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Welcoming A (Not So) Tiny Girl Into This World

“I hope it’s going to be tonight, or tomorrow night.”

That’s what I kept on telling people whenever they asked when Ratu, the pregnant Sumatran rhino, would give birth. Based on calculation from Ratu’s gestation period of Andatu (Ratu’s first calf), she was due last week but there was still no obvious sign of when she would deliver the calf, so all we could do was to wait and see, apart from ultrasound-ing her every few days.

We didn’t sleep well in the last week, worried that Ratu would give birth any night and I had spent some nights going to bed at 2 a.m and waking up at 6.30 a.m only to monitor her condition. However, last week I had a hunch that she would give birth later that night so I took a nap. It was also an educated guess because she showed some behavioral change. So I took a two-hour nap hoping to see a Sumatran rhino calf that night, but unfortunately the pregnant mother changed her mind and wanted to keep her baby inside for a little bit more. That night, I couldn’t sleep and stayed awake watching a rhino sleep soundly through the night. Tricky girl!

Days went by, she was getting more and more restless, and so were we! We were hoping every single day that the calf would be born that night. I communicated with her and did a couple of BodyTalk sessions, only to find out that she did not feel safe with bright lights surrounding her forested enclosure (there were a couple of floodlights installed). I tried to address this issue but some of the staff insisted that the lights were needed. A couple of BodyTalk sessions really calmed her down though, and addressed some of her stress resulted from human’s fear.

Then yesterday, I got another hunch. This one was merely a hunch and there was no educated guess. I successfully took a three-hour nap yesterday afternoon (a piece of cake if you haven’t had enough sleep in the last 6 days) and thought if Ratu was not going to give birth that night or the following morning, I’d spend another sleepless night watching her sleeping and wallowing in the mud – the last thing I wanted to do that night. Well, it was around midnight and Ratu seemed to be restless and sleeping less, so I thought that was a good sign … before she slept again and there was no sign of labor (again! She tricked me twice, that girl!). I waited and waited and waited for almost 3 hours, and she was still sleeping. I started feeling frustrated because of the floodlights, I did not know why but I guess that was a mirror of Ratu’s frustration that I felt. At 3 a.m I was getting sleepy and finally decided to give up, but before going to bed I uploaded a silly picture/status on my Instagram, showing how frustrated I am waiting for Ratu’s calf every night.

Screen Shot 2016-05-12 at 17.32.29

Just after the picture was uploaded, Ratu decided to wake up and walked around her enclosure. I decided to wait a little bit more, but she went behind a big tree and stayed there. It was dark (probably the darkest site where she could avoid the floodlights) and I could not see a thing. I was about to give up again when I heard report that her water broke and there were signs of first stage labor! I was so excited and all the sleepiness suddenly evaporated into thin air!

No words can describe how precious the moments are. From the moment when the calf’s hind legs emerged (it was posterior longitudinal presentation, video here), followed by her small body and head covered in hair, to the moment she started to stand up, fell, stood up again, until finally made her first few steps in this world!! Nature is incredibly amazing, especially when we see an animal birth, they just knew what to do from the very second they are born into this world, without being told or taught by anyone of what they should do. They just knew instinctively. Ratu did not touch her calf for the first couple of hours, and I guessed it was to encourage the calf to stand up and walk towards her to suckle. If she had approached the calf, the calf would not have tried to stand up and walk while it was vital for the calf to use her muscles immediately.

photo-2-ratucalf-resting_sbelcher_watermarked-medium-res

Within less than an hour, the calf really did her best at standing up on her four feet for the first time. It took her less than an an hour and a half to start taking small baby steps, and within 3 hours after birth she had already started suckling. It was funny to see her sniffing Ratu’s belly randomly searching for the teats, not sure where to locate them.

Kudos to the new vet team at Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary! Read more about the birth on IRF’s official press release here.

adinda suckle

So adorable.

So amazing.

So priceless.

Thank you Mother Earth. I hope we, the minority of humans, can continue to preserve the nature while the majority of us are destroying it, even though we are all guilty for that.

PS. I haven’t slept all night as I’m typing this post. Forgive me for a boring-and-not-so-lively story and awful grammar, but I do hope you enjoy the story 🙂

rhino calf wefie copy

The first wefie! I don’t want to disturb the 3 hours old calf so in this case a CCTV wefie works fine as well 🙂

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Volunteer experience #2: Naucrates Sea Turtle Conservation Project

Naucrates is an NGO based in Italy with a project site in Thailand, focusing in turtle conservation since 1996. Their Thailand project is based in an island called Koh Phra Thong (Phra Thong Island) located about 200 km north of Phuket, Thailand. They monitor the beaches in Koh Phra Thong and neighboring islands to find and protect turtle nests, as well as observing wild turtle behavior. When necessary, they also relocate turtle nests to increase the number of hatchlings.

naucrates turtle painting.jpg

Image source: Naucrates

How to get there:
Take a bus to Kuraburi (10 hours from Bangkok, 3 hours from Phuket). Exit the bus station, turn right, find Boon Piya Resort on your right, just about 100-200 meter from the bus station. In front of the resort entrance there’s a small office for Boon Piya travel service where you can arrange taxi and boat to go to Koh Phra Thong. You’ll need a taxi to go to the pier (70 baht/$2 for motorbike taxi, or 150 baht/$4.30 for a car taxi), then a boat to the island (150 baht/$4.30). The boat usually departs around 10-11 a.m but there is no fixed schedule so it is advised to book a day in advance to make sure the boat waits for you. The boat ride takes about one hour and along the way some very lucky people with eagle eyes might spot endangered dugongs.

If you arrive in the afternoon, spend a night at one of the few accommodations in town. Boon Piya Resort and Thararin Resort are within walking distance from the bus station, both cost around 200-500 baht/$6-$13 per night. I stayed at Thararin last time because Boon Piya was full. It is located just 50 meter farther than Boon Piya from the bus station. I found the Thararin’s owner was very friendly. She invited me for lunch and dinner together with her family, then she took me to a watermelon festival in town and later that day to the night market.

In Kuraburi you can find some ATMs, 7-11, and occasional night market where you can buy last minute ’emergency’ stuff for the island, such as flip flops, sarong, tshirt/shorts/long pants, and rechargeable torchlight as low as $3!

1kuraburi pier

The pier at Kuraburi. Get a taxi/motorbike taxi to get here.

2boat ride

The boat ride.

3tapayoi pier

Tapayoi village, one of the villages in Koh Phra Thong. This was where I landed (not in the water, don’t worry!)

 

The accommodation:

There are two accommodation sites. The first one is P Nok’s resort where you get a wooden bungalow shared for 2 people with attached bathroom. There is an upstair common area where you can relax, read books, listen to music, or talk to Nok the owner about his life in the island and how lucky he was when the 2004 tsunami happened. It is about 10-15 minutes walk away from the beach. So you can have afternoon swim and watch the sun set after working.

The second site is homestay at Lion’s Village. You’ll get your own room upstairs with a shared bathroom downstairs. The people at the village doesn’t speak English but they are very nice to hang out with and you’ll be surprised that somehow you just understand each other without speaking a common language.

The activities:

  • Early morning walk and walk and walk, with countless beautiful sunrise during your stay and sometimes accompanied by these cute energetic doggies.
    dog dog

    A dog whose name is Dog. She’s probably one of the sweetest dogs I’ve ever met ❤

    snowy dog

    Snowy, an ultimate crab chaser. She’s never tired!

    When you find turtle tracks and nests you have to record the details. If you have to do night monitoring, don’t miss the starry sky and the milky way.

    DCIM100GOPROG0024508.

  • If you find a nest in a less ideal location, you’ll have to relocate the nest to a better site. We did a relocation when I was volunteering there. You can read my full story here about nest relocation as published by Naucrates blog.
  • Turtle talk. Don’t miss this one! Well, you can’t miss it anyways. It’s a one-hour presentation by Naucrates Field Leader, explaining about turtles: a few different species, the difference of each species, the behavior of wild turtle, the nest and hatching statistics found in Koh Phra Thong and neighboring islands since Naucrates has been there.
  • Wild turtle behavior observation. You’ll have to do a mini 5-minute hiking to reach the top of a hill and record wild turtle behavior when you see them.
  • In the afternoon you can do kayaking and snorkeling to learn more about the local marine life, guided by a Naucrates staff or volunteer.
  • All time favorite activity: napping on a hammock on a sunny beach.hammock.jpg
  • About once a week the staff and volunteers go to neighboring islands – Koh Ra and Koh Kho Khao, to monitor the beach and look for turtle track/nest.
  • Beach cleaning once in a while, though I did not experience it during my stay.
  • When I was there we did some work for the museum at Lions’ Village. I was lucky enough to attend the opening day of the museum too. Some students from Tapayoi came together with their teachers. Naucrates also educate the locals about the importance of conservation, both mangrove conservation and turtle conservation.naucrates drawing.jpg

The food:

Mostly Thai food, I mean very yummy homemade Thai food (think of thick curries, soups, stir-fried veggies, grilled fresh fish, marinated chickens, with fried banana fritters or fresh tropical fruits as desserts), with several options for western breakfast (their fruit muesli yogurt and banana pancake were good!), available option for vegetarian and vegan (though ‘meat’ is considered only beef, pork, chicken, and fish. Fishballs, crab sticks, and other processed food are considered ‘vegetarian’). For vegans, watch out for fish sauce and shrimp paste used as seasonings in the dishes.

Occasionally you will experience yummy Italian pasta at Horizon Eco Resort. Horizon is one of Naucrates’ supporters. This is also where you will spend a lot of time (I spent mine in one of their hammocks), and also our meeting point in many occasion. The most important thing is they have free wifi for volunteers!

Not to miss: fresh young coconut sold for $1 at Horizon Eco Resort, and Pa Nee’s coconut ball, i.e traditional snack made of sticky rice flour with sweet peanut and brown sugar filling, covered in shredded coconut. Yum!!

Recommended duration: 2-4 weeks.

Recommended time to visit:

End of January to March. Based on this year’s season, January was when the turtles first lay their eggs, and starting in late February you can start to see some hatchlings!

turtle hatchling naucrates

Image source: Naucrates

Tips for future volunteers:

  • Book directly from Naucrates website as it is much cheaper (as low as €205/$235 per week for long term volunteers) than booking through a volunteering agency. Link here.
  • Be physically fit to walk long distance (about 10 km every day, 4-6 days a week). Bring very comfortable shoes to walk on soft sand, such as sneakers or coral boots, or simply walk barefoot if you’re comfortable with it (some staff and volunteers including me prefer to walk barefoot).
  • The observation site is located on top of a small hill, so you have to hike a little. It was only a 5-10 minute walk to the top, and the staff and I did it in flip flops, but some volunteers prefer sneakers for safety.
  • Bear in mind that electricity is limited, and western comfort is very limited. Bring stuff that can keep you and other volunteers occupied that do not need electricity.

What to bring:

  • Sarong, for sun protection instead of sunblock. Sunblock is harmful for the corals and by avoiding sunblock we help to reduce plastic bottle trash. Moreover, if you stay for long term, it’s more practical to bring a piece of sarong instead of bottles of sunblock, right?
  • Wetsuit, (again) for sun protection instead of sunblock. Even waterproof sunblock formula can be easily washed away when you swim and it need constant re-applying. Wetsuit can protect you longer and (again) more practical to pack. If you don’t have a wetsuit and don’t want to buy one, consider of bringing a t-shirt for swimming instead.
  • Hat and sunglasses. Read above, I’m not going to repeat again what they are for.
  • Mosquito repellent (consider natural ingredients such as citronella or lavender or geranium). Mosquito coil and lighter can be bought in the island.
  • Head light. This one is a must. You will start your day just before sunrise and have to walk in the dark. Consider bringing a rechargeable light instead of using batteries, not only because battery is difficult to find in the island, but also because it contains harmful chemicals for the environment.
  • Snacks and comfort food. Limited choice of snack and food is sold, so for snackers my suggestion is pack your favorite yumyum.
  • Speaker for music lovers.
  • Books. You’ll have free time in the morning or afternoon.
  • Card, board games, or other activities that doesn’t need electricity.
  • Small, pocket size and low watt clip fan, just in case the room in Lion’s Village is too hot for you during the night.
  • An open mind and a good sense of humor. This one applies to any place you visit:)

 

Coming up next: volunteering at Phangan Animal Care for Stray (PACS). Stay tuned!

Read more about my tips on volunteering while traveling here.

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Welcome Home, Harry!

A mixed of emotions came into my mind as I was reading the news about relocation of Harapan (Harry), the last Sumatran rhino currently lives in Cincinnati Zoo, to his natural habitat in Indonesia.

The extinct woolly rhino, closely related to Sumatran rhino. Source: dinopedia.wikia.com

The extinct woolly rhino, closely related to Sumatran rhino. Source: dinopedia.wikia.com

Sumatran rhino (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) is the only extant descendant of Ice Age woolly rhinos (Coelodonta antiquitatis) which is now faced with extinction due to habitat loss with 50% of the population disappear every 10 years – a very fast pace for a species to go into extinction. In 2015 it is estimated that there are only less than 100 wild individuals of Sumatran rhinos left in the wild, in heavily fragmented populations in Sumatra and (maybe) Borneo.

Earlier this week week, it is officially announced that Sumatran rhino is declared extinct in the wild in Malaysia. This is a very devastating moment for Sumatran rhino conservationists, and pressure is now put on Indonesia’s side to continue to preserve this species.

In captivity, there are currently nine Sumatran rhinos: three in Sabah, Malaysia; one in Cincinnati, which will leave for Indonesia soon; and five in Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary (SRS), Indonesia. There are two males in the SRS facilities and they are both related to Harry. Andalas, the only productive male in SRS for the time being, is Harry’s older brother, and Andatu, currently still 3 year old and is not sexually mature yet, is Andalas’ son and Harry’s nephew.

Even though Harry’s homecoming brings hope for the species, the gene pool of captive Sumatran rhinos are small and they all face inbreeding unless a new male Sumatran rhino is captured – a controversial idea remembering almost 90% of over 40 Sumatran rhinos that were captured in the 1990s died within the same year. But that was in 1990s, when very little information was known how to rear Sumatran rhinos in captivity, when nobody knew what they eat and ended up giving them wrong diets. Now everything has changed. Now we know there are over 200 plant species which are edible for Sumatran rhinos. Now we know the behavior of Sumatran rhinos in the wild. Now we know the breeding cycle of the Sumatran rhinos. And until today, there have been four Sumatran rhino calves born in captivity with the help of science and research.

Bina, the only survivor from the 1990s capture. She now lives in Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary, Indonesia.

Bina, the only survivor from the 1990s capture. She now lives in Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary, Indonesia. Photo courtesy: Eliza Jinata/Holiztic Vet.

Another alternative to enrich the gene pool is to involve Kretam (Tam), the male Sumatran rhino in Borneo Rhino Alliance (BORA) in Sabah, Malaysia, in captive breeding program, but until the political issues are put aside between the nations, this is not a solution in the meantime.

We are racing with time here, and I hope any political issues can be put aside to save this primitive species from extinction.

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What Does The Bear Say?

Have you ever wondered what the bear in the famous “Funny bear walking like human” video say? To answer some questions from curious readers about my animal communication skill, here’s a short conversation that the bear and I had. Whether it’s an imaginary or a real conversation, only the bear and I know 🙂

Me: Isn’t it hard to balance yourself and walk on hind legs?
Bear: No, I’m comfortable doing it. It’s not difficult at all.
M: Why do you walk like that?
B: I feel more comfortable walking like this. It’s not wrong to walk like this, is it?
M: What do you mean ‘more comfortable’? Isn’t it easier for you to walk on four legs?
B: Look at my legs, they are very short! What can I see by standing on those short legs? I need better vision of my surrounding.
M: But you know what your enclosure look like. Why do you still need better vision?
B: So I know when food is approaching.
M: Don’t you get enough food already?
B: It’s never enough.
M: Then what can make you feel better?
B: Water. It’s very hot recently.
M: I mean what kind of food can make you feel better or less hungry?
B: Banana.

Do you have questions you want to ask the bear? Leave a comment below or contact us. I’ll convey your questions to the bear and publish the answers in the next few days.

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Fun Fact: Tamaraw

Woo hoo, it’s that time again this week for fun fact Friday! A fun fact a week keeps the foolishness away. Today’s topic is tamaraw (Bubalus mindorensis).

This species is listed as Critically Endangered (CR) on IUCN Red List and on Appendix I of CITES. The major threats to this species are habitat loss and illegal hunting for human consumption. Now here are 5 fun facts you probably didn’t know about Bubalus mindorensis:

1. They are dwarf giants. It sounds like a paradox and it is. Tamaraw is also known as Mindoro dwarf buffalo, but despite of their mini size, they are still the largest mammal found within Philippine, their native country.

2. They always have time for make-up. Covered mostly in dark colored fur, light markings can be found above their eyes, forming ‘eyebrows’ and some individuals have white spots on their lower cheeks.

Source: philippine-animals-mammals.webs.com

Source: philippine-animals-mammals.webs.com

3. They are shy but curious creatures. They rest in thick vegetation during the day and active at night to eat grasses, bamboo shoots, saplings and other vegetation. They were formerly diurnal but changed their active hours to avoid human encroachment and have become nocturnal. They are solitary and known to show aggressiveness towards other tamaraws. They are also said to charge their pursuer.

4. “V” is their favourite letter. One of striking features of tamaraw is their horns. They are V-shaped, growing from the forehead, has flat back surface and triangular base.

Source: news.mongabay.com

Source: news.mongabay.com

5. They cannot lie about their age. The age of a tamaraw can be seen from its horns. The horns grow longer relative to the length of the ears and broaden at the base. Hence, the horn’s length and thickness can be used to age them. Enjoy reading the fun facts? Do you have a favorite animal or any other animals that you would like me to write the fun facts about? Let me know by commenting below. Spread the info and have a nice weekend! 🙂

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The Story Behind Funny Bear Walking Like Human

In the video above you can watch a very funny Asiatic black bear (Ursus thibetanus) walking on his hind legs, just like how human walks. Everyone finds this very amusing, even me! I laughed when I first saw him walking like that and still smile whenever I see him walk like that in his big open enclosure.

Many volunteers and staff asked me why he walks like that. At first I could not answer their questions but after further observation here is my educated guess:

This bear was rescued from bear bile farm where he was kept in tiny cages and fed very little amount of food, only to keep him alive so they could extract his bile liquid. With this living condition it’s not surprising that he’s malnourished, which is shown by how short his legs are and the body size is disproportionately small for his head size. He is much smaller than an adult Asiatic black bear of his age should be. Click here to see how it’s like to live in bear bile farms.

Before his current place was turned into a rescue center, it functioned as a zoo where visitors could feed him and other bears by throwing food from outside the fence. With his smaller and malnourished body, it is easier for him to stand on his hind leg because his spine can support his light body weight. Standing up and waiting for food slowly became a habit which he does on a daily basis now. Click here to read what conversation I had with this bear regarding his condition now.

It was human who took him from the wild.
It was human who put him in bear bile farm and tortured him.
It was human who saved him from the farm.
It was human who fed him and ‘taught’ him to stand like that.
It is human greed which destroys our beautiful environment.

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Freshly pressed! Freshly attacked!

So after two years working with peafowls finally today I got my FIRST peacock attack. Really? Can they attack? Of course! All animals have defense mechanism. With this particular peacock, he flew and kicked me in the air! Though I did not do anything to the peacock today, somehow he hated me and attacked me, not only once but twice!

Peacock attack.jpg

Even after the second attack he still made the third and fourth attempt to attack me. Maybe he hated my shirt color, maybe he knew I’m a vet, maybe he knew I would inject one of his friends, or maybe it was just breeding season aggressiveness.

As a bonus for reading this post, here’s a video of me, but without my face in it, checking and injecting a sick peacock. Enjoy!