US Fulbright Scholar to Indonesia Dr. Nancy Karraker and some of her team members are arriving at their research site at Rawa Aopa Watumohai National Park in the village of Tatangge, Southeast Sulawesi.
Her research will focus on documenting how populations of Southeast Asian box turtles differ between swamps and ponds inside the national park and outside the national park. They plan to put small radios on the turtles to track them and to understand their movements and the habitats they use. Finally, they plan to study their diet to assess whether they are important dispersers of seeds from the fruit they eat.
The information will be collected is important because this turtle is considered to be the most heavily traded turtle in the world. Local people say that populations here are healthy because no one eats the turtles or collects them to sell.
For this research, Dr. Karraker collaborates with Dr. Mirza Kusrini from Institut Pertanian Bogor (IPB) and a colleague who is a Fulbright alumnus herself, Dr. Wa Iba from Universitas Halu Oleo (UHO), Kendari who joined her for the first few days to meet with national park staff and search for field sites. Her two students, Jessica and Ryan, from the University of Rhode Island, arrived a few days later. Two students from IPB, Aini and Ali, will come in mid-January to undertake research for their undergrad thesis. One undergraduate student from UHO, Fikri, will arrive later in February. It will be a full house in Tatangge shortly.
“We are glad to be here and amazed with the beauty of this national park, which contains swamp forest, mangrove forest, savanna, streams, and ponds. Any time we are not looking for new study sites, we are birdwatching during the day or searching for mammals and amphibians and reptiles by headlamp at night. We have seen wrinkled hornbills, Chinese pond herons, water monitors (imagine a small Komodo dragon), a blind snake, enormous Tokay geckos, cuscus (tree-dwelling marsupial), and some large bats. There are crocodiles around and we hope to see one… at a distance. This place is a naturalist’s dream come true!” said Dr. Karraker who is affiliated with University of Rhode Island.
When taking a break from her research at the national park, Dr. Karraker spends time to make friends with the community lives around the national park and enjoy local food and delicacies such as rattan or rotan curry and taripan, a pastry made of shredded coconut and rice flour that is fried and then coated with palm sugar.
It is still dry in most part of the national park, but when the rainy season comes on full force, she hopes to have more stories about turtles and the other interesting wildlife to be shared with us.
Nancy Karraker holds a PhD in Conservation Biology from the State University of New York and is currently working as an Associate Professor at the University of Rhode Island. Dr. Karraker arrived in Indonesia in November to start her six-month project under the US Fulbright Scholar grant entitled “Assessing Populations of a Threatened and Heavily Traded Turtle in Indonesia.” She will study the ecology and population biology of the Southeast Asian box turtle in and around Rawa Aopa National Park and document trade of the species in Sulawesi. Through her research, Dr. Karraker hopes to determine how well this turtle is protected in the national park and determine if collection for trade is impacting populations. The collaborating institution for her research in Indonesia is Institut Pertanian Bogor.
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