The ecology field season in the Northern Hemisphere was drawing to a close, so Tom and I jumped on a plane and began our annual pilgrimage south. As a perfect break in our journey, we decided to spend a week in Borneo exploring the jungle from a field centre Tom had visited as a university student. Our hosts showed us a wonderful time, and we encountered many amazing species. Over our next few blog posts, we will share with you a few of our favourite moments.
Danau Girang Field Centre
Danau Girang Field Centre (DGFC) is located just off the lower Kinabatangan River in Sabah, Malaysia, on the northern part of the island of Borneo. It is a collaborative research and training facility managed by Sabah Wildlife Department and Tom’s old university, Cardiff University.
DGFC is surrounded by a mixture of lowland dipterocarp forest types. You can read about these and Malaysia’s other major forest types here. In the area, the forests range from primary forest to disturbed secondary forest, in a matrix landscape with significant human impact including villages, small scale agriculture and oil palm plantations.
Wildlife Around the Centre
We didn’t have to venture far to meet the wildlife. In fact, on the short walk from the bunk-rooms to the main building you would regularly see macaques, monitor lizards, and a multitude of bird species. There were pygmy squirrels and giant squirrels darting up and down trees, invertebrates of all forms whirring, buzzing, and scuttling. There was even a scorpion which was larger than my hand that had taken up residence in a hole in the middle of the path. If you crept up quietly whilst the sun was down, you could see its two pincers poking out of the hole waiting for some unsuspecting prey.
On occasion, orangutans would be feeding in the trees. We had two such encounters: one with a mother and her baby, and the other with a huge flanged male. Although we didn’t see them during our stay, the Borneo pygmy elephants also sometimes come wandering through.
Activities and Research
There are many projects on the go at DGFC, mostly headed by different postgraduate students. Much of the fieldwork for these projects is carried out with the help of Malaysian guides, undergraduate students and volunteers. There were also some activities which just allowed us to get out-and-about and view the rainforest in different ways. Of course, Tom and I took every opportunity to get involved. Here is some of what we got up to:
In the late afternoon, we took one of the small, motorised boats up the river in search of primates. Resting and feeding in the trees, we saw proboscis monkeys, pig-tailed and long-tailed macaques, and a small number of grey langurs. We saw many bird species, too, including a flock of bushy-crested hornbills, pied oriental hornbills, bee-eaters, swallows, a stork-billed kingfisher, a buffy fish owl, and a noisy shama.
We headed out onto the water at 6am to catch a glimpse of the birds at the start of the day. Watching from the boat often gave you a better view than if you were trying to look from under the dense forest canopy. Highlights included seeing a white-bellied sea eagle and a pair of storm storks.
This activity certainly got the adrenaline pumping! Tom and I climbed up an extremely long ladder into the canopy of one of the tall trees near the centre. At the top of the ladder was a platform big enough to fit the two of us.
From our lofty perch, we could see three species of sunbird flitting from flower to flower. We were entertained by two pygmy squirrels chasing each other around the trunk of an adjacent tree. Not too far away, we could also hear the laser-like call of a giant squirrel. At the end of all the excitement, we were belayed back down.
Parang in hand, we went along clearing the tracks that had recently been visited by the elephants. Cardiff student, Luke, did all of the clearing… We spent most of the time photographing critters in his wake!
Slow Loris Telemetry
There are currently two slow loris’ with tracking collars. Each day, the trees in which they sleep are located using radio telemetry. These trees are recorded so that their movements can be studied.
At dusk, I also had the opportunity to return to one of the trees that had been marked during the day, so that we could try and observe whether a collared mother was still with her baby. The mission was a success, and we were able to see both the mother and baby moving from where they had slept going out to feed. We were first able to locate them using their eyeshine then, as they moved along the branches, we were given a clearer view.
One morning, we took a boat across the river and up a tributary to track a collared civet in a nearby oil palm plantation. Once we got close enough to the location of the sleeping civet, its GPS data could be downloaded.
Bearded Pig Fieldwork Trial
PhD student, Dave, was testing out various ways in which he could weigh a bearded pig in the jungle. This is not easy task as an adult can easily weigh over 100kg. A couple of different methods were trialed, both of which required that either Tom or I (or the both of us together) be a substitute pig. Hilarity ensued!
Nighttime Frog Transects
PhD student, Juan, is carrying out a genetics study on frogs. We accompanied him on a couple of transects. These nighttime missions proved to be very fruitful, not just for frogs, but also for seeing other wildlife. On just one transect, we saw eight different frog species, two tarsiers, a tarantula, many bats, and two sleeping kingfishers. On the boat, we also saw two rhinoceros hornbills (Malaysia’s national bird), bushy-crested hornbills, storm storks, three buffy fish owls, and eleven crocodiles (by their eyeshine)!
Night Walks & Night Boat
Finding animals at night can sometimes be easier because you can locate them using eyeshine. These night walks and the night boat were also great opportunities to see many of Sabah’s nocturnal animals. We were even treated to a Malay civet who stuck around the water’s edge for a wee photo shoot.
We want thank everyone at DGFC for having us! It was great hanging out with you all, both in and out of the field.
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References and Further Reading
Cardiff University Website – About – Danau Girang Field Centre – http://www.cardiff.ac.uk/danau-girang-field-centre/about
(Retrieved 17 October, 2017)
Cardiff University Website – Publications by Researchers Working with the Centre – http://www.cardiff.ac.uk/danau-girang-field-centre/research/publications
(Retrieved 19 October, 2017)
Sabah Wildlife Department Website – http://www.wildlife.sabah.gov.my/
(Retrieved 19 October, 2017)
WWF Malaysia Website – The Malaysian Rainforest – http://www.wwf.org.my/about_wwf/what_we_do/forests_main/the_malaysian_rainforest/
(Retrieved 19 October, 2017)