Monday, September 17, 2012

Princess Diana had wanted to visit Danum Valley

LAHAD DATU: Fifteen years ago, there was another British Royal who had intended to visit Danum Valley in Lahad Datu, Malaysia’s well-reserved rainforest.

Arrangements were made to accommodate the royal visit, and the date was tentatively set.

Scores of discussions were organised to ensure everything was fit for a princess.

Yayasan Sabah Conservation and Environmental Management Division group manager Dr Waidi Sinun said they made sure everything was in order, especially when the guest was one of the world’s most influential women, Princess of Wales, Diana.

“Of course we were all very excited,” he said when met at the Danum Valley Field Centre over the weekend, adding: “It was indeed an honour to have such influential person having interest in our work and the area itself.”

But all hopes were crushed when Princess Diana was tragically killed in a car accident on August 31, 1997, six months before she was scheduled to visit Danum Valley.

She and companion, Dodi Fayed, succumbed to serious injuries after the Mercedes-Benz they were traveling in hit the road tunnel in Paris to elude paparazzis.

The car driver, Henri Paul, was also killed in the accident, while the couple’s bodyguard, Trevor Rees-Jones, survived the crash.

But Danum Valley had ‘its second chance’ to play host to British royals.

Fast-forward just over a decade later, they again received a call that the British royal couples, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Prince William and wife Catherine Middleton, or fondly known as Kate, had picked Danum Valley one of the top three rainforest research centres in the world to end their visit to Malaysia. William is Diana’s eldest son.

Their visit to the forest was planned because of William’s longstanding interest in conservation, which also offered the royal couple an opportunity to experience the ecological wealth of Sabah’s forests and the importance of supporting the efforts of the scientists working to understand and conserve them.

Whether the visit was part of William’s way of fulfilling his mother’s wish is anyone’s guess, but according to Waidi, “If it was me, I would do it.”

Waidi, who had a half-an-hour chat with Britain’s future king, however disclosed that William did say that his father, Prince Charles, has a soft spot for the rainforest.

“To have Princess Diana’s son at Danum Valley is a great honour. It is a recognition to the conservation work that Yayasan Sabah has done, jointly with the Royal Society’s South East Asia Rainforest Research Programme (SEARRP). It has elevated Danum Valley to a higher level,” he said.