Currently, one of the most important elements of our work at the Merapoh Rainforest Station is wildlife tracking in the rainforest. Be that locating and identifying tracks, scratch marks, and/or dung of different animals. Working in a wildlife corridor like Sungai Yu, it’s important to know which animals are actually using it to travel between sections of forest. A lot of animals that we’re looking for are primarily nocturnal or crepuscular (most active at dawn or dusk) which leaves us with little opportunity to actually see them. This includes big mammals mainly, like Tigers, Tapirs, Leopards. So we’re left searching for their footprints, scratch marks on trees, and their droppings.
Searching for footprints
By far the most common track we find is of the Wild Boar. These animals are absolutely everywhere. The number of times we get our hopes up at the potential presence of a new animal for that trek, before our Batek guide tells us “No. Wild Boar” before chuckling and walking away. At first it’s disheartening, before becoming quite funny as he enjoys our exasperation!
The Wild Boar has a distinctive hoof shape, with a noticeable curve that makes them fairly straightforward to identify. Sometimes they can prove deceptive in the sun-baked mud, or in an area with lots of other tracks. Wild Boar are a highly adaptive species, so it’s not that surprising that we see them all the time. Sometimes
they can even be spotted from the roof of the project house. They are an important prey species for some of the big cats, so it’s great that we find so many of them. Obviously though, we’d like to find evidence of some of the other, bigger, more exciting animals around. Luckily, we find plenty of scratch marks too!
The most common scratch marks we find are definitely more interesting than a Wild Boar. Two species leave the most common scratch marks, and they are probably two of the coolest animals to be found in the forest. The first, and more common, is that of the sun bear.
The smallest of the bear species, the sun bear spends an awful lot of time in the trees. So we’ll often find their claw marks in trees that they’ve decided to climb up. Starting from the ground, you can follow their markings up the tree and imagine them clambering up. Most of the time, though, we find small claw imprints left in the tree bark. Every now and again we find evidence of the bears eating habits in the form of what looks like an exploded tree. When they find a termite nest, the sun bear tears through trees and leaves them splintered with a gaping hole. That the ‘smallest’ bear can do such damage is kind of awe-inspiring! The sun bear plays a really important role in the forest though, nicknamed the ‘carpenter of the forest.’ By eating lots of the termites and ants, they ensure that the trees stay nice and healthy. Plus the holes that they leave provide great nesting hollows for hornbills and flying squirrels. We love finding their claw marks around the place, but truly nothing compares to this next animal.
The other set of scratch marks, and perhaps the most exciting of all markings that we find in the forest, are those of the Malayan Tiger. The excitement on the faces of staff and volunteers when tiger claw marks are found is fantastic. Tigers scratch marks are very clear. Unlike the sun bear, tigers leave long scratch marks on trees that don’t tend to go more than two metres off the ground as they are poor climbers. Instead, tigers leave long scratch marks as they sharpen their claws. A few times now we’ve found the remnants of shredded bark as a tiger has gone to town. Sometimes though, we find a really clear, single swipe along the tree. As the smallest subspecies of tiger, the Malayan tiger is also one of the most endangered. With only between 250-340 left in the wild, it becomes even more important that we find evidence of these critically endangered animals in places like the Sungai Yu Wildlife Corridor.
The other major marking we keep an eye out for in the forest is dung. In my time in Merapoh, we’ve found a pretty wide variety of droppings, but there’s one that definitely sticks out. Stumbling across (or in some people’s cases, into) elephant dung is pretty impressive. The sheer size is something to behold! Once you come across one set though, sometimes you’re lucky enough to walk along the same trail as the herd for a period of time. On an old logging road one day, we were walking along and found a first set. The further we went down the road, the more and more we came across. As well as seeing all of this dung, you can also tell spot signs of the elephants tracks as you’ll find plants and trees pushed over the path or out of the way as they came through. Seeing these things really gives you a chance to appreciate just how big these animals are, and just how much of an impact they have on the forest.
Why it’s important
There are so many amazing animals that we find evidence of in the forests around Merapoh. Tigers, leopards, tapirs, elephants, and sun bears to name but a few of these incredible creatures. All of these are threatened with extinction. The work of places like the Merapoh Rainforest Station helps recognise whether these animals are using the wildlife corridors of Sungai Yu. Tracks, scratch marks, and dung are one of the best ways that we can recognise these elusive creatures. Taking volunteers out to search for, and hopefully find this evidence is incredibly rewarding. It’s always such a pleasure to recognise the moment that someone suddenly becomes aware that they’re trekking through not just the same forests as tigers and elephants, but sometimes in their very footprints. How great is that?