The Family I Did Not Want to Meet

It was my first close encounter with wildlife. And the last, I was telling myself. I had been to jungle treks and mountain climbing which were understandably strenuous but never dangerous.
Past one in the hot and dry August afternoon and after three hours trekking uphill and downhill in the dense jungle, we were dragging our leech bitten feet on the dusty dirt track used by the heavy logging vehicles. The soles of my shoes decided to surrender and had to be tied awkwardly with shoelaces. I was grateful for the thick branch picked by the guide and was plodding away feeling hot, thirsty and exhausted.
Then we heard it and I froze. It was a sudden rumbling sound which was getting louder and louder from the thick undergrowth on our left about twenty feet in front. I grabbed my niece’s hand and stood rooted to the ground, too shocked to speak or scream. My husband and the two guides were about ten feet ahead of us. The alert guides who are the indigenous people stood poised and ready with their parang or big knives drawn in the air. I did not know what to expect, having been shown earlier tracks of the wild boar, bear and elephant. Out scrambled a wild pig followed by four piglets which dashed straight into the undergrowth on our right except for one confused and terrified piglet caught by the excited guides. It was squealing at such a high pitch and so loudly that I kept looking nervously over my shoulder many a time for the return of its charging mother. Before they released the piglet, I managed to catch a few photographs taken unclear with my trembling hands.
I had been feeling excited during the few months before this trip to Lake Temenggor. So was my adventure loving niece. We had signed up for a conservation project as volunteers. My husband joined very reluctantly as he was unwilling to have us travel on our own. I passed the first sleepless night being unaccustomed to the surprisingly noisy jungle insects and worrying about slithering snakes. My husband tossed and turned on the hard wooden floor, sleeping as how the indigenous people would, cursing inwardly at my bright idea to go through this. We were awakened at an unpopular hour for city folks like us to do what we were there for – counting and recording flight census of the plain-pouched hornbill whose presence was officially confirmed in the 1990s. We shouted excitedly at the first sighting of the flock of six. Flying from the south to the north in the search for food, they travelled in pairs or more up to twelve in a straight line or a V shape formation. We were thrilled when a flock flew right above us allowing us to hear their unique call ehk-ehk-ehk and the sound of their flapping wings.
We were told only later that this is the final year of the volunteer programme. For myself, I left the rainforest happy to do my small part in wildlife conservation but determined never to return to such close encounters ever.

LY Foong

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