All Things Change
I’ve been on the Perhentians for a few days now, and it’s fair to say I haven’t settled in yet. It takes time to acclimatise to consistent 30 degree Celsius temperatures, and even more time to get used to the humidity. Running before you can walk in this climate will leave you physically exhausted- especially coming from the comparatively temperate, mild UK.
It’s only been two years, but the islands have changed significantly. Where once there was rainforest, there are now new resorts. As a British citizen, it would be wrong to criticize this development, as we did exactly the same thing many moons ago. Nonetheless, it is still such a shame to see habitats that I knew to be species rich to be destroyed. It hurts a bit, to be honest. Walking from the fishing village to Petani Beach, I came across a group of men clearing vast swathes of the jungle. For what purpose, I’m unsure- perhaps to give the path a better view, or to make way for new resorts. In any case, 100s of metres of jungle are now much thinner, with the vegetation that supported the multiple species of gecko, skink and agamid that lived there wiped out. An ecosystem irreversibly damaged by a few men with machetes and chainsaws. It just doesn’t seem right.
The Perhentians are just a very small fragment of a global process of land-use change, of course, but that doesn’t make the changes we are seeing any less important. It is important that we chart how these changes are affecting local ecosystems, both as a record of change and also so that lessons can be learned from the Perhentians when other islands develop in the future.
On a more positive note, the species list continues to grow apace. Larger team sizes are reaping dividends in terms of sightings, which is simply attributable to having more eyes scanning the area. As a result, we’ve seen more Colugos (Galeopterus variegatus) in 3 days than we saw in 4 weeks in 2014! We’ve also come across two Tree Shrews (Tupaia glis), an incredibly strange, rabbit sized mammal with the agility of a squirrel and the face of a shrew! Reptile wise, the Smith’s Green-Eyed Gecko (Gekko smithii) has stolen the show for me so far, with an incredibly close encounter with a large male last night. The Monitor Lizards have all been relatively small so far, whilst a tantalisingly brief glimpse of some form of supple skink only hints at what lies in store. There are new species on this island, I’m sure of it! The highlight of the expedition for me so far occurred at 7am today, where I was waist-deep in the sea having had a fitful night (never stand in the same ants nest three times in an hour-ouch!) in the hammock. With the dark, rounded bodies of 4 Blue Spotted Stingrays (Neotrygon kuhlii) lurking nearby, imagine my shock (in between a Sea Eagle fly past and a Parrotfish bite), when a baby Spotted Eagle Ray comes swimming past! An absolutely storming sight- a lifetime first for me.
On a more sobering end note, I’ve also discovered two mist-nets already. A worrying sign to say the least- hopefully we won’t find too many more. Research will kick off properly next week, once the final bits of logistics are sorted, and hopefully I’ll have the drone up in the air soon once new batteries are sourced. I’ve found the perfect place for an NDVI attempt, so I can’t wait to have a crack at that!
My images this year have been consistently rubbish so far this year (I blame shaky hands!), so you’ll have to make do with these.
Until next time,
Billy, Pulau Perhentian Kecil, Malaysia.