They went to the wilds of Borneo as third year students loaded with theory and returned with unforgettable field experience in a challenging environment.
Sixteen students from Unitec's Bachelor of Applied Science were dropped into the middle of the remote Maliau Basin jungle for 15 days where they were required to design and complete their own field studies.
The biodiversity management and animal management students had to compare the biodiversity of the pristine Maliau Basin with nearby forest regenerating after selective logging.
The students had to design a field project, taking them from being theory learners to applied practitioners, senior lecturer Lorne Roberts says.
Bachelor of Applied Science student Johanna Neuhauser, 23, was on the trip and says it was inspiring and eye-opening.
"We'd done the theory in class but never had to apply it, so it was good to see what worked and what didn't and how to fix it.
"One example of something that wasn't expected was having monkeys stealing all the bait from our insect trap, so we had to think about how to solve that," the New Lynn resident says.
"That was the main thing, coming up with our own methodology with limited resources, trialling everything and then presenting work you were proud of," Neuhauser says.
The trip included multiple close encounters with the rare Pygmy Elephant, of which there are only 1000 remaining.
At one point the students were charged by a herd of the animals forcing a hasty retreat led by the experienced guides.
The group also saw bearded pigs, vipers, spiders, rare bats, scorpions, many weird insects and a variety of plant species.
"The primary goal is to learn field techniques, sampling methods and analytical systems, and to look at how the forest structure changes between pristine forest and selectively logged forest," Roberts says.
The students returned on February 1 and Lecturer Glenn Aguilar says there were many challenges for the students to negotiate while they applied the theory learnt in New Zealand to a different and more challenging environment.
They had to organise their own sampling regimes, liaise with local guides, coordinate and communicate with their teams and problem solve when things didn't go as planned.
"It gives them experience they won't find anywhere else," Aguilar says.