One of the undoubted enormous privileges of my job is that I do get to see some of the fantastic work that the RSPB does with its partners around the world.
I’m currently in Harapan Rainforest, in southern Sumatra, Indonesia, and standing in the midst of perhaps around a fifth of the last remaining area of this particular type of forest. It’s hot (around 35 degrees in the shade today), humid (feels like 100%!) and windless. At 1000km squared, Harapan is large and very impressive. It's not pure primary forest - it was partially logged before the RSPB, BirdLife International and our Indonesian partners, Burung Indonesia, persuaded the Indonesian Government to change its logging policy and allow us to manage the area under an ecosystem restoration licence. Ours were the first two granted and we’ve set a trend, with more in the pipeline.
But why Harapan and why is it special? Harapan is technically a lowland dipterocarp forest - in plain English, it's some of the most diverse, tallest, spectacular and now threatened rainforest on the planet. This type of rainforest was felled so quickly that most of lowland Sumatra has been entirely cleared of original rainforest in the last fifty years. To see these giant tress fallen is enough to bring you to tears. Thankfully, we have secured some of what remains, but the battle is not over yet - more on this soon.
It may be a rare habitat, but it's still full of amazing wildlife. So far, the bird list has reached over 300 species - easily more than the number breeding in the whole of the UK. Some of these birds are just incredible and the hornbills are my personal favourite, especially the rhinoceros hornbill. When it flies overhead, it sounds like a mute swan at home, its wings wishing in the air, and it’s almost as big.
Rhinocerous hornbills (Tim Laman)
The list of mammals that call Harapan home is perhaps even more impressive - over 55 species. Pride of place is the Sumatran tiger. Very few people ever see a Sumatran tiger - the forest is so thick and the tigers so canny that a glimpse of one is the event of a lifetime. One of our brilliant team on the ground, a lady by the name of Elva, is one such lucky person. Travelling back to camp one evening by motorbike in the dark, a male tiger walked across the road in front of her. Who was more surprised is difficult to judge from her account - the tiger stopped, stared intently, and then walked off to disappear into the night. She’ll treasure the memory for years.
We have at least 16 tigers in the forest. We know this because Elva and her team have set up a network of camera traps - strategically placed digital cameras with infrared sensors that photograph movement within their range 24 hours a day. Elva can identify the different tigerss by the stripes alone, but you have to make sure you compare the right with the right or the left with the left side, as the stripes are not identical on both sides of a tiger! One of the most exciting shots captured so far? A female and two cubs.
Along with other cats - clouded leopard and leopard cat - we've spotteed tapirs, deer, rodents and even pheasants with these spy-cameras. There’s one animal who doesn’t like this prying - the Asian elephant. They're rare in Harapan, but we've managed to capture them on camere. Click here to check out our post from a couple of weeks ago to find out what happened when we did!