Sunday, October 21, 2012

Into the kingdom of hornbills

LOOK there! On that branch! Someone exclaimed as our engine-powered boat skimmed along the milky-coffee coloured surface of the silted Mendalam River.

He pointed up towards a tree with barren branches rising above the towering green and brown wall of jungle and vegetation lining the river.

My gaze followed the direction indicated and was rewarded with the sight of a large hornbill, perched high overhead, its horn gleaming an almost blinding ivory white under the glare of the afternoon sun.

But before I could free my camera from its waterproof bag to capture what I had seen, our longboat sped by and I missed my chance to take a photo of what is indisputably, the king of birds in all of Sarawak.

Nevertheless, it somehow seemed appropriate we should be graced in such a magnificent manner, seeing as we were on our way to Gunung Mulu National Park (considered by many to be the kingdom of the hornbills) for the Mentawai Scientific Expedition (MSE), the third in Sarawak under the Heart of Borneo Initiative (HoB).

First of its kind

The MSE – named after the Mentawai ranger station which would serve as base camp and temporary residence for over 100 researchers, assistants and Forest Department Sarawak (FDS) during the next one and a half weeks – was the first expedition of its kind in Mentawai.

Researchers from Forest Department of Sarawak (FDS), Sarawak Forestry Corporation, Sarawak Biodiversity Centre, Jabatan Mineral dan Geosains Malaysia, Jabatan Perhutanan Semenanjung Malaysia, Universiti Malaysia Sarawak, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia and Swinburne University of Technology (Sarawak campus) were among those who took part in the expedition.

From September 5 to 17, they scaled hills and valleys, waded through streams, pulled boats over shallow rivers, dug (and refilled) large pits over all sorts of terrain and even chainsawed through fallen logs all in the name of science.

Their mission: To study, survey and document the area’s native flora and fauna, geology, water and soil.

Gunung Mulu National Park (MNP) is just one small part of the 20 million hectares of tropical forest which lies within the HoB, a voluntary transboundary cooperation between Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei Darussalam dedicated towards the principles of sustainable development through research and development, funding and other activities relevant to the management, conservation and development of the area.

MNP is also recognised internationally as an area rich in biodiversity, making it a most promising location to launch scientific expeditions and surveys.

During the MSE, hundreds of specimens and samples were collected, documented and preserved by the researchers to bring back to their respective labs for further analysis and where necessary, for identification of new species.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: Into the kingdom of hornbills