Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum
Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

The Road to RIMBA II: Pre-Departure Preparations

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The Road to RIMBA II: Pre-Departure Preparations

This post is the second of a four-part series documenting the inaugural LKCNHM RIMBA-Sarawak project expedition.

A sample of the equipment brought into the field. Photo credit: LKCNHM

One of the stress points of the expedition occurs before departure – during the pre-trip preparation phase. Knowing the right amount of equipment to bring, fore-seeing all possible situations that requires the right set of tools, at a place that one has never set foot upon, is a skill honed by years of “@#$%! I should have brought…” and “Why the @#$% did I lug this here?”.

Full equipment lay-out prior to packing to make sure all required items are accounted for. Photo credit: LKCNHM

Expedition planning and preparations started months before the team set foot on Sarawak. This culminated in a flurry of activity on the final month prior to the trip.

Jay’s sorting station in the field station makeshift research lab. Photo credit: LKCNHM

Not only did the team need to bring various field collecting equipment such as Malaise traps, Winkler funnels and their accompanying gear, a makeshift, semi-functional field laboratory had to be set up to process specimens collected in the field.

View of the forest canopy from the trails in Ulu Engkari, Lanjak-Entimau Forest Sanctuary. Photo credit: LKCNHM

In the Bornean rainforests, a sizeable amount of insect diversity resides high up in the forest canopy, which presents a challenge to survey. The team had to rack their brains to come up with a creative solution to a problem: How can they build a lightweight but hardy insect trapping device that can sample the forest canopy, and safely pass through airport security?

Mingshi and Dzaki spent about three weeks to conceptualise, build and test a conventional ‘canopy light trap’ that can be hung up in the forest canopy, with some modern technological tweaks.

Sketches of potential prototypes drawn by Dzaki.

“The idea was to hoist this trap up into the higher parts of the canopy, leave it running (with ultra-violet [UV] and natural white lights) for a few hours into the night and then come back to collect the insects that have fallen into the preservatives within the trap,” said Dzaki.

“We therefore had four main considerations – it had to be portable, strong, inexpensive, and had to incorporate both UV and natural white lights the insects are attracted to,” he added.

Wilson, the canopy light trap, at rest after a night of insect sampling in Ulu Engkari, Lanjak-Entimau Wildlife Sanctuary. Photo credit: LKCNHM

They also thought of creative ways to keep the trap light and portable, such as manually wiring an electrical circuit to replace the conventional fluorescent light tube and lead-acid battery with a much lighter and energy-efficient LED lights and portable lithium powerbank.

“It (the process of creating the trap) was very fun, as we could flex our creative muscles,” said Dzaki.

Wilson, the canopy light trap, hanging superbly at a field trial in campus. Photo credit: LKCNHM

The next challenge was to hoist the trap up 10 – 15 metres up in the air, mimicking how it would be amongst the forest canopy. Their initial idea was to use a slingshot to shoot the string of the trap over a tree branch and then hoist the trap up.

“This method is commonly used by arborists to get lead climbing lines up the trees they want to climb,” said Dzaki.

Mingshi practicing the rope slinging in campus. Photo credit: LKCNHM

However, this did not work well and they turned to the old school method of manually slinging the weight over the branch.

Successful field trial of Wilson, the canopy light trap, and ready for the Sarawak forest canopy! Photo credit: LKCNHM

With some practice, they were soon able to skillfully sling the weight over successfully. The “full dress rehearsal” trial run was a complete success, and the team could not wait to launch their contraption, nicknamed “Wilson”, out in the field.

Final preparations at the Batang Ai Reservoir jetty, Sarawak, prior to the journey upriver by longboats. Photo credit: LKCNHM

Following an intense month of final preparations, the team is at long last ready to embark on their RIMBA-Sarawak adventure! Look out for our next post that will detail their journey into the heart of Borneo!