skip to Main Content
How To Use GPS Mapping For Rainforest Conservation

How to use GPS mapping for rainforest conservation

3 mins read

The Sungai Yu Wildlife Corridor and the surrounding rainforest of Taman Negara and the Titiwangsa Range host a large number of incredible species from tigers to leopard cats, sun bears to porcupines, and even pangolins. Consequently, the Sungai Yu is highly attractive to poachers due to the presence of high-value species and its numerous access points from the road.

Therefore, twice a week, volunteers and research interns from the Merapoh Rainforest Station embark on conservation treks in the Sungai Yu Wildlife Corridor to record human encroachment and species presence.

The animals in the rainforest can be difficult to spot due to their elusive nature and aversion to humans. Luckily, we can find evidence left behind such as footprints, scratch marks on trees, and faeces. Seeing this in person is certainly a unique experience! But, how does seeing a pug mark, scratch mark, or a leopard cat poo contribute to conservation? Or, how can we use animal signs for GPS mapping in conservation?

GPS mapping for rainforest conservation
Sun bear scratch marks

By recording observational data

Let’s talk about the equipment at the heart of this question, the handheld GPS (Global Positioning System), which receives spatial information from GPS satellites to determine the position of the receiver. A GPS can record your tracks and distance travelled by simply pressing a few buttons at the start of a trek. Also, it can mark a specific point on the map by creating something called a ‘waypoint’, a very useful option for animal tracking.

The Handheld GPS can be used to record valuable observational data in the field

For example, when an animal sign is spotted, for e.g., a sun bear claw mark on a forest trail, it gets marked down as a unique waypoint with a special code ‘SUN C F’ – SUN for sun bear, C for claw mark, and F for forest trail. And, we do this every time using specific codes for different markings and terrains.

Evidence of human encroachment is also recorded using the code ‘EN’. This may be snares, pitfall traps, ground holes, tree markings, cleared vegetation or machete cuts, or even camps. Thankfully, our Bateq guides have the incredible ability to determine the age of all these different signs, which help us to avoid recording the same thing twice or more.

By GPS mapping and interpreting data

Stored inside the GPS, we have a map of Sungai Yu with potentially thousands of waypoints containing all sorts of information. So, how do you interpret and use this information? This is where a mapping software comes in. We can use QGIS, an open-source software which allows us to create some pretty impressive GIS maps by using the data collected from our conservation treks.

The GIS map can get a bit busy and confusing after adding all the recorded waypoints. More importantly, it can mask important trends or information on, particularly endangered or valuable species. This can be addressed by mapping in ‘layers’. Usually, we layer our data for each species and share it with the Management and Ecology of Malaysian Elephants and MYCAT (data on Malayan Tigers and Sambar Deer). Furthermore, we can analyse the map to estimate species richness and identify activity hotspots.

By combining data

For now, we combine data collected on human encroachment with our species presence data to best allocate our limited project resources and manpower. For example, we can ensure anti-poaching treks are conducted where they can have the most impact., i.e. where we know a large number of animals pass through or live close by, and where the poachers are most active.

Looking to the future

We’ve talked about how we’re currently utilising GPS mapping for rainforest conservation. In the future, we aim to collect more data, which can help us monitor and understand the long-term population trends of a particular species. Also, we hope to test some of our hypotheses to support evidence-based conservation programmes in the region. For example,

  • Is poaching activity correlated with the activity of particular species?
  • Is poaching activity more common near main roads or trails which can accommodate cars?
  • Are poachers more active during certain seasons?

However, this may not be possible without the continued hard work of our interns and volunteers. So if you’re interested in getting involved, please get in touch!
Back To Top