With the state of the planet in the 21stCentury, it is not hard to adopt a defeatist attitude or feel helpless when it comes to the future of Earth. We have been given a 12 year window to change what seems like an inevitable chain of cataclysmic events, sometimes it almost feels natural to give up hope.
Approaching the age of thirty, I had given up hope. I was a zoo keeper, working every day with animals when my job ended for personal reasons and I was unemployed. I became depressed that everything I had worked for had come to an end and that's when I met Pungky. Pungky instantly became like a brother to me. Among other things, Pungky is an environmental educator from Indonesia, currently living a semi-nomadic life travelling between isolated communities in the region of South Sumatra. I was sure that he was someone that I wanted to work with as he was somebody as we shared the same views on so many conservational subjects. Very soon after meeting, we decided that we should start a project together and so The Sumatra Camera Trap Project was born.
Initially, I sent a single camera trap to Indonesia, not truly knowing if it would get there in one piece after travelling over 7,000 miles through a notoriously difficult mailing system but sure enough, around a month later, the camera had arrived and Pungky had deployed it with a small team of local volunteers into our study area, Isau Isau Nature Reserve.
Isau Isau Nature Reserve is around 150 square kilometres of unresearched tropical rainforest. It is a mix of high and lowland with a central mountain with a summit of almost 1,600 metres. Isau Isau is facing threats on all sides from potential destruction by illegal loggers and plantation owners, not to mention poachers. To my surprise, the only research that had ever been done on Isau Isau was in the early 1990's and all the findings were subsequently lost. It felt like the perfect location and the idea of what lived inside was so exciting.
We were given a list of six target species by our collaborators, the Nature and Biodiversity Agency of South Sumatra and they are the Sumatran tiger, Malayan tapir, Asiatic wild dog or dhole, Sunda clouded leopard, Sumatran serow (a goat-antelope) and the Malayan sun bear.
The first deployment yielded not much in the way of results. A few wild boar and a few small unidentifiable rodents but during the second deployment, we struck lucky with the first images of a sun bear captured in the region for over 30 years. We were ecstatic! I remember the feeling of receiving that picture for the first time, I felt extremely emotional and like I was finally doing something good again.
After our first success, we have been extremely lucky with our findings. We have discovered a new population of Binturong or Bearcat as well as a new population of mitered leaf monkey, previously only known in five locations, we had found a sixth! We also got a capture of a Banded linsang, an animal so elusive that is has only been captured on camera in the wild a handful of times.
Arguably our most important discovery so far has been a beautiful image of a Sunda clouded leopard. When I saw the picture for the first time, I got teary. I have always had a soft spot for cats during my career and to find what is certainly a new population of leopards was a little hard to comprehend. It is believed that there is less than 750 clouded leopards left in Sumatra and we had just captured the first ever image of a clouded leopard in Isau Isau.
Our ultimate goal is to upgrade Isau Isau from a nature reserve to a national park. This will strengthen the laws in the area and also provide a dedicated team to protect the forest.
My final thought is this: If you feel that you are ready to give up, just find that thing that will keep you going. There is an incredible quote by Dr. Jane Goodall that goes like this: “"I like to envision the whole world as a jigsaw puzzle with all the pieces of the puzzle scattered all over the place. If you look at the whole picture it is overwhelming and terrifying, but if you work on your little part of the jigsaw and know that people all over the world are working on their little bits of it, that’s what will give you hope.”
Isau Isau is our piece of the puzzle which reignited my hope for the future and I implore you to find yours.
For more information on our project, please check out thesumatracameratrapproject.com or follow us on social media by searching for The Sumatra Camera Trap Project.
Written by: Anthony Hearn