Leeches and Wild Tigers: Randy Rieches’s Indonesian Adventure For Tiger Conservation

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The San Diego Zoo Safari Park’s curator of mammals, Randy Rieches, has had a fruitful career breeding, protecting, and conserving wildlife here at home as well as in the wild. His latest project to help establish a tiger field conservation project led him all the way to Indonesia, where the situation for tigers is grim. I was able to ask Randy a few questions about his adventure and quickly learned that it was no walk in the park, proving once again that wildlife conservation, while incredibly important, isn’t always glamorous work.

1. What was the purpose of your trip?

I was sent to attend a meeting with Sumatran tiger and rhino conservationists working in Indonesia to find out who we could best partner with in Sumatra on our Sumatran tiger conservation work, which includes setting camera traps to monitor the tiger and rhino populations and studying behavior to better understand where to focus our efforts.

Camera Trap

Camera traps that we are placing in the forest to monitor the Sumatran tigers and the Sumatran rhinos as well as the prey base for tigers. They have to have the metal framework on them to protect them from elephants.

2. What kind of wildlife did you encounter on your trip?

Most of the trip was in the city, however, when we flew to Sumatra we went out to SRS and saw the Sumatran rhinos at the center, which was incredible. In the mornings as we walked on the edge of the forest we were serenaded by primates watching us from the tree tops and even had a very spooky encounter with a Sumatran tiger. As we walked down a path at 6:30 in the morning, we heard a low, guttural growl, which stopped all three of us in our tracks. We listened for a little while when we heard it again right off of the path in the forest. We started backing away very slowly all the while listening to see if it was following us. Luckily, it was not, and we moved off quite quickly. Most likely it was a female with cubs that was telling us not to come any closer, otherwise I am sure we would have had a worse encounter.

We took a boat on the river to Get out to the sites in the forest where we will be setting camera traps. Unfortunately, it started raining while we were out hiking which brought out all of the leeches. I stopped counting at 30 leeches on me during the hike. Not one of my favorite things on the trip. Fortunately, as they say with leeches it means that it is a healthy forest as the leeches must have wildlife to live on, and I must say the leeches are thriving.
The bird and primate life is doing very well in the forest as well as the deer and reptiles.
Boat trip

Out on the river going to check camera traps with the rangers

3. What kind of challenges did you face in the wild of Sumatra?

It is quite hot and humid and when it rains in Sumatra, it’s like someone turned a garden hose on you. However, I still think the leeches were the most challenging part of the trip.

4. What was the most memorable moment of the trip?

Seeing the Sumatran rhinos at SRS was incredible, but I will never forget the encounter with the tiger on our morning walk.

Sumatran rhino

Sumatran rhino out in wild habitat at SRS (Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary in Way Kambas)

5. What did the trip accomplish, or what do you hope it will accomplish in the future?

We met some dedicated conservationists working in the field that we will be working with us to set camera traps to look at the number of Sumatran tigers, the prey base that they feed on, and also get a count on rhinos as well. Overall, the best accomplishment was meeting tiger people and building relationships with them which will streamline our efforts in the region.

Randy & friends at SRS

Randy and the staff that are doing the tiger work in Sumatra

 

Matt Steele is senior social media planner for San Diego Zoo Global. Read his previous blog, Myths About Rhino Horn That Need to Go Away.

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