the creeks. Here, they find browses that are within their height. Plants growing along the rocky creeks do not grow tall. The tall young saplings are easily trampled or walk over with their body to reach the canopy. They also drink and defecate in the creeks. This explains why Rhino dung is not easily found on dry land. In one of my expeditions, we saw a fresh clear hoof print on the rock in the middle of the creek. Thus, it is also an ideal place to look for rhino hoof prints. Hoof prints are well imprinted when the rhinos climb a slope. Thus, we were lucky to see two old prints measuring 18 cm diameter.

The next day we decided to return to base camp. Three days have past without any rain. The strong rapid in front of our camp was now reduced to just mild rapid. We realized it would be a tedious journey back. Indeed it was as the water level was very low. We struggled to remove the boulders to allow the boat to pass through. While it took us less than 2 hours to reach the site, it was about 8 hours to reach the first temporary camp. We knew for sure that we need a smaller boat made out of timber and not plywood for future expedition such as this.

While the boys were struggling to get the boat out of the rapids, Star was walking ahead on the sandy bank when she suddenly ran towards the boat, looking frightened. Suddenly, a huge black adult ‘Tembadau’ male appeared around the corner, startled on seeing us and jumped some six feet high onto the grassy part of the river bank and disappeared. He was equally in fright as the boys shouted ‘tembadau’ in unison. Tembadau is also known as ‘Banteng’, Bali cattle or simply the wild cattle. Its scientific name is Bos banteng or Bos javanicus.

Tembadau is totally protected under the Sabah Wildlife Conservation Enactment 1997. The male is brownish when young but becomes blackish when fully matured. The female is light brown when immature but become brownish black when fully matured. Both male and female spots the distinguishing features of white stockings and white rump. Our boys refer the Tembadau as the animal with white stockings wearing white nappy.

The other wildlife that are totally protected are the Sumatran Rhino (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis), Orangutan (Pongo pygmeus), Sun Bear (Helarctos malayanus), Dugong (Dugong dugon), Proboscis Monkey (Nasalis larvatus), Clouded Leopard (Neofelis nebulosa), Gharial (Tomistoma schlegeli), Green Turtle (Chelonia mydas), Hawksbill Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata).

A file picture of a male tembadau

Pix shows 1st temporary camp along the bank of Tabin river

As we would be pushing off to Tg. Utik the next day, we decided that we just have to sleep on the ground without the flysheets. The stars were in the millions that night and Sarinus suggested we count stars. Weather is unpredictable in the forest. About 11.00 pm the stars were no more to be seen and we scrambled to get the flysheets over our ‘beds’ as rain and strong wind began to gather strength. We survived that night although we could have a better night if we were prepared.

Meeting with villagers and wildlife officials

We moved very quickly the next morning reaching Tg. Utik about noon. After lunch we rushed off to Dagat. I was informed that the Wildlife Department and JICA (Japanese International Corporation Agency) were meeting with the villagers. I was invited by the village chief to explain to his people about SOS Rhino. The meeting was very positive and fruitful. So far this was the first meeting where all the relevant parties are involved and definitely not the last.

Freshwater fishes

While doing the rhino survey, we are also cataloging the freshwater fishes including prawns of Tabin river. We are using drift net and hook and line. This activity was conducted in the evening.

Pix shows the Ikan Palian (Tor douronensis), a favorite among the Kadazan-dusun people of Sabah. In many rivers, the species has long become extinct


The method of finding rhino hoof prints in the forest is to use a stick and gently clear the debris from the ground. We can find other interesting items on the forest floor too. A fine example is a huge tick.

Pix shows a 2.5cm (1”) long tick found in Tabin forest. The tick is not engorged and could potentially be the biggest tick in the world. This tick and the ticks found riding on the giant forest tortoise are preserved and will be sent for identification

New Field Assistant

I have to return to Tg. Utik on 29th to pay salary and allowance to the boys. I have then recruited a female field assistant, Marniah Sapran, who hails from Dagat. She speaks communicable English and she will help to take care of our volunteers, especially female volunteers. We have seen more female SOS Rhino volunteers.


When I arrived Tg. Utik, I saw the staffs including Dr. Tara, the crocodile researcher lining along the jetty. We thought this was a welcoming reception only to realize that they were watching about eight wild elephants grazing on the other side of the riverbank. The elephants have been around for few days.

Pix shows the wild elephants grazing undeterred

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