Earlier in the year a friend of mine, Matt, had told me he was setting up his own wildlife research project in Thailand (yes, I was jealous) and asked if I’d be free to help him out for a bit. Seeing as I had a few weeks to spare before I headed to South Africa, and I wouldn’t be closer than I was when in Sri Lanka, I eagerly took him up on his offer and changed my plans to include Thailand.
A hop, skip and a jump over the big blue and I was on the continent. I thought Sri Lanka had been hot at 34 degrees but Thailand was on another level; at 39 degrees I had clearly entered hell! Although I’d got used to the temperature in Lanka it had cooled down considerably in the last few weeks and hovered around a pleasant 28/9 degrees. Luckily I wasn’t thrown straight into fieldwork, I had a day and a half to acclimatise in Bangkok. I’d heard people rave about the city but to me, it was just that – a city – and it didn’t seem to have a lot of substance to it. There were 100s of enormous, complicated, freezing shopping centres that swallowed you up and pretty shrines on almost every corner. However, it did have three redeeming features, the greatest cake shop EVER, Dinosaur Planet and another style of tuk-tuk. The cake shop we found by complete accident and it was filled with such beautiful treats that it took me over 10 minutes to decide which slice to choose. The slice I eventually decided upon was bliss, it was the softest, most velvety cake I had ever eaten, but unfortunately Matt wanted ‘proper’ food for dinner rather than more cake, so I was limited to 1 piece.
Dinosaur Planet was odd: crap, falling apart, hilarious and cheesy therefore it was great. There were interactive games which involved people dressed in terrible dinosaur suits that chased you around, travelling back in time via a swirling walkway (Matt had serious trouble with this), giant anamatronic plastic dinosaurs, a dino breeding laboratory with a real’ scientist in, a journey to an underground volcano where a T-rex and giant prehistoric crocodile fought and other completely irrelevant random stuff – we were thoroughly entertained. Despite all that, I was glad when we finally headed to the field station at the Sakaerat Biosphere Reserve.
The station was located in tropical evergreen forest which meant it looked like the woods back home but it was a million degrees hotter. It was odd being in a tropical country but not feeling like you were, I think it must have something to do with being conditioned as children that ‘only jungle’ equals tropical. The station was quite extensive containing teaching halls, a canteen, a workshop, dormitories for school groups, a laboratory, a library, a meteorological station, a mini museum (literally 1 room but full of pickled things in jars and stuffed animals) and private researcher accommodation. My favourite area of the site, apart from the canteen, was a large￼ digital temperature display which I became obsessed with watching. It would be interesting to know at what temperature my blood would begin to boil as I cooked to death.
The conservation projects undertaken at the study site mainly focused on venomous snakes (king cobra, common cobra, green pit viper, banded krait and Malayan krait) and birds. Matt’s project however, was on the elongated tortoise. Yep, I would be spending the next few weeks tracking tortoises! I know, it sounds daft, they aren’t exactly the fastest species, so how hard could they be to track, especially with a transmitter attached to their shell? As it turned out, it was as hard as trying to pry a fat kid off a plate of donuts.