How do you find a two and a half metre needle in a haystack that is 160 square kilometres in size? It seems impossible. What about if you are then told that you are looking for a needle that might not be a needle. It might be a safety pin or a nail or a hair clip. It seems even more impossible, especially when the needle might not even be in this comparatively small haystack, it could be in a considerably larger neighbouring haystack…
However, this is the task we have set ourselves…
In the early years of my life, I suffered from multiple bouts of an ear condition known as Acute Otitis Media (AOM) which dulled my sense of hearing for a very long time. It would get treated by the doctors and then it would come back again and again. After a significant period of time suffering with this condition, the doctors made the decision to place an implant into both of my inner ears to aid with the problems and restore my hearing. It worked. From that moment forward, everything changed to the point where my quiet world had been transformed into an overwhelming place where everything and everyone was now shouting. It is this memory that has given me a deep appreciation for sound and communication and how important it is.
During my career as a zoo keeper, I always felt that sound was overlooked. When it was appropriate to do so, I would use audio clips of animals to enrich the lives of those in my care. This could be playing the sounds of an animals preferred prey species or the different vocalisations of the same species to encourage a response. The results were quite often mixed but it was always incredibly interesting.
Now that my career as a zoo keeper has been put on hold and The Sumatra Camera Trap Project is my conservational focus, I have been wracking my brains as to how I could apply the sense of sound into our current project.
And then I had an idea that came to me late one night.
Panggilan Harimau or in English, Call the tiger.
The basic idea
To capture the sounds of the vocal repetoire and specific vocalisations of captive Sumatran tigers and to broadcast these sounds into the primary rainforest in conjunction with a camera trap in the hope to entice a tiger into view.
We were given a list of six target species by the local governing body that they would hope for us to capture evidence of. The evidence of these animals would make a greater case for increased protection of this biodiversity hotspot.
Our project has already had some great success in confirming a new population of sun bears in the wild and we are incredibly proud of that but we are eager to prove the existence of all six of our target species.
In the case of the tiger, this is a tall order. We are fully aware that it may not even exist here. The only evidence of the tiger’s presence in Isau Isau Nature Reserve is anecdotal from the local population and reports from elder hunters dating back up to 50 years. The tiger is the most well known and charismatic of the species on our list and an image capture of a wild Sumatran tiger will go a very long way to improving the protection for this area much faster than the other target species, as well as increasing funding for our own project. It is evidence of these six target species which will gain protection for ALL of the species that make Isau-Isau Nature Reserve their home.
Why use soundclips over more traditional bait?
Walking through a jungle when we have already confirmed the presence of large and extremely aggressive carnivores with some form of a bait would be simply too dangerous. Although sun bears are the smallest bear species, they are still capable of inflicting horrific damage to a human being. Audio is, as far as I am aware, rarely used in a project of this nature so it is about trying to do something new to generate interest in our project.
I have been talking with some talented sound engineers from around the UK about designing and building a unit capable of what we need. It is a challenging project for them for a number of reasons but we are working together to find a solution. As for the sound clips themselves, we are working in conjunction with our collaborators (yet to be announced), to record as many vocalisations as possible. These will then be placed into an mp3 file on a loop of (at current time) 3 hours.
What if it falls flat and you find nothing?
We will use the device to target other species using similar methods in the future. This is by no means bound to just the tiger.
Panggilan Harimau will effectively be adding an intermittent magnet into that gigantic haystack in an effort to target these species individually. If the needle goes close enough to the magnet, it will hopefully be attracted by the broadcasting sounds.
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Thanks for reading!
Anthony, Owner and Co-founder of The Sumatra Camera Trap Project