Christ Church student Rosalie Wright part of research group retracing 1955 Usun Apau expedition

Three current University of Oxford undergraduates, including Christ Church’s Rosalie Wright, will travel to the Usun Apau Plateau, a volcanic island at the head-waters of the Rajang, Sarawak’s largest river, in summer 2019.

Rosalie and Matt with a member of the 1955 expedition, Gordon PicklesThey are retracing an Oxford expedition from 1955 led by Guy Arnold, which provided the material for his book "Longhouse and Jungle: an Expedition to Sarawak". Arnold and his team spent six months in Sarawak, Borneo, and the four Oxford students spent their summer post-graduation individually conducting anthropological, zoological, botanical and geological studies. Their specimens are still held in the Oxford Herbarium and Natural History Museum and provide a valuable resource to scholars.

The 2019 team are raising awareness of deforestation and conservation issues in the region and will be spending 4 weeks living in the jungle, conducting vegetation ecology surveys comparable to the originals, abiotic surveys and (funding dependent) conducting rapid assessment camera trap studies. This information will be used to collate baseline data on the diverse and unique flora and fauna, as little research has so far been completed. The group hope that their data will help prove the case for protection from deforestation in the area.

A photo from the 1955 expeditionThough there are many similarities between the 1955 and 2019 expeditions, with many similar goals and sponsors (principally the Royal Geographic Society), there are some differences. Over the last 63 years, the landscape has changed significantly. Deforestation and the rise of palm oil plantations have vastly altered this once untouched area. Although methods of travel and communication have developed significantly, the 2019 group face different challenges, as whilst their 1955 counterparts had their food and equipment airdropped by the RAF, Rosalie and her team will be carrying their resources and hiking through the jungle.

They are working closely with the University of Sarawak’s Institute of Biodiversity and Conservation, the University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus, and the World Wildlife Fund, and like the original team, are seeking financial support and other assistance from interested supporters and companies. They are in the final stages of their fundraising campaign, have already raised £6000 from grant giving trusts and negotiated deals with outdoor equipment providers. Christ Church has awarded Rosalie the William Gurney Travel Prize to celebrate the team’s vision and to provide financial support. However, the team have £8000 still to raise. To find out more, including how to donate and support, please visit their website and crowdfunding pages.

You can also follow their journey on Instagram and Twitter, and they’d love to hear from staff, students, alumni and supporters.