Usun Apau Retraced


  • £4,301

    pledged of £8,000

    • 56


    • 0


This project received pledges on Sun 04 Aug 2019

A month in the jungle? Are you crazy? 

Only slightly! Usun Apau Retraced is a conservation focused expedition, following in the footsteps of 4 Oxford students back in 1955. The original team made their way up the Plieran river to the remote Usun Apau plateau, where they spent a number of weeks assessing the extraordinary diversity found here. We'll be journeying to the same region on the 5th of August, 2019, spending a month camping out in hammocks to study the incredible array of flora and fauna found there. Being a raised plateau (800m above sea level), the area is home to a huge range of endemic species that are found nowhere else in the world - through scientific research and raising awareness by expeditions such as this, its conservation can be continued.

However, we really need your help! We've raised £6000 of the £14,000 required for the expedition to go ahead, and are hoping to raise the final £8000 through crowd funding from those who wish to support Usun Apau Retraced.To give some more background to our endeavours, the Oxford team we are retracing set out sixty-four years ago to explore the depths of the Usun Apau plateau: a volcanic island raised high above the thick forests below. They spent six months in the jungle, resupplied by RAF air drops and winding their way up a network of rivers, aided by the local nomadic communities that inhabited the area. They were greeted by a landscape of extreme beauty, a dense ecosystem characterised by a forest canopy that differed greatly from the one they expected. Guy Arnold, Gordon Pickles, Colin Campbell and Tom Chavasse, four undergraduates fresh out of their Oxford studies, stepped into an expedition that changed their lives and opened their eyes to the incredible uniqueness of the Sarawak Jungle.

Above image: The original Oxford University expedition team travelling down one of the many rivers they explored.

Many years later and things have changed drastically. The route they took has been blocked by dams and the banks of the rivers they journeyed along are no longer home to the ecosystems they explored so deeply. Instead, the area is scarred with the marks of palm oil plantations and logging companies, providing a healthy source of income for the country but sadly having a detrimental impact on a wealth of species that also call the jungle home. Usun Apau is at the centre of this, a remote island of untouched wilderness surrounded by the ever growing grip of deforestation, slowly encroaching onto its elevated position.

Above image: A screenshot (taken from BingMaps) showing the scale of deforestation around the plateau.


By returning to the plateau, we do not hope to stop palm oil or deforestation, as these goals are unsustainable and unrealistic. Instead, we aim to provide an insight into the beauty of the jungle and celebrate the species that live there through a small-scale, student lead expedition. We are all at the start of our conservation research careers, and not only will this expedition provide us with valuable experience but will also give us a chance to share the story of Oxford's relationship with the plateau and the threats this rare ecosystem faces. A key aim of this trip is also collaborative research, facilitating links between academic institutions - for this reason we are to be joined by three keen conservation students from the University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus. By working together and learning from each other, the expedition becomes more than just a research trip but also a chance to unite people from across the globe, in the name of conservation (and a spot of adventure of course).

We hope to achieve this through a range of aims and outputs, which have also been detailed on our website:

1. Recreate photos from the old expedition, including some of Sarawak's tallest waterfall and areas that we know have been significantly deforested since 1955.

2. Carry out vegetation surveys of the plateau's jungle to provide baseline data on its health and the different species that live there. 

3. Set up a camera trap transect along the Julan River to capture images of large mammals that inhabit the plateau. 

4. Collaborate with 3 students from the University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus to study the health of the plateau's river systems 

5. Produce a short 20-30 minute documentary about our experiences, and also a short video blog of our day-to-day activities in collaboration with The Oxford University Media team. Above image: An original map from the old expedition showing their route in detail.


Our team consists of three Oxford University undergraduate students (pictured below outside the Royal Geographical society after receiving the esteemed 'expedition fieldwork' grant) and three students from the University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus, who you can also find more details about on our website. All of us are silly enough to spend a month in the jungle, unsupported and in highly remote conditions, all in the name of an expedition! 

From left to right: Rosalie Wright (Biology at Christchurch) - Expedition science and medical officer and keen conservation biologist

Maryam Jamilah (Biology at Brasenose) - Expedition research assistant, born and raised in Malaysia and also very into conservation biology. 

Matthew Jones (Geography, St Hilda's) - Expedition leader and film maker, keen explorer and map enthusiast. 

How your donation will help us:

Organising a month long expedition to Sarawak is unfortunately not cheap, as we need a large amount of equipment, guides, transport and food. We have already raised £6000 from grant giving trusts and have negotiated deals with outdoor equipment providers such as Craghoppers, Hennesey Hammocks, Alpkit and WaterToGo. We are also working with the WWF, the Sarawak association and the Oxford University Expedition Council to ensure we reach as many as we can! The team will also be contributing to the expedition, with each team member providing the same amount it would cost for them to live in Oxford for a month (which is unfortunately rather a lot). Despite all this support, we still need more help to reach our goal, which is where you could come in! We also can't stress enough that by donating to our expedition you'd be investing in three young undergraduate's future careers in conservation research.

Trying to get funding at this stage is becoming increasingly hard as PhD and Masters students often get priority, as they are more experienced. Our expedition is entirely undergraduates and every team member is passionate about conservation, the jungles of Sarawak and making sure this expedition goes ahead! Some examples of expenditure include equipment (£3000), travel (£2000) and also the cost of us supporting students from Malaysia, as collaboration between our institutions is essential to the outcomes of the expedition (£3000). If we reach our minimum: we will spend the money on ensuring we have all the essentials for the expedition to carry out basic research in a safe way. This will enable us to go ahead with the expedition. If we reach our target: we will put more money towards better equipment, producing a higher quality film and providing more equipment for our counterparts from the University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus.

This will allow us to reach a wider audience and will make carrying out better research much easier! If we surpass our target: we will spend the money on research equipment that is more accurate than what we have already, such as a differential GPS, a drone to allow for a more interesting film footage and also higher quality solar panels / batteries to keep all our gear charged! We will also put more money into editing our video to ensure it is as high quality as possible, so that more people can be reached and be aware of Usun Apau's beauty (and need for conservation). We will also be likely to hire more local people to join us on the plateau and to help us carry out research, which can help local economies.

Above image: Maryam fainting with excitement at the thought of us passing our target! (Photo from our RGS Expedition and Wilderness Medicine course). 

How we can thank you: 

We've worked hard to come up with some great rewards to thank our donors for all their help! All the rewards and their respective donations are listed on the right hand side of the page, so do have a look before you consider donating. Below is some specific details about the more complex rewards. Drinks reception and talk: On our initial return from the plateau, we plan on giving a short talk to the Oxford University Exploration Club. This is a very informal and relaxed setting for you to meet the team and to hear first hand about our experiences, followed by a drinks reception and probably a trip to the pub! Christ Church Dinner and film screening: Once we're home and dry, we'll be hard at work editing a short documentary on our experiences from the plateau. We hope to be able to give the initial screening of this in Christ Church, where we will also invite everyone who has helped us make it to Sarawak! This will be a great opportunity to meet the team and also to enjoy the famous dinning all of Christ Church college. Above image: Team member Rosie, on discovering some of the (many) samples from the old expedition in the Natural History Museum's storage.


If you do not wish or cannot afford to make a financial donation then you can still help us invaluably by donating your expertise/contacts/network. Money isn't the only thing that will make this expedition happen, and anyone you may know working in Sarawak, knows someone in Sarawak or has ever been to a similar region of Sarawak would be very helpful to us! All of our contact information is on our website but you also easily reach us on instagram: @usunapauretaced. If you can share our project with others on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or shouting about it in your local pub then that would also be really helpful. The more people that know about what we're doing the better! Either way, any donation you can give, whether big or small, will go a long way to helping us achieve our goal of protecting the Usun Apau jungle and telling its story through this expedition.

All the best and hope to hear from you, 

The Usun Apau Retraced team x