After visiting Bangkok last summer I never thought I'd find myself here, living in the city on a 3 month internship. But here I am. While boarding the plane from the UK and saying goodbye to friends; I knew it would be a very short term move, but I also knew this trip was the beginning of a new chapter as a conservationist. I've never lived in a different country; I've visited many places but never made somewhere other than Blighty my home before, so I was excited and a little nervous. Bangkok takes a few days to adjust to; its very different from a life in London but after a while it does begin to feel like home; once you take the leap right in.
I had no idea what to expect from the internship within an NGO. I've worked in television for a number of years, but after a complete new 'life plan' & starting a Masters in Conservation; I son found myself arriving at the Freeland Foundation offices ready for my new path. My Msc focus is in Wildlife Trade so this organisation is a great opportunity to see frontline work carried out to protect tigers and other endangered species. I'm working within the Surviving Together program which focuses on protected area conservation in Eastern Thailand.
This program works with training rangers, monitoring of tigers and other species, and community outreach projects. These projects are building a stronger relationship between the parks, rangers and local communities involving everyone to work together in protecting tigers and their habitat in Thailand. The team regularly conduct field visits to protected areas in Eastern Thailand where Surviving Together works and over the last few years they've been monitoring various species within the parks using camera-trapping and data monitoring systems which document some of the last wild Indochinese tigers.
Unfortunately, these cameratraps also capture poaching activity which, over the past year, has increased rapidly as more poachers enter the forest to poach Siamese rosewood. Rosewood poaching has quickly become one of the biggest challenges that these parks face, threatening this rare tree species, but also tigers and other wildlife in these parks. Even during our visit, we witnessed armed poachers being brought out of the forest by rangers on patrol. I toured sites where majestic, century-old trees had been felled, some ending up piled in planks in massive storage facilities where rangers have seized lumber being trafficked out of the forest.
It vividly brought to life the problem at hand and made me feel a whole new level of respect for the work protected area rangers do in these protected areas every day. They are working on the front lines to conserve and protect the biodiversity of these forests and put their lives at risk to keep the armed poachers from wiping out these endangered species.
The heavy rains during this time of year are constantly transforming the landscape, in some cases washing out roads and turning small streams into raging torrents. This made getting to some of Freeland’s cameras quite difficult, forcing the rangers and monitoring team to navigate swollen rivers across fallen trees. These are the elements that the park rangers work with daily.
As a budding conservationist, it was amazing to spend time in these protected areas and develop new skills. With the Surviving Together wildlife monitoring team, I was able to learn how to identify wildlife by scats and tracks, including tiger, dhole, and banteng, all part of Thailand’s amazing natural heritage, but, unfortunately, also listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List. During our field-based work, we documented prominent tiger tracks which we used to create plaster casts. Made with plaster-of-paris, these casts are normally used by parks to create a physical record of tiger presence.
After a few long, challenging days in the field, I arrived back in Bangkok to Freeland’s headquarters, though it is never long until its back to the forest again. Surviving Together is a busy department with several projects in Eastern Thailand alone. Data is analysed, reports are compiled to inform supporters of progress made, meetings are held with partners, and, just when the hiking boots have dried, it is time to lace them up again. Although the sad truth is without Freeland and the work that these frontline rangers carry out, it could be a very different story for tigers and other endangered species here.
I still have 2 months to go in my internship and already I feel rich in knowledge and experience and soon we'll be moving our office temporarily up to Khao Yai National Park for the duration of the rangers training course (2-3 weeks). With the work I'm doing with Freeland I really don't spend much time with my feet on the ground in Bangkok but slowly I am getting to really love this city.