January 15, 2018

Crocodiles, Cameras and Rare Cats: Monitoring Wildlife in RER

Faced with a report of a five-metre crocodile further down the river, most people would head rapidly in the opposite direction. Instead Sidiq Purwanto, aged 25, went off in search of the reptile.

As an Environmental Assistant in RER, it’s Sidiq’s job to monitor the wildlife in the 150,000ha restoration and conservation area.

A tip-off from a local resident led to the search. “A fisherman reported they saw a crocodile and based on the report we planned to put a camera trap there so we could monitor it,” he said. After a 90-minute search by boat they discovered the crocodile, but then came the hardest part: observing it for 15 minutes to determine the optimum location to mount the two camera traps on Serkap River, in the sub-district of Meranti Bay.

“I was terrified. We don’t have much time to install it, but we did it and got a good picture of the crocodile from the camera trap,” he said.

Sidiq has worked for Riau Ecosystem Restoration (RER) for the past two years as an Environmental Assistant. He is responsible for monitoring biodiversity and the environment in the RER concession at Meranti Islands, including camera trap installation. He is also responsible for monitoring the water quality in the area.

For Sidiq, who joined as a fresh graduate from Gadjah Mada University in 2015, working in RER is very challenging. “Monitoring the diversity in RER area is a great experience. Once I spent two weeks in the jungle to monitor the wildlife from mammals to birds,” he said. Typically the team camps in one location for around three days before moving on the next location.

Camera traps play an important role in this process, enabling a far larger area to be monitored.

Sidiq and his team usually check the footage from each camera trap once a month, though each camera has battery power up to six months depending on how often it is activated by nearby movement.

There were 350 camera traps installed in 2015, and a further 79 in 2017, playing an important role in cataloguing the wildlife in this still largely unexplored area. So far RER has recorded 220 species of birds, 107 species of amphibians and reptiles, and 70 species of mammals, including the rare Sumatran Tiger.

Camera traps play an important role in this process, enabling a far larger area to be monitored. For Sidiq, a recent highlight was capturing footage of the rare and endangered Flat Headed Cat (Prionailurus planiceps).

“Recently we got the Flat Headed Cat footage from the camera trap. This is an iconic animal and we want to track them,” he said.


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