Sumatran tiger conservation - Forest flagship: Researching & conserving critically endangered Sumatran tigers in Rimbang Baling Wildlife Sanctuary, Sumatra, Indonesia
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This Sumatran tiger conservation project will take you to the Indonesian island of Sumatra to survey critically endangered Sumatran tigers and the largely uncharted and fascinating rainforest setting in which they are struggling to survive. You will be working as part of an international team from a comfortable traditional timber house expedition base inside the forest. You will be covering ground on foot and in boats, looking for tracks, kills, scats and the animals themselves, and setting camera traps. You will also work with local people on capacity-building and creating local incentives for tiger conservation. All this in an effort to mitigate human-wildlife conflict and create strategies to ensure the survival of the critically endangered Sumatran tiger into the future.
“After ten years in the desolate wasteland of 9 to 5 office work, these two weeks have been an amazing inspiration and a life changing event. I could not have hoped to meet better people and look forward to signing up for next year. Thanks to Biosphere Expeditions for making this an experience of a lifetime.” >
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Expedition contribution: £1980 (ca. €2190 | US$2570 | AU$3240) excluding flights per dates as shown. Please note: expedition contributions are quoted in £ and the approximate € | US$ | AU$ equivalents. Try the XE currency converter for other currencies and up to date exchange rates.
Dates & meeting point: 30 Jul - 11 Aug 2017 | 20 Aug - 1 Sep 2017 | 29 Jul - 10 Aug 2018 (13 days). Other dates. The meeting point is Pekanbaru, the capital of Riau, a province in Indonesia on the island of Sumatra. More details on this and how to get to Pekanbaru are in the .
A word on mosquitoes and forest fires
Our study site and base are on a very acidic river. The almost sterile water keeps parasite, bacterial and mosquito populations to a minimum. The forest is course not free of mosquitoes and some will be around, but you will not be “eaten alive” or whatever other wild exaggerations you may have heard. Also, fires on Sumatra are mainly in the lowlands, not the mountains of our study site.
Flat and mountainous rainforest.
Weather expected during expedition
Tropical with average daytime highs from 22°C to 30°C. The expedition takes place during the dry season, which can mean showers, but not the wet season monsoon rains.
The expedition base is a large traditional timber house on the banks of the Subayang river, in a remote part of the forest. The house has electricity, a large common room, a kitchen, toilets and showers. Participants sleep either in the large common room or in their own comfortable dome tent dotted around the site.
Up to 12 team members + 1 local scientist + 1 expedition leader.
Skills & prerequisites required
None. You don't need to be a scientist or have any special qualifications - everyone can take part and there are no age limits whatsoever.
Fitness level required
Ability to walk about 5-15 km per day in both plain and mountainous rainforest terrain of up to 1100 m altitude. Those of lower fitness level can monitor wildlife at lower altitude near base camp or help with community-based activities.
Team assembly point
Pekanbaru, the capital of Riau, a province in Indonesia on the island of Sumatra. Pekanbaru is well connected through its airport, which has frequent flights to and from Jakarta, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur.
Aims & objectives
(1) To monitor Sumatran tiger numbers and distribution in Rimbang Baling Wildlife Sanctuary.
(2) To assess the status and distribution of tiger prey species and general biodiversity in the area.
(3) To involve local people in tiger conservation through education, capacity-building and the creation of economic benefits.
(4) To characterise preferred habitats for the Sumatran tiger and develop strategies of species and habitat recovery.
As its name implies, the Sumatran tiger is endemic to Sumatra, one of the largest islands in the Indonesian archipelago. It is the smallest of all of the tiger subspecies and is distinguished by heavy black stripes on its orange coat. Listed in IUCN’s Critically Endangered category, there are probably fewer than 400 individuals left in the wild. As a top predator, the tiger needs large joined-up forest blocks to thrive, and used to roam across the whole island. It now occurs in isolated populations, its habitats having been drastically reduced by clearings for agriculture, plantations and settlements. This habitat destruction also forces the tiger into settled areas in search of food, where it is more likely to come into contact - and conflict - with people. Next to habitat destruction, poaching is another very potent threat. Studies have estimated that up to 78% of Sumatran tiger deaths, consisting of about 40 animals per year, are as a result of poaching, either as retaliatory killings or to feed the demand for tiger parts. Despite increased efforts in tiger conservation - including law enforcement and anti-poaching capacity - a substantial market remains in Sumatra and the rest of Asia for tiger parts and products.
Today many wild Sumatran tigers are found in the Tesso Nilo Protected Landscape, which has been identified as a “Global Priority Tiger Conservation Landscape", because it harbours a globally important tiger population and includes other important facets of Asian biodiversity, including many other endangered species, such as Sumatran elephants and four other cat species (e.g. clouded leopard & golden cat). Rimbang Baling Wildlife Sanctuary, the expedition study site, forms one of the core tiger refuges inside this area that plays a vital role to maintain connectivity among other key tiger landscapes.
Although the outlook for tigers may often sound bleak, there are success stories too. In well-managed areas with effective tiger patrols and where local communities benefit from tiger presence, there are clear signs of recovery. It is therefore now of critical importance that tiger populations are monitored regularly to safeguard effectively the populations that still exist and that local communities play a key role in and benefit from tiger conservation. WWF Indonesia has been at the forefront of these efforts since the end of the last millennium and has asked Biosphere Expeditions for assistance with tiger monitoring and to act as a showcase for how responsible, low-impact tiger tourism activities can generate local jobs and build capacity.
Sumatran tiger (Panthera tigris sumatrae)
Other study species, all in hilly lowland rainforest habitats - Macaque, wild boar, sambar deer, barking deer, mouse deer, muntjac, serow (a mountain goat), tapir, porcupine and pangolin. Other species present include five of the seven wild cat species present in Indonesia (Sumatran tiger, Sunda clouded leopard, marble cat, Asian golden cat and leopard cat), Sumatran elephant, several kinds of primates such as gibbon, pigtail macaque, etc., as well as a multitude of bird species such as bee eaters, Argus pheasant, hawk-eagle and the world’s smallest eagle, Microxhierax fringilarius. Overall 170 species of birds, more than 40 mammal and hundreds of reptile species have been recorded.
Activities are usually decided the night before and then confirmed in the morning, depending on the weather. The whole set-up of the expedition is quite flexible so that you can participate according to the weather conditions, your skills and general fitness.
Your typical day may consist of (1) conducting tiger and prey animal surveys, (2) walking along observation trails to record target animals (typically large ground-living mammals) and habitat variables, (3) placing or checking camera traps, (4) opening up new survey trails in the forest, or (5) working with the local staff on educational and other tiger conservation volunteer activities with and within local communities.
On some days you may have an early start, whilst on others you may be on a night shift walking a survey trail. A cook will prepare all meals at base camp, where you will return to eat, rest and have a shower on most days, except when you have volunteered for an overnight survey.
Indonesia is an archipelago comprising approximately 17,508 islands. It encompasses 34 provinces with over 238 million people, making it the world's fourth most populous country. Sumatra is the biggest island of the archipelago. Indonesia's size, tropical climate, and archipelagic geography, support the world's second highest level of biodiversity (after Brazil) and Indonesia is second only to Australia in terms of total endemic species.
Rimbang Baling Wildlife Sanctuary, the expedition’s study site, was established in 1984 and currently measures 1360 square km comprising highland and mountain tropical rainforest ecosystems. Slopes vary between 25%-100% and the highest elevation is 1070 m. The sanctuary is a biodiversity hotspot and a known Sumatran tiger breeding area. As such it has been classified by WWF and others as an all-important global priority tiger conservation area.
On this Indonesia volunteer project our main partner is WWF-Indonesia whose mission it is to conserve biodiversity and reducing human impact. WWF-Indonesia’s ultimate goal is to stop and eventually reverse environmental degradation and to build a future where people live in harmony with nature. WWF-Indonesia currently runs a multitude of programmes throughout Indonesia in marine, freshwater and forest ecosystems. Biosphere Expeditions assists WWF-Indonesia with its Sumatran tiger programme. The project is also kindly supported by the Keidanren Nature Conservation Fund and the SeaWorld & Bush Gardens Nature Conservation Fund.
And finally (almost)
Our expeditions are not about playing the primitive, neither are we a military style 'boot-camp'. Our expedition leader and the local scientist will be by your side and we believe strongly that we get the best out of our expedition teams by making them comfortable, safe and well fed. You won’t be living in the lap of luxury, but we will do our best to make you feel comfortable and at home in your working environment, as this is the key to a well-balanced and successful expedition.
And finally (briefing)
For even more details such as activities, staff, accommodation, the assembly point and how to get there, and lots more, please access the expedition briefing by providing your full name and e-mail.
Biosphere Expeditions will never share these details with anyone.
Sign up to this expedition now
Results & achievements
Since 2015 the expedition has provided a large amount of data critical for both the conservation of tigers and the landscape management of Rimbang Baling Wildlife Sanctuary. The expedition helped the local scientist and WWF to better understand the community’s perspective on tigers, poaching and human-tiger conflict. The expedition was also active in local schools, delivering presentations to students and teachers about the tiger and its habitat, and what changes are needed if both are to survive. Batu Dingding Community Group was intimately involved in the expedition’s logistics, providing an alternative income based on intact nature as well as training in tourism services to the local community.
On an organisational level, scientific reports and publications are on the reports & publications page. As far as we are aware, Biosphere Expeditions is the only organisation in the world that has a direct and transparent link between the work done by citizen scientists and an expedition report. Each expedition year is matched by an expedition report for that year, which deals with the two main areas that expedition participants contribute to: funding and data collection. Chapter 1 of each report, written by Biosphere Expeditions, reviews the expedition logistics and publishes an expedition budget, which shows in a clear and transparent way income and expenditure for each expedition and the percentage of income spent on the project. Chapter 2 onwards, written by the expedition scientist, shows who collected what data, how they were analysed, what the conclusions were, as well as the conservation recommendations and actions flowing from this, and what future expeditions should do. In this way, each expedition comes full circle for its participants.
Awards & accolades
This expedition was honoured in BBC Wildlife's "Top Conservation Holidays" list.
This expedition was honoured in World Travel Guide's "12 ethical experiences" list.
Biosphere Expeditions as an organisation has won the "Best Volunteering Organisation" category of the First Choice Responsible Tourism Awards.
Biosphere Expeditions as an organisation has also won multiple National Geographic awards and accolades such as "Best New Trip" and "Tours of a Lifetime".
Biosphere Expeditions as an organisation has also won multiple Travel+Leisure awards and accolades such as the "Conservation Award" category of Travel+Leisure's "Global Vision Awards" or "Best Adventure Outfitter" and "Best Save-the-Earth Trip" accolades.
> more awards & accolades
Wishnu Sukmantoro, Species & habitat management coordinator, WWF Indonesia
"The Sumatran tiger is listed as Critically Endangered in the IUCN's Red list. This means it is one step from extinction in the wild. Since 2005, WWF Indonesia has worked to monitor and protect them. We face many challenges in their conservation, most of all habitat fragmentation and destruction through human activities. Biosphere Expeditions' support in Rimbang Baling Wildlife Sanctuary, a globally important Tiger Conservation Landscape (TCL), is much needed and appreciated. As tigers are so secretive, we need help to monitor them in the wild through transect and camera trapping surveys. Such Sumatran tiger conservation volunteer surveys need a lot of resources in terms of manpower and equipment. By having WWF Indonesia, Biosphere Expeditions and the local community work together, those resources become available and local people benefit from living alongside tigers. This is the key to successful Sumatran tiger conservation against all the odds."
Febri Anggriawan Widodo, Tiger and elephant research and monitoring coordinator, WWF Indonesia
“As a travel journalist, I’ve seen some places around the world. This one is outstanding. And thanks, many thanks, to this wonderful crew all around the place.”
Franz Lerchenmüller, 63, Germany
"Thank you for providing such a well-organised expedition. It was brilliant to be a small part of it!"
Will Armstrong, 35, UK
“To say this was an experience of a lifetime (and I have been to many places) would be an understatement. I will never forget this place and I will tell my children about it again and again. So this really means something. Thank you to all team members, to the Biosphere people, to the WWF people, to Noori for excellent meals, to the community for skilled boat-driving and everybody else who also helped!”
Andreas Hub, 58, Germany
“I loved it all. And to the crews to come, throw yourself into the experience. It’s true that the more you put in, the more you will get out.”
Steve White, 48, Hong Kong
“Thank you all for giving me the experience of a lifetime. I met an extraordinary bunch of interesting people and experienced camaraderie like never before. May the tiger spirit be with you!”
Inge Stephan, 64, Germany
Feedback from team members about their experiences and reasons for coming (on/from various expeditions).
“A wonderful and challenging expedition. Good climate for my body. Fantastic people in the team. Thanks to all the local staff and villagers and thanks to Anthony and Febri for the inspiration. I really hope we can save the tiger and all other cats”.
Susanne Ahlqvist, 50, Norway
“I have loved being in the Sumatran rainforest for two weeks, which I wouldn’t be able to do without Biosphere. Waking up to the chorus of agile gibbons, all the amazing butterflies, macaques, pigs, monitor lizards and tracks of other animals and cats. The Indonesians we have met have been lovely – so friendly, welcoming, hospitable and the camp helpers and boat men have been brilliant. Febri and Beno have been great, I admire the work they do, their commitment and attitude. Slot 6 was a great team, Anthony a great leader. Thank you to everybody for giving me such a memorable birthday.”
Maggie Neal, 42, UK
Frequently asked questions
What's the accommodation like and how do I get to the assembly point?
A description of the accommodation and some pictures are in the . All participants organise their own travel to the assembly point, which is an easy to find place in-country, and exact instructions on how to get there at what time are in the . > more
Is it just young people roughing it, i.e. will it be for me or am I too old/young/unfit?
A common misconception is that conservation expeditions are full of youngsters roughing it and boozing. With Biosphere Expeditions nothing could be further from the truth! Our typical participant is in his/her mid-30s to late 70s (average age 42.3, spread six months to 87 years). It is rare to have fewer than five nationalities, typically from Europe, North America and Australasia, on the expedition, all united by the common interest in wildlife, wilderness and conservation. If you would like details who is already signed up, then just get in touch. > more
Do I need special skills or fitness?
Apart from the ability to communicate in English and a diving qualification for our diving expeditions, there are no special skills (biological or otherwise) required to join our expeditions, and there are no age limits whatsoever. If you have special needs, please contact us to find out about the suitability of the experience of your choice. > more
How good does my English have to be?
If, with the help of a dictionary and a little patience, you can understand what we are talking about here, then don't worry - you'll be fine.
Will I be safe?
Yes. Although we are not in the business of controlling nature and expect you to take some responsibilities, safety is our top priority. Our three key watchwords are ‘safety, science, satisfaction’ - in that order. We always have emergency procedures and backup systems in place. Biosphere Expeditions has an excellent safety record with no serious accidents, long-lasting injuries or let alone deaths since its foundation in 1999. > more
Can people under 18 attend?
Yes, because there are no (upper or lower) age restrictions. With their parents' consent they can also come by themselves.
How do I sign up and when do I pay?
Signing up is easy: Use the and pay a deposit of £300; the full balance will be due four weeks before the start of the expedition. If you don't want to sign up online, you can also download paper forms to fax or snail-mail.
What's included and what's not included?
Once you have made it to the assembly point and we’re on our way, we pay for everything apart from the obvious such as personal souvenirs, luxury drinks, phone calls home, etc. (and in many places we go to there's no need for money anyway ;). Travel arrangements to the assembly point are for you to make and pay for. Additional costs may include passport, visa and airport fees, your personal gear and preparations, and travel insurance, but not much more. There are certainly no hidden fees from our end.
Where does my money go?
On average at least two-thirds of your contribution will benefit the project directly and locally, the rest will go towards administrative back-up, as well as researching and setting up new expeditions. Within six to twelve months after your expedition you will receive an expedition report with full details on how your expedition contribution was spent on running the expedition and supporting its research work. We can put as much as two-thirds into the project, because we are a non-profit/charitable research and conservation organisation, not a large scale tourism business, which means that we can keep expensive overhead costs to a minimum. We also do very little advertising and costly marketing, concentrating instead on press, media and research publication work. > more
> more FAQs and detailed answers in text and video format are on the FAQ page