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Hannah Shapland with a Jade Tree frog, during her Professional Training Year at DGFC in Kinabatangan, Sabah

PTY Feature: Hannah’s Project

PTY Feature: Hannah's Project

By Hannah Shapland from Cardiff University, currently doing her Professional Training Year (PTY) placement at Danau Girang Field Centre (DGFC).

The Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary (LKWS) is a 270km2 sanctuary comprising 10 forest lots of varying degrees of historical disturbance predominantly dominated by oil palm plantations. Despite extensive forest fragmentation and degradation, the LKWS supports an incredibly high amount of biodiversity and is, therefore, the ideal natural laboratory to evaluate the impacts of habitat fragmentation on wildlife populations.

I have always had an interest in herpetology (the study of reptiles and amphibians) as these groups show incredible diversity from physiology to behavioural habits. For my study, I have decided to focus on frogs. They are excellent ecological indicators because they are sensitive to climatic fluctuations and therefore reveal the effects of even small changes to a habitat. The wide variety of frogs in the Kinabatangan also makes them a good group to study as they utilise many different ecological niches. For example, reproduction is achieved in a multitude of ways, with some frogs, like the jade tree frogs, forming foam nests on leaves overhanging water while others, like the rough guardian frogs, transport their tadpoles on their backs to water sources. From litter-dwelling frog species to those high up in the canopy, frog species have different habitat requirements and it's important we preserve those habitats which support the highest biodiversity.

Hannah Shapland with a Harlequin Tree frog, during her Professional Training Year at DGFC in Kinabatangan, Sabah
Hannah with a Harlequin Tree frog
Cinnamon Frog, taken by Hannah Shapland in Kinabatangan, Sabah, during her placement at DGFC
Cinnamon Frog in the Kinabatangan, Sabah (Photo by Hannah Shapland)

This is what led me onto my project as I am comparing different ways to sample frog species. Active surveys, which involves walking transects and identifying species along them, is the traditional and standard method which is being used in DGFC for projects such as Regrow Borneo. A second but much newer technique (which is now being deployed) are acoustic recorders called AudioMoths, which record frog calls from which species can be identified.

The aim of my project is to compare both these techniques to see whether the AudioMoths can detect the same species composition as the active surveys; this can lead to ongoing frog monitoring that requires fewer staff and volunteers in the field and therefore larger standardised data sets can be acquired because the presence or absence of species at sites would be known with less sampling effort.

As a still relatively new technology, the accuracy of acoustic monitoring needs to be investigated before widespread deployment. But, acquiring larger data sets of frog calls and the development of sophisticated programmes for their analyses is important because this could uncover new findings such as climatic conditions and patterns in breeding seasons or even the calls of new and previously unidentified species.

Colouring activity for kids at the Sabah State Library during the education event

A Wild Weekend at Tanjung Aru State Library

A Wild Weekend at Tanjung Aru State Library

By Rhys Davies from Cardiff University, currently doing his Professional Training Year (PTY) placement at Danau Girang Field Centre (DGFC).

On 10 December, DGFC and the Sabah State Library hosted a joint initiative called “A Wild Weekend at Tanjung Aru State Library”. The event targeted children as well as university students, providing an opportunity to learn more about the incredible wildlife and forests of Sabah and meet the researchers trying to protect it. 

The children listened to talks about the importance of conserving rainforests and the dangers threatening wildlife across the planet, and what we can do to help. They took part in some interactive games, an animal identification quiz as well as a selection of hands-on activities and colouring. The results of their artwork were very impressive, and many prizes were awarded!

Making bookmarks during the education programme at the Sabah State Library
Making bookmarks during the education programme at the Sabah State Library

University students from Almacrest International College and University College Sabah Foundation were also welcomed. The students had the opportunity to engage with DGFC’s wildlife researchers who live and work at the Centre. Presentations were given by Cardiff University PhD student Maz, a Sabahan whose research project evaluates the carbon and ecological impact of reforestation in Borneo. The second presentation was given by Hong Kong University researcher JiaZhen Lim, who is working on a project studying the role of Sunda pangolins in the emergence of viruses such as SARS-CoV-2 in humans. The discussion that followed also allowed the university students to appreciate and better understand what life in the field of conservation research is really like.

A big thank you to the DGFC education team and Sabah State Library for hosting a wonderful morning, and many thanks to the children, parents and students who attended.

Feature image: A variety of activities were on offer, such as the colouring of Sabah's incredible wildlife. All photos by the DGFC Education Centre.

Regrow Borneo PhD student Maz delivering her talk
Regrow Borneo PhD student Maz delivering her talk
Student receives prize at the joint education event held by DGFC and the Sabah State Library
Prizes were awarded to the children for the interactive games and activities.
Crime Scene Management and Advanced Investigative Techniques Course, held in Kota Kinabalu in December 2022, organized by the Sabah Wildlife Department and Danau Girang Field Centre (DGFC)

Crime Scene Management and Advanced Investigative Techniques Course

Crime Scene Management and Advanced Investigative Techniques Course

A joint Press Release from Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD) and Danau Girang Field Centre (DGFC) 

5–8 December 2022, Kota Kinabalu: Thirty participants of 14 government and non-government organizations concluded the 4th Module of a “Crime Scene and Advanced Investigation Techniques” training last week. The series of trainings was organized by the Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD) and Danau Girang Field Centre (DGFC), with funding from the US Department of State. The full course was delivered by Mr Justin Gosling, a law-enforcement and criminal justice specialist whose experience spans three decades, including service as a British police detective and as a consultant developing counter-trafficking policy and responses for world leading crime prevention organizations including INTERPOL. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the four modules of this programme were spread over three years, covering topics such as Operational Planning, Surveillance, Controlled Deliveries, Crime Scene Investigation and Evidence Management and Continuity, among others.

“The original plan of 5 consecutive modules throughout 2020 had to be adapted due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The first two sessions had to be delivered remotely last year, one session was exchanged for a manual, and finally, we manage to conduct the last two sessions in person this year.”, said Mr Justin Gosling. “This course is essential to tackle serious organized wildlife crime and provide a comprehensive range of tactics that the enforcement officers can use. The enthusiasm and commitment of the participants demonstrate they are prepared and willing to take on the scourge of wildlife crimes.”, he concluded.

It is very important for the SWD officers, and for those from other agencies that come across wildlife crimes, to work together and continue learning and practicing methods that will help secure arrests, prosecutions and convictions. This series of trainings has enabled this. The continuity of support from the agencies and participants throughout the four modules provided a unique opportunity to strengthen the collaboration between agencies; it was a forum to exchange experiences where junior officers learnt from the most experienced ones.

This training is part of the Program “Boosting Enforcement and Forensic Capacity to Deter Wildlife Trafficking in Sabah” which has been running since 2019 and is funded through the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL). Dr Milena Salgado Lynn, DGFC’s Program Manager noted that “Unlike the Royal Malaysian Police, agencies like the Sabah Wildlife Department, Sabah Forestry Department and Sabah Parks have no academy or college their personnel can attend to learn the topics and techniques covered in these modules. Given their role in law enforcement for wildlife crimes, courses like this one are necessary and Danau Girang Field Centre is very pleased to organize them.”

A total of 45 participants were trained through the whole program and provided with a manual, in English and Malay, covering all the topics. Participating agencies included the Sabah Wildlife Department, Sabah Forestry Department, Sabah Parks, Department of Fisheries, PERHILITAN, Sarawak Forestry Corporation, Royal Malaysian Customs Department, Malaysia Maritime Enforcement Agency, Eastern Sabah Security Command, General Operations Force, Royal Malaysian Police, Marine Police, WWF Sabah and Danau Girang Field Centre. The INL funded program will end next year.

-ENDS-

_______________________________________________

For more information on this press release, please contact:

Dr Benoit Goossens
Danau Girang Field Centre

contact@dgfc.life

 

Crime Scene Management and Advanced Investigative Techniques Course, held in Kota Kinabalu in December 2022, organized by the Sabah Wildlife Department and Danau Girang Field Centre (DGFC)
Mr Justin Gosling, a law-enforcement and criminal justice specialist, debriefs participants at the course, which is part of the “Boosting Enforcement and Forensic Capacity to Deter Wildlife Trafficking in Sabah" program.

 

Crime Scene Management and Advanced Investigative Techniques Course, held in Kota Kinabalu in December 2022, organized by the Sabah Wildlife Department and Danau Girang Field Centre (DGFC)
Participants attend the earlier sessions of the Crime Scene Management and Advanced Investigative Techniques Course remotely.

 

Crime Scene Management and Advanced Investigative Techniques Course, held in Kota Kinabalu in December 2022, organized by the Sabah Wildlife Department and Danau Girang Field Centre (DGFC)
Participants practicing evidence collection

 

Crime Scene Management and Advanced Investigative Techniques Course, held in Kota Kinabalu in December 2022, organized by the Sabah Wildlife Department and Danau Girang Field Centre (DGFC)
Participants practicing arrests and vehicle searches

Royal Holloway students faced with theft of fruit baits

Royal Holloway students faced with theft of fruit baits

by Rhys Davies

This year, Danau Girang Field Centre (DGFC) was pleased to welcome students from Royal Holloway, University of London, for their inaugural two-week field course.

The students joined some of DGFC’s ongoing research projects and spent time tracking pangolins, observing orangutans and going on boat trips along the river to observe the many species of primate. Later in the week, the students gave presentations about their own projects, which included the territoriality of Carpenter bees, the reaction of ants to different predation threats, gecko behaviour and millipede uncurling latency. The projects provided the group with a taste of tropical biodiversity research, and exposed them to some of the challenges that can be faced, such as the theft of fruit baits by the Centre’s resident long-tailed macaques!

Royal Holloway Field Course students at a Regrow Borneo site
Course participants visit the Sungai Pin Regrow Borneo site (Credit: DGFC)

The students thoroughly enjoyed their unique learning experience and DGFC looks forward to welcoming the next cohort of students in 2023. Royal Holloway Borneo Field Course convener Dr Steve Portugal said “We were amazed at the biodiversity immediately surrounding Danau Girang Field Centre, and the variety of activities on offer. We particularly enjoyed the boat trips and can’t wait to come back next year”.

Royal Holloway Field Course students with DGFC staff
Royal Holloway Field Course participants with DGFC staff (Credit: JiaZhen Lim)
Royal Holloway students at DGFC go on a night walk in a plantation
A night plantation walk. Nocturnal and elusive animals such as the Leopard cat can sometimes be spotted. (Credit: JiaZhen Lim)

This story was first published in Jungle Times Issue #144 (September-October 2022) and has been edited for the website.

British poet, novelist and author Ruth Padel visits DGFC

British poet, novelist and author Ruth Padel visits DGFC

In September the centre welcomed British Poet, novelist and author Ruth Padel and her daughter Gwen Burnyeat, a post-doctoral anthropologist at Oxford University. Ruth is the great-great-granddaughter of Charles Darwin, a former trustee of the Zoological Society of London, and a current trustee of New Networks for Nature. During their two-day stay, the pair took part in project work such as changing camera traps, a plantation walk, and primate and night boat surveys and also looked for signs of Bornean elephants – which is the main purpose of Ruth’s trip here.

Ruth delivered a talk about tiger conservation to Danau Girang Field Centre (DGFC) staff and volunteers, reading several extracts from her book “Tigers in Red Weather” (2005). She was even kind enough to donate a signed copy to the centre’s library! Ruth visited DGFC as part of her research in Southeast Asia for her upcoming book about elephants. “I really want to write a book that makes a difference to how people think about nature and elephants”, she said. The next stop on her trip was Thailand.

Visitors to Danau Girang Field Centre include Ruth Padel
Left to right: Dhivi, Gwen and Ruth (Credit: Rhiannon Peacock)

Coinciding with Ruth and Gwen’s stay was veterinary student Dhivijah Sivadas (we call her Dhivi), who stayed at the centre for two weeks. Dhivi is about to enter her third year of vet school at Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) and hopes to become a wildlife vet upon graduation. During her two-week stay, Dhivi gained experience in pangolin tracking, camera trap setup and mist netting surveys; she said “My favourite activity was the mist netting surveys because of all the different types of birds I was able to learn how to handle”. Dhivi was a wonderful, if brief, addition to DGFC and we hope to see her again.

This story was first published in Jungle Times Issue #144 (September-October 2022) and has been edited for the website.

Joint visit by Cardiff and Wyoming to explore research collaborations

Joint visit by Cardiff and Wyoming to explore research collaborations

From 27–30 October, Danau Girang Field Centre (DGFC) welcomed a joint visit from Cardiff University and the University of Wyoming (UW) to continue exploring a collaboration between the field centres of the respective universities. This follows a visit by Cardiff to Wyoming in the spring. Wyoming operates the University of Wyoming-National Park Service (UW-NPS) Research Station in the Grand Teton National Park, US.

Visiting from Wyoming was Vice Provost for Global Engagement Dr Isadora Helfgott, Director of the Biodiversity Institute Professor Brent Ewers and Dean of the HAUB School of Environment and Natural Resources Professor John Koprowski. From Cardiff University was Pro Vice Chancellor (PVC) for International and Student recruitment Professor Rudolf Allemann and Head of International Partnerships Anne Morgan.

A series of presentations were delivered from both Cardiff and Wyoming members on their respective work and fields of studies.
A series of presentations were delivered by both Cardiff and Wyoming members on their respective work and fields of study. (Credit: Jack Gibbon)
Delegation from Cardiff and Wyoming visit the Regrow Borneo reforestation site.
The delegation had the chance to meet the Regrow Borneo planting team and get involved with reforestation efforts at the Sungai Pin site. (Credit: Rhiannon Peacock)

During their stay presentations were given about Regrow Borneo, the Leopard Cat Project and various Wyoming University projects. The delegation visited several Regrow Borneo sites and was able to assist in tree-planting efforts, which was a particularly memorable moment for all.

Field centres like DGFC and UW-NPS are important for students and as PVC Allemann commented “Universities often provide students with education and a piece of paper but they should do more than that in terms of experience, innovation and include the whole issue of doing things in a sustainable way”. With this ethos in mind, Wyoming and Cardiff are keen to work together. Talks about the collaboration were very positive; Vice Provost Isadora Helfgott said “I think we definitely are going to see more people from Wyoming here. I really hope we will see some collaborations on the teaching and research front. I would love for us to see some folks from Cardiff and Malaysia coming to UW and bringing what they know to us so that we learn from them while also allowing us to be part of the global network that Benoit and his team have established here”. Moreover, as Dean Koprowski puts it “The opportunity to connect with others, the problems we face, that society and the world faces are not the kinds of problems that one person solves; it takes a willingness to work with others and to do that you have to start by building relationships and that’s really what this has been about”.

Delegation from Cardiff and Wyoming at Danau Girang Field Centre (DGFC)
Left to right: Benoit Goossens, Isadora Helfgott, T.C. Hales, John Koprowski, Brent Ewers, Rudolf Allemann, Anne Morgan, John Robertson, Amaziasizamoria Jumail. (Credit: Rhiannon Peacock)

This story was first published in Jungle Times Issue #144 (September-October 2022) and has been edited for the website.

Maz and Amanda start their PhDs

Maz and Amanda start their PhDs

Our very own Maz and Amanda have both begun their PhDs at Danau Girang Field Centre (DGFC) after being awarded scholarships by the Office of the Vice-Chancellor, Cardiff University.

Maz’s PhD will assess the effects of forest restoration on biodiversity and ecosystem function at different stages of restoration as an integral part of the Regrow Borneo initiative. Although there are many reforestation efforts being undertaken in Borneo, there are very few intensive studies such as this, which are evaluating the benefits to the ecosystem including the levels of carbon sequestration as regeneration occurs.

The title of Amanda’s PhD, “The ecology of small sympatric felids in oil palm dominated landscape”, follows her passion for wild cats and her previous experience when undertaking her master’s degree when she played a lead role in DGFC’s leopard cat project. This PhD project is exciting as the five species of wild felids found in Borneo are unique in the way they utilise the plantations and forests around DGFC.

Amanda and Maz start their PhDs at the Danau Girang Field Centre

This story was first published in Jungle Times Issue #144 (September-October 2022) and has been edited for the website.

Pangolin project allows better understanding of viral transmissions

Pangolin project allows better understanding of viral transmissions

In collaboration with the School of Public Health, University of Hong Kong (HKU), Danau Girang Field Centre is exploring the potential role the Sunda or Malayan pangolin plays in the emergence of SARS-CoV-2 and other viruses in humans.

This research was commissioned in direct response to a study published by our colleague Dr Tommy Tsan Yuk Lam (HKU), (Lam et al., 2020), which reported that SARS-CoV-2 related coronaviruses were detected in confiscated Malayan pangolin carcasses seized in China during 2017-2019.

Members of the joint DGFC & HKU research team

The aim of the project is to discover whether the viral strains found in the smuggled carcasses are the same as those found in wild pangolins here, in the Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary, or could originate from other species, such as bats or small rodents which share the pangolins’ habitat and sleeping sites.

The study involves identifying potential pangolin sleeping sites and then installing camera traps to confirm occupancy. Initial recordings show that several species share the burrows and tree hollows with pangolins; the most significant being bats. Bats are infamous as propagators of disease, and the Horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus affinis) is of particular interest because it is known to carry a strain of COVID that is closely related to the SARS-CoV-2 which was found in the samples of smuggled pangolins.

In addition, small mammal traps are also set in the immediate area to identify other species which could share the local habitat and sleeping sites such as mice, rats, shrews and squirrels. Before their safe release, blood samples are taken from the captured small mammals for analysis. This two-and-a-half-year investigation will determine the relationship between species and provide a better understanding of the possible pathways for viral transmission with the aim of predicting the potential level of risk to future outbreaks.

Adapted, by John Robertson, from the project update that first appeared in Jungle Times Issue #144 (September-October 2022).

The pangolin has been classified as Critically Endangered in the IUCN RED List of Threatened Species since 2014.

New efforts to monitor carbon launched at Regrow Borneo sites, and more!

New efforts to monitor carbon launched at Regrow Borneo sites, and more!

The second phase of Regrow Borneo’s carbon monitoring study began with the arrival of Dr TC Hales (Cardiff University), a leading scientist in the field of carbon sequestration and co-Chair of the UK-registered registered charity, Regrow Borneo.

Assisted by Maz, one of Danau Girang Field Centre (DGFC)’s Senior Research officers, they began collecting above and below-ground material for analysis from two of the original reforestation plots, Laab Swamp and Kaboi Lake. Both plots are over 30 minutes by boat from DGFC and were cleared and planted, in early 2021, by our project partners and community-based cooperative, KOPEL, based in the local village of Batu Puteh.

Sampling involves the collection and measurement of the below-ground biomass of the roots and the carbon content of the soil by excavating regular-sized pits, while above-ground biomass is measured from collected leaves and deadfall. This work is both hot and heavy going given the tropical heat and near 100% humidity and each site can take a day to complete! Sampling will be carried out each year across all the Regrow Borneo sites with the aim to determine the volume of carbon sequestered per hectare against time.

Along with Prof. Benoit Goossens, Dr TC Hales is also Maz’s PhD supervisor whose project is to evaluate the impact of reforestation within the Regrow Borneo initiative.

The Regrow Borneo Project is not only looking at the benefits of reforestation regarding improved carbon absorption but also the benefits to wildlife.

Biological surveys involve regular visits to the Regrow Borneo sites, during the night and very early morning, to undertake the following surveys:

  • Transect walks to identify the presence and species of frogs
  • Setting traps for the safe capture, identification, and release of small mammals
  • Checking pitfall traps for insects (especially dung beetles, a key indicator to a healthy micro-habitat ecosystem)
  • Mist-netting to identify the visiting birds

These surveys are further supported by using acoustic monitoring, a relatively new introduction to wildlife surveillance, which can identify the presence of frogs, birds and other animals thus complementing these more conventional methods.

The Regrow Borneo project offers a more holistic approach rather than simply growing trees to store carbon. It seeks to understand how community-based tropical forest restoration can improve biodiversity, sustain local livelihoods, and improve our scientific understanding of the environmental, economic and social impact.

The project is primarily sponsored through the generous donations we receive via the UK- registered charity ‘Regrow Borneo’. Please consider making a gift by donating here, perhaps to offset your carbon from taking a recent flight, and/or if you would like to learn more about this fascinating study, please watch the Regrow Time series on YouTube.

Adapted, by John Robertson, from the project update that first appeared in Jungle Times Issue #144 (September-October 2022).