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Small Pleasant Surprises from First Fieldwork

By Mohamad Hisyamuddin Mohammad Nasir, Programme Assistant

Mohamad Hisyamuddin Mohammad Nasir joins the Panda family in 2019  as a Programme Assistant in Sarawak Conservation Programme. Two weeks before the country went into lockdown or movement of control on 18 March 2020 due to  COVID-19, he was out doing fieldwork, installing camera traps in the interiors of Kapit Division, Sarawak. While trekking in the forest, Hisyam slipped and saw something beautiful. This #ThrowbackWednesday, he shared his first fieldwork experience with WWF-Malaysia. 

Hello, my name is Mohamad Hisyamuddin Mohammad Nasir and people normally call me Hisyam for short.  Let me share a bit about myself before I talk about my experience working with WWF-Malaysia.  I've been hiking since I was seven years old and since then, I loved hiking. I admit it can be quite tiring sometimes, but I found after each trip after all the sweat and pain,  it’s worth it once I reach my destination. Moreover,  I love to be surrounded by the forests. As such, whenever I see forests being cleared unsustainably for development, I see it as an eye sore and it breaks my heart.

I joined WWF on 13 November 2019. Prior to this, I worked at a factory for a few years and then I moved to join the ecotourism industry for a year. I'm not an animal lover actually but I do really care about other living things,  as I realise  we live and share the same planet.  Why should we harm animals? Such actions are akin to an unjust king who rules his kingdom and people with an iron fist.

In all honesty, I don’t really know much about WWF’s work and conservation in general  until I worked for a social enterprise that is registered as a tour operator with conservation and research experience. From there, I had the opportunity to learn more about the environment and importance of conserving our natural resources for our own good and all living things. I have seen a great argus pheasant (Argusianus argus), kept at an eco-resort, but never in the wild.

In the first week of March 2020, four of my colleagues and I packed our backpacks, rations and camera traps for a field trip to the interiors of Kapit. The trip was to  collect wildlife data using camera traps in a forest management unit or FMU. Data collected will be used to assist the FMU to develop a wildlife management plan as it strives to achieve sustainable practices. The site is Melatai-Para FMU. The field work is  part of our work to collect biodiversity data for the management and conservation of wildlife within the Heart of Borneo, in line with sustainable forest management.
It was my first trip to Kapit. To reach here, my colleagues and I flew from Kuching to Sibu and from the airport, we travelled by land to the Sibu wharf terminal.  At the wharf, we  boarded an express boat provided by the FMU. And so we’re off on a nine-hour journey to the FMU  camp.  I was excited and all smiles but not too long, as my greatest weakness strikes - coldness.

From the looks of the boat,  it doesn't feel like it would be very cold. So I ended up outside the seating area where there is an open area for smokers. As much as I hate the smell of cigarettes, I rather be outside than in the freezing cold inside.  However, I was not alone. After a couple minutes, another colleague also could not stand the cold and joined me outside.  We stayed outside for three hours until we reached Kapit wharf terminal to refuel and pick up some passengers.

Our actual fieldwork in the FMU started on 8 March. As we were trekking with my teammates and guides, Nordin and Serit in one of the FMU’s coupes, I slipped down a hill. Guess what! I found a feather of one of the rarest birds in Sarawak, the great argus pheasant (Argusianus argus). The feather was still in good shape and hence, a pheasant must pass here a day before  or just a few hours ago. I knew it right away that the feather belonged to the great argus because it was long and dotted with several big eyes looking shaped from the tip to the end of the feather.

I was so happy and excited when I found it hanging to a branch, almost touching the ground. The feather was camouflaged by the ground, dead leaves and twigs. If I had not slipped down the hill, I would have missed it. I was not injured from the fall and felt lucky that I slipped as I got to see and photograph a great argus feather.  This pheasant is a near threatened animal on the IUCN Redlist and this species can be found in Southeast Asia. In Sarawak, this bird is listed as a totally protected species under the Sarawak Wild Life Ordinance 1998. This means one cannot hunt or keep this bird dead or alive, including its parts or feathers. So after taking some photographs for record purposes, I left the feather back to where it was. 

My colleagues and I also encountered a small harmless reptile called bronze back snake (Dendrelaphis pictus) or ular tambang by its local name. At first it was hard for me to spot it even though our guide from the FMU pointed for us where the snake was. All I could see was a wilting palm leaf until the snake hissed its tongue – there it was – nicely hidden between the brown and green leaves. It was fantastic to see how nature works, the snake mimicking itself as a dead leaf waiting for a prey to come by. I quickly took out a digital  camera and quickly snapped a photo of the bronze back snake before continue trekking uphill.

Overall, the trip was both rewarding and challenging. At one point, we had to go off the trail hike and had to climb slippery slopes and waterfalls. It was unfortunate that I did not wear the right hiking shoes. My shoes didn't have lugs and this made it harder for me to climb the waterfall. There was a time  I had to crawl down bushes to bushes as well and this got me dirty and muddy all over. Thankfully, there were many tree roots and veins hanging from the waterfall. Hence my advice to others and reminder to myself is to always have suitable gear for walking and climbing in the rainforests. As I munched on my food later on, surrounded by dense rainforest, I felt that the meal felt so different. I never appreciated much the food I ate in the forest than being in the civilisation.

Overall, the expedition in this FMU was tough as the coupes we trekked are of dense forests with steep slopes between 60 and 80 degrees. The humidity was also very high, making one tired easily.  Nonetheless, I was happy to be surrounded by nature and the wilderness because I have the chance of hearing, seeing or encountering some animals or just their tracks like footprints or dung. In this case, I chanced upon an argus pheasant’s tail and a snake.   I look forward to going back to the forest and retrieving the camera traps. I cannot wait to see what animals there are in the forest here.  

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