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Where it all starts... - 4th of September 2012

It’s a funny old thing, really, but there is one part of the work of just about every field conservationist anywhere in the world, that sort of doesn’t get talked about. Not in polite company anyway.

We’ll talk about frequency-of-encounter and  tiger densities, about prey base-to-tiger ratios and human-wildlife conflict mitigation techniques and things we’ve done or plan to do to get people or government agencies ‘on side.’

Camera trappers can only, with the greatest difficulty, be stopped from going on about how porcupine/pig-tailed macaque/snotty-nosed-lesser weasely-thing (endemic, Data Deficient of course) specialize in messing up camera trap placements so resulting in losing anticipated images of the Resident tiger (but getting a jolly fine shot of a snotty-nosed lesser weasely-thing which exhibits an interesting colour morph).   

We’ll talk, enthusiastically, about the esoteric tropical diseases (especially if mildly disgusting or with a significant risk of shuffling off the mortal wotsit) that may be encountered in the remote and rather obscure places where we work or, rather less enthusiastically, but in great detail, about the joys of organising work or research permits.

But of course, all the adventures, the successes and failures, the joy and the tears that are part and parcel of working in ‘’the field’’ all start with something quite different…The ummm  I don’t think I ever wrote this word in public …the umm Proposal. 

This is a Word which is frequently accompanied by a little pause and rolling of the eyes….a word associated with late nights and calculators and frantic phone calls and web searches to check current costs of some of the more esoteric tools of the trade (dart needles? How much is a dart needle?   A GPS satellite collar?  You WHATHOW much?)  while trying to work out how many patrols will be conducted and where and costing out a friendly lunch with deputy head of police or other person whose nice lunch-inspired goodwill can be subsequently exploited - whoops I mean leveraged - for tiger conservation purposes (I say Sir, we think your staff are wonderful and wonder if you might like to…’’)

Because, of course, patrol jeeps don’t run on good wishes and rangers need boots to go to the forest and all the ideas you have developed over late-night sessions with colleagues  have to be practical and achievable….

So the real hard work involved in planning what you hope to accomplish in the year ahead starts with an Excel spreadsheet,  a calculator,  maps and, in my case, copious supplies of strong coffee as I  prepare to write The Proposal for Grant Aid.

What do we want to do over the next year and how are we going to do it?  Who are the people who are going to help us do it?  And where? And what do they need to do it…and what is it going to cost? .

There are routine activities like anti poaching patrols, investigations, team training and (deep sigh) repairing project jeeps.  And then there are the activities which are not so routine such as human-tiger conflict mitigations or law enforcement actions against tiger traders and poachers– but which can be sort of predicted on the basis of past experience. 

And then there are the Unpredictables which might happen ..or might not…but certainly will if you don’t prepare accordingly;  wildlife emergencies ranging from a snared tiger to a leopard cat in the post office and little mishaps like a ranger discovering that gravity tends to win over optimism when you are riding a motor bike too fast on a dirt road and then hit the brakes.   

And when you have worked out all of those costs and are sitting back feeling smug you think ‘Yikes! Inflation’ and somebody says they heard the government is going to have another try at reducing petrol price subsidies next year and you start all over again.

And then comes the real fun…the bit where you actually need something a little stronger than black coffee  (but cant get it because that nice deputy head of police has raided the local bootleg hootch supplier) because our activities are conducted and budgeted for in Indonesian rupiah …But the grants we request from the brilliant people and organizations who support us are made in different currencies.  

Not one currency but four. And they umm fluctuate. Not just against the Indonesian rupiah but against each other and you have to try to work out an average safe exchange rate for four different currencies against each other  and against the Indonesia rupiah for a whole year, months in advance..

Field work?  Undercover investigations into the illegal wildlife trade, fielding frantic radio messages from rangers with ‘a problem’ 12km into the forest, training new rangers and planning and supporting field patrols and conflict mitigations, those tense minutes when you waiting to hear if a law enforcement operation against a tiger trader was successful – and safe… That’s the easy bit.  It’s the Proposal …where it all starts, that’s the real hard work!




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