Alexandra Garvin - CFANS Study Abroad Program
Hi everyone! I’m Alex, a junior at the U majoring in Fisheries, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology with minors in Wildlife Care and Handling and Public Health. I first studied abroad my freshmen year on the Coral Reef Management in Belize freshman seminar and had an incredible experience. I loved it so much I started working at the Learning Abroad Center as a Peer Adviser where I could talk to more students about my experience and encourage them to go abroad.
I recently embarked on my second study abroad trip: Tropical Wildlife Conservation and Climate Change in Borneo. I fell absolutely in love with Borneo and desperately hope I will be able to return in the future to do research on the incredible wildlife that call Malaysia home. Describing such a life changing experience is hard but I will do my best.
The first thing is that living in a jungle is truly an adventure. Whether you accidentally step on a mock viper like me, find geckos in your oreos, or have a rhino beetle crawl out from the drain while you are showering; everywhere you go is covered in amazing flora and fauna.
We spent our first few days in Kota Kinabalu going to the market with fruits I had never seen before and engaging with local people. We also got to snorkel off Manukan and Salug islands which were breathtakingly beautiful and got an onboat lecture from marine biologist, Dr. Nick Pilcher on his efforts in sea turtle conservation in Malaysia.
The next day we set out to take a hike on the beautiful Mount Kinabalu and learn about the effects of climate change on vegetation on tropical mountainsides. We then drove a few hours to the Sabah Tea Garden, the only organic tea garden in Borneo. Here we learned how the tea is made, the effects that climate change is having on the tea, and got to see the hills of tea surrounding Mount Kinabalu which was undoubtedly one of the prettiest views the world has to offer. After a bus and boat ride we arrived at our new home for the week, the Danau Girang Field Center located in the middle of the jungle and only accessible by riverboat.
This was probably the highlight of the trip since we spent the week following PhD students around, whether trekking through the forest for 3 hours to find a tarsier nesting tree or walking around palm oil plantations in the scorching sun looking for civet feces. We got to learn about their research and develop skills like camera trapping, GIS, and radio telemetry. We also spent time on the river surveying birds and studying the behavior of troops of macaques.
Throughout our time here we developed environmental education projects that will hopefully be implemented in Malaysian schools that we presented to everyone at the Field Center. We spent our final week in Sepilok. Our first stop was at the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center and of course I started balling my eyes out when I saw my first wild orangutan swinging through the jungle.
The rest of the week we spent at the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Center learning about animal husbandry, lectures from Dr. Wang about sun bear conservation issues and research, and making enrichment for the bears. Also during our week in Sepilok we got to go on other excursions like the Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary, the Sandakan fish market, and a Buddhist temple. I can confidently say I will never forget my time in Borneo and all the amazing people I got to spend it with.