MYCAT CAT WALK: OFF THE RAILS

Posted on Jan 20, 2016 in Blog | 0 comments

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


This blog was first published in Muna Noor’s own blog where you can see more photographs.

As a CAT Walk Leader, I’ve taken out countless volunteers and led them through state forest reserve in the Sungai Yu Tiger Corridor just south of the Pahang-Kelantan border near Merapoh. Usually they’re a mix of individuals and corporate groups; this would be my first group of students….

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The idyllic landscape of Merapoh.

There were 10 in all, mostly female but all veterinary students in their second through fifth year at Universiti Pertanian Malaysia(UPM). Their participation in MYCAT‘s CAT Walk was part of the faculty’s annual activity. Joining them was Emma, Matt’s friend from home, who was in Singapore for business and decided to pay us a visit.

Saturday 7 November – Day 1

Emma and I had arrived in Merapoh at around 9pm, the students at 2am, but despite this, everyone was up tucking into a plate of nasi lemak or roti canai in front of Speleo Inn hostel at 8am as scheduled.

Led by the bubbly Hannah, the students were a well organised group, with a pair of walkie talkies between them, a van, a 4×4 to move them about and 2 administrators to take care of them. They also brought with them a lot of positivity and an unbeatable up-for-it attitude. That’s the way to go!

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Our digs for two nights – Kelarai Hostel located behind Sgi Outdoor.

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Inside the Kelarai hostel.

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Another UPM student group had arrived in the middle of the night and set up camp on the Sgi Outdoor grounds.

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On Saturday’s CATwalk with Mayam and I, 10 young vets in training from University Pertanian Malaysia.

Having discussed suggested routes with Ashleigh Seow, MYCAT’s Programme Officer, the plan was to ply the forest around the highway’s eco-viaduct, and after a lengthy safety briefing by me, we quickly crossed the railway tracks and temporarily ducked underneath the forest cover before emerging on the other side on an old logging road. Mayam, one of the local Bateq guides that MYCAT engaged led the charge.

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The iron bridge and railway tracks. Temporarily closed to rail traffic due to slippage along the lines caused by the frequent rains, we crossed it confidently but quickly all the same.

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Mayam and Emma pounding the red earth logging road looking for signs of animal life and recent human activity

Seasonal rains had softened the ground providing the perfect mould for prints and it wasn’t long before we spotted signs of wild boar and a Malayan sun bear; the print left by their rear paws can easily be mistaken by the uninitiated for the bare footprint of a child.

After an hour of walking under the steadily rising sun we were grateful to enter the forest and crossed a small stream. Mayam had been through here several months before but it was not yet a trail and as such the route was thick with undergrowth.

This is my least favourite kind of forest – dense, dark and damp, a place where I imagine snakes and spiders lurked and tigers avoided. Mayam disagreed. ‘Where men walk cats won’t,’ he said and pointed to dry leaf litter on the ground. ‘This is where a tiger might sleep.’ Mayam would know. He has seen them before. One sitting under a tree caught unaware. When the cat eventually noticed Mayam, Mayam left. I know what I’m trained to do in the same situation but I wondered how I would react – whether I’d be excited or scared.

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Our entry into the denser parts of the forest is marked by a small stream.

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Thick with undergrowth, there was much clambering, ducking and climbing to do….

If the tangle of roots, vines and branches made the going tough, having to push our way uphill only made it tougher. With a flick of his parang, Mayam cleared a trail just tall and wide enough for us. Excessive clearing was not something MYCAT or the Bateq advocated.

We stopped for lunch on the top of the ridge. Mayam had spotted deer here before, which is always a good sign. Deer is tiger food. The rest of us were trying not to be leech food, but one nearly ended up being mine!After working through most of my nasi lemak I spotted a leech looking a little confused at the edge of my rice. Bleh. Time to move.

The remainder of our journey was mostly downhill, but it was steep and slippery. From up in front I’d hear a thud then another followed by squeals of laughter as one student after another lost their footing and fell bum to the ground. Mayam was smiling too. Used to treading jungle paths alone, he explained – when the jungle is filled with laughter and people enjoy what he gets to experience every day, that is something special.

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The UPM crew taking the slopes in their stride.

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Getting crafty we used a palm tree branch to steady ourselves and helps navigate the slippery slopes.

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Mayam improvises and makes use of this palm plant to guide CATwalkers down a 6-foot drop.

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At the bottom, a play pool for pigs – wild pigs that is. A wallow is a great place for animals such as wild boar and tapirs to cool off.

It was just as we were on our way out that we came across a large abandoned campsite. My first instincts told me ‘poaching camp’ but the thatched roofs suggested otherwise. I had seen this before.

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The deserted camp site of a friend or foe?

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Built by the Bateq, shelters in temporary camps like this one are a place where young Bateq go to learn essential jungle skills.

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Not a wallow but the remains of an old gold panning ditch.

As it turned out it was a makeshift Bateq camp. Set up by Bateq kids and overseen by Bateq women and elders, its location changes every year, but its purpose is the same – to teach the young ones jungle skills.

Just one more obstacle to surmount – crossing the Sungai Yu. Despite the night’s downpour, the river hadn’t risen but there was only one thing to connect either side – a large log. Wading across looked equally treacherous so with a sense of trepidation we nervously inched our way across one by one. It was an exciting way to end an adventurous day out.

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The final hurdle before exiting the forest – crossing the Sungai Yu. With little more than wits and a desperate desire not to lose our balance and fall in the water, we all got a taste of the circus as we inched our way to the other side.

At the cars we said goodbye; the students had other plans the following day. They were going caving with Sgi Outdoor. It would be just the three of us tomorrow – Emma, Mayam and I.

Sunday, 8 November, 2015 – Day Two

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Mayam ponders the future of the Sungai Yu Tiger Corridor as a piece of plastic tape marks out the route for possible development.

Sunday CAT Walks are shorter than Saturday CAT Walks and span only half a day seeing as Monday is a school night. On this occasion, Emma and I also had the added urgency of a 6pm dinner date back in the concrete jungle, so it was important to be time conscious today.

Mayam and the other Bateq guides that MYCAT engage have no such need for clocks and watches (although Mayam does have one on his handphone) yet on both CAT Walks, you can advise Mayam of what time you need to exit the jungle and on the dot you’re out exactly as planned. It’s a gift, I tell you!

Emma, Mayam and I explored a different trail in the same area yet it  couldn’t have been more different than that of the previous day. Surrounded by tall trees and little undergrowth, the leaf littered path through the woods was easy to pick out and made for a very pleasant walk.

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A less challenging trail – open and leafy.

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Malaysia’s borders are extremely porous. Thai script etched into this tree suggests these temporary squatters were from up North.

Starting with a steep incline through mostly bamboo forest we emerged on this well-trodden path only to come upon our first of two poacher’s camp along the route. From the evidence that lay scattered on the ground and markings etched on a nearby tree we surmised the former occupants may have been of Thai origin.

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The remains of one of two poacher camps discovered along the trail.

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An old campfire….

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The tell tale clues of foreign poaching….

Both camps were in a state of disrepair, nothing more than a toppling wooden framework tied with vines, and in between the camps was what Mayam suspected may have been a snare trap, snare removed but hole still present.

As per procedure I took note of the coordinates and reported it to the Wildlife Crime Hotline upon our return to KL. Had the poachers still been in the area I would have called it in it as soon as we were a close distance away within range of phone service.

We eventually emerged along the same logging road we took the day before but further up, then made a collective decision to keep going. It was overgrown and there were signs of bear and deer but disturbingly also signs of future clearing. Fresh cut marks in the shrubs suggested people had been here recently and the intermittent use of plastic tape to mark the trail indicated that the route was earmarked for something. In the past tigers and leopards would have used the area to get about development here could change all that.

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A tapir print.

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MYCAT has placed several camera traps in and around the tiger corridor to monitor activity here.

We doubled back and headed back to the car. To continue on our present route would take several hours still. In the distance we could see the hill opposite, denuded of forest. Mayam shook his head and expressed his concern. We hoped that the same fate would not befall this beautiful and critical biodiversity-abundant area.

 

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