Guest blogger: Sarah Sanders, Head of Partner Development Unit - Africa, Asia and UK Overseas Territories
At the beginning of October, my boss had to give a presentation at Kew on the tropical rainforest work we’re supporting around the world. He wanted to speak about the Uluguru mountains because they’re important as a water source to Tanzania, but also because they’re home to plants and animals found nowhere else, including the critically endangered Uluguru bushshrike (UBS). He asked me for a picture and unfortunately I couldn’t help. Despite current estimates suggesting there are 1,200 pairs living in the mountains, there are apparently no photographs available of this elusive bird. I was soon to find out why....
The next day, I headed out to Tanzania. I was lucky to be able to join Nsajigwa Kyanjola (BirdLife Officer for the Wildlife Conservation Society Tanzania) and Jasson John (Species Guardian) as they prepared for a survey of Uluguru South. (Jasson is one of only a handful of Tanzanian ornithologists so it was a privilege to spend the day with him.) The team were trying to find out if there were any UBS living in the south part of the mountains. It was thought that they were restricted to the northern part, but with the creation of the Bunduki gap in 2007 (a corridor that links the north and south forest reserves), and with two pairs discovered in the south in 2010, it was now time to see if the birds had spread.
As a starting point, Jasson suggested we revisit the points where the UBS were previously spotted so we started our trek at Vinile, a small village at 1,200m which is only accessible by a rough dirt road. Our local guides, Gimbe (who preferred to walk without shoes – better grip – I should have followed his advice as I slipped a couple of times) and Jacob took us on a very steep climb through many shambas (small farmers plots) until we entered the reserve at the Bunduki Gap where we were greeted by a very colourful Livingstone’s Turaco. We quickly found ourselves in the montane cloud forest, where you’d expect to find the UBS as it likes to live in the high canopy and avoid disturbed areas as they’re rather shy. The lush forest in the Gap contrasted starkly to the dry, burnt valley we had driven up further downstream. The mist and the ‘prehistoric’ tree ferns at around 2,000m added to the atmosphere too. Fortunately the fact it’s so hard to access has meant the area has been left relatively untouched.
As we walked, we stopped every couple of hundred metres to try and entice the UBS by playing their call. Despite this being the perfect spot for them we didn’t manage to see any. Jasson thought this was probably because it’s just before the breeding season so they haven’t started to call yet. If they’re this hard to see it is wonder there’s no photos! Some other spectacular forest birds made up for the lack of UBS sightings though, including a couple of Loveridge’s sunbirds, also only found in the Ulugurus.
We may not have managed to see a UBS, but the good news is that despite their restricted range, the population appears to be fairly stable. But it doesn’t mean they’re safe. Their biggest threat is probably climate change which could alter the structure of the forest in the future. As the bird depends on trees only found at a certain altitude it can’t go much higher as the vegetation changes.
It looks like I’ll have to keep waiting to see a UBS. Although Nsajigwa and Jasson will continue searching, I’ll be in the office with the project team reviewing how we’re getting on with our DFID funded Ulugurus project. To find out more about the project, click here.
We’re still searching for a photo of an UBS so if anyone has one, please let me know!
I’ve been working in Harapan Rainforest for three years. I’m a biodiversity officer, which means I keep an eye out for and monitor the wide variety of amazing species that call this rainforest home. From sun bears and hornbills to gibbons and pangolins, I keep an eye out for all of them, but by far my favourite is the Sumatran tiger. I like them so much that if I had to choose between a male tiger and a handsome man, the tiger would win every time!
By nature, tigers are very secretive and solitary, so they're not always easy to find. Part of my daily routine is to set up camera traps around the rainforest, and to go out looking for footprints. Finding a fresh footprint is a little bit scary, but nothing compared to my experience a couple of weeks ago.
I hadn’t planned on going out in to the rainforest that day, but I got this feeling after lunch that I should go and check the camera traps.
I headed in to the centre of the forest with my colleague Karyanto. It’s a long way to go so to help us cover the ground we went on motorbike. After checking the last of the traps, we headed over to the next camera in Sungai Lalan before heading home. We were riding down part of the road that has dense bamboo on either side when there he was – a magnificent male tiger standing on the road in front of us. It’s hard to describe the feeling, but my initial reaction was “wow!” He looked well fed and healthy, and he seemed almost relaxed as he slowly moved off into the forest.
I knew there was a camera trap nearby and I’d hoped we’d been able to capture this amazing beast on film, so I hopped off the bike and collected the memory card. We reviewed the footage back at camp and unfortunately the male tiger we’d seen wasn’t there, but just five minutes before I’d arrived at the camera a group of three tigers had been photographed. We’re not sure, but we think it was a mother and two cubs.
This is only the second tiger I’ve seen and for Karyanto, it was his first. And we weren’t the only lucky ones – a week later, two of the other staff, Djoko and Heri saw one too.
Why we do it
With camera traps set up all around Harapan, we’ve been able to identify 17 different individuals in the forest since 2009. With less than 300 Sumatran tigers left in the world, it just goes to show why projects like ours are so important in helping to protect some of the world’s most threatened species.
One of Harapan's 17 Sumatran tigers caught on film. What a beauty!
If you’d like to help support projects like Harapan then you can donate your green Clubcard points to Together For Trees – our partnership with Tesco to help save rainforests all over the world, from Asia and Africa to the Caribbean.
I love Fridays – it’s the end of the working week, the start of the weekend, and there’s even a chocolate bar dedicated to that wonderful Friday feeling. Wouldn’t it be great to be able to channel that feeling and make it do something for nature? Well this week you can! FSC Friday happens once a year and it’s all about celebrating the world’s forests and promoting responsible forestry. There’s loads of ways you can get involved, from competitions (where you could win an RSPB bug box made from FSC wood) and doing stuff at work to using social media to spread the message. Click here to find out more. So go on, put that Friday feeling to good use and shout it from the tree tops that stepping up for rainforests can be as simple as looking for a logo!
Rainforest Alliance have produced a brilliant film showing that "you don't have to go to the ends of the earth to protect the planet - just follow the frog". It's well worth a watch, so click here.
In the latest posts from the Together For Trees Rainforest Reporter, Gareth meets Gola Rainforest National Park's very own Dr Doolittle and some local heroes, whilst "enjoying" some unexpected sounds of the rainforest. To take a look, head over to the Rainforest Reporter blog.