Tracking wildlife in Lao - Day five: Camp 6

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ImageFeb. 8, 2007* - Second day of transect for us and third for the team. Arlyne and I joined a different group today, while Tony and Jim joined our group from yesterday. Our most interesting viewings today were Brown Hornbills – big birds about 70 centimeters tall, with a tucan-like beak, and sitting very high up in the trees – and a Giant Black Squirrel, just sitting there, with its large, bushy tail that made it look kinda like a skunk from where I was sitting (with my binoculars about 200 meters away.) The animals were so beautiful! I never imagined getting this excited about seeing a bird, squirrel or monkey, particularly when they are hundreds of meters away! But it’s exciting stuff! Like Tony says… the “WOW” factor: that moment when you first say “wow” and your perspective changes forever….

Perhaps almost as amazing as seeing the wildlife is noting the talent of these men in spotting things that are hundreds of meters away (granted they used to hunt for a living). While they have binoculars as well, they mainly spot the animals with their bare eyes, it’s incredible! I could barely see the hornbill at first, and they could just tell from hundreds of meters away, that high up on a tree, was a silhouette next to some leaves (which was a hornbill). I guess Arlyne and Tony are right; these are just the skills that they develop on a daily basis.
Lao Jungle Diary 5

Back at camp we follow the same routine from yesterday: bath and sit around the fire. I asked Arlyne and Tony why it wasn’t as easy as I first imagined spotting the wildlife, and they explained that it’s probably due to heavy hunting, meaning less animals to see and also that they are more careful at hiding from view. Hopefully the WMPA’s protection efforts will allow the wildlife to recover….

After dinner we gathered around and thanked the transect team for hosting us, and got and gave feedback on what’s working, what’s not, how things can be improved and what type of support is needed. I was also able to talk to and interview some of them, with the help of Jim’s useful translation skills, which was a good way to get a sense of what they thought of the work they were doing.

Tomorrow will be the last day of this trip, and even though there is still one more day left, I can’t help but feel a bit nostalgic already about leaving Camp 6. Like I told the group today (in Lao!) this was a terrific experience for me, my first time in the Nam Theun 2 Watershed… I learned so much from the group and got to see a lot of very neat wildlife (exciting stuff!) I may sound a bit naïve here, but it’s true, this was an incredibly enjoyable and eye-opening experience to view wildlife, understand the importance of conservation and experience the day-in day-out work to preserve a unique area like the NT2 Watershed, surrounded by an incredibly passionate group of people who deeply believe in what they are doing! Ok, time to hit the sleeping bag!

--To be continued

(* This diary was originally published in the World Bank's Lao PDR site)

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