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A journey into the jungle for student conservationists

Published: May 15, 2017

Cornwall College Newquay University

Cornish students have swapped the classroom for the tropical rainforests and exotic river habitats of Borneo, taking part in an exciting expedition and research project.

The group of students, all studying wildlife and conservation at Cornwall College Newquay, spent 17 days exploring and studying the areas that surround the Kinabatangan River in Sabah and the coral reefs of Mantanani Island. The annual field trip is part of an ongoing research project coordinated by staff and students from the College for the past seven years. For four wet seasons and three dry seasons, students have undertaken a range of projects surveying amphibians, fish, birds and primates as well as assessing the impact of increasing tourism on the biodiversity and ecosystems of the area.

The area surrounding the Kinabatangan River, recently described by celebrated naturalist Sir David Attenborough as “a vital enclave for threatened wildlife”, is one of only two known places on Earth where 10 primate species can be found. This includes the Bornean Orang Utan, the Proboscis Monkey, Macaques, Maroon Langur and Bornean Gibbon and the newly discovered Bornean ‘Pygmy’ Elephant.

Zoology lecturer Ruth Martin from Cornwall College Newquay, said: “It is a very unusual trip as very few people will ever experience a rainforest in such an authentic and literal way. The field station is only reached by a 90-minute boat ride down the crocodile infested Kinabatangan. There is wildlife everywhere – if you know how, when and where to look! From enormous eagles soaring overhead, to troops of noisy endemic Proboscis Monkeys making nests for the night, to mother & baby wild orangutan watching you, to the biggest butterflies you’ll ever see! This is definitely not a tourist experience and we are privileged to get to know the real Borneo.

Ruth continued: “Lots of people know about the charismatic Bornean animals and there is plenty of research and literature about the orangutans especially. However there is plenty we still do not know about Borneo’s wildlife and so it’s exciting that Cornwall College Newquay have been able to build a body of data over the last seven years about the wider ecosystem of the Kinabatangan River and the wildlife it supports. We are especially interested in the river bird and fish populations, the primate roosting behaviours, and the interactions of frog species in the forest. The students that take part in the expedition are integral to the data collection and as such learn a range of survey techniques.”

During their first few days of acclimatisation, the group visited some key conservation organisations in the area around Sabah: the Bornean Sun Bear Centre, a wildlife conservation and research centre for improving animal welfare and rehabilitation of the Malayan sun bear and Sepilok, a rehabilitation centre for Orangutan. From there, the team travelled to Danau Girang, a field station run jointly between Cardiff University and the Sabah Wildlife Department, where they worked on a range of projects on the Kinabatangan River.

During the second part of the trip, the team moved on to Mantanani Island, where data was gathered on the impact of the increased development of the island as a holiday resort. Spending two days on the Island, the students carried out reef check surveys to look at the impact of an increase in local tourism and the damage that it does to the reef.

Student Tamar Davis, who is currently studying at Cornwall College Newquay said: “The whole experience was incredible and I would recommend it to anyone willing to learn a vast range of survey techniques in a new and exciting environment, surrounded by like-minded and inspiring people. As a group, we have all become closer and have remained in more constant contact than we did before we left, sharing our memories and discussing what conclusions can be made from the data we collected. I am very thankful to the lecturers who made the trip possible and allowed it to be so incredible and valuable.”

For more information on the range of wildlife, conservation and marine science courses available across The Cornwall College Group visit www.cornwall.ac.uk or call 0330 123 2523.

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