Out of Pu Mat

We worked out of that camp for almost a week. The routine was the same each day: Wake up at dawn, eat a hurried breakfast (instant noodles, rice, and sometimes dried fish), hike up the main stream, then set off along an unexplored smaller stream. All the while meticulously searching for leeches.  Mr. Dau and I quickly fell into a search routine. He would walk ahead of me stirring the ground and vegetation with a walking stick and I would follow behind at a slower pace. His sharp eyes would pick up leeches that were perched and waiting for their next meal. His ability to spot these leeches—even before they had wriggled to reveal their presence—was uncanny. I would follow behind at a slower pace. My job was to pick up the movement of leeches that had been awakened.

We worked long and hard hours. Unfortunately we never got the leech numbers that we were hoping for. My personal belief is that even the wet areas around the streams were too dry to support high leech concentrations. It’s possible that the area didn’t have high enough prey biomass—but the abundant pig sign seems to refute that. But again: It’s better to pick up fewer leeches in good forest than many leeches in a poorer area, and this part of Pu Mat looked promising. We continued to find wild pig sign and on one occasion came across a probable serow track that was no more than a day old. If it was serow it would be proof that at least one other large ungulate was roaming these forests.

Jungle leech in Pu Mat
Jungle leech in Pu Mat

At last it was time to leave. I found myself wondering, as I always do at the end of a survey, where the time had gone. Life in the forest—in the absence of clocks, cell phones, internet—has a timelessness that causes the days and even weeks to melt together. I was sorry to leave this area—there was much more work to be done—but we were one a tight schedule and had to get back to Vinh. We woke up earlier than usual on the last morning so that we could try to make the hike back to the army post in one day. It made for a hard day but several blistery hours later we walked through the outpost gates. A pot of fresh tea was waiting for us. We were very tired. Even though we had only been gone for a week I still felt like it was a culture shock to get back to civilization. It was odd to be back within four walls. Even before I had taken off my backpack I was thinking about how badly I wanted to get back into the jungle.

The next stop for me is Vinh. I’m taking some time away from fieldwork to do some grant writing. The search for future funding never really ends. Then I’ll be traveling south to the city of Hue, located in central Vietnam. In Hue I’ll be preparing for intensive surveys in the Hue and Quang Nam Saola Nature Reserves. I’m excited about this opportunity. The Central Annamite Mountains contain some of the best forests left in Vietnam. And they represent one of the best places in the world to look for rare Annamite endemic mammals, including striped rabbit, dark muntjac, Large-antlered muntjac, and—the holy grail—Saola. Longer stretches in the field means that it will be more difficult for me to keep you, the reader, up to date. But I should have some stories to tell when I come out of the jungle!

Probable serow track
Serow track found in Pu Mat
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