Sunday, November 11, 2012

Forests of Gunung Mulu National Park - Living history, future legacy

One of the drawbacks of being city born and bred all your life is that it is quite easy to literally miss the trees for the forest.

I quickly learnt very early on during the recent Mentawai Scientific Expedition (MSE) there was often much more going in the forests of Gunung Mulu National Park (MNP) than what my untrained and unskilled senses could pick out.

Fortunately, I had the advantage to be in the knowledgeable company of the MSE researchers who were very generous with their expertise.

The result was not only a front-row seat to the unparalleled natural wonders of what MNP, a Unesco World Heritage site, has to offer but also a sobering reminder of what could be lost should Sarawak fail to treasure and protect the natural environment.

Living history

“Do you know what this is?” asked Yahud Wat, a Forest Department of Sarawak (FDS) forest ranger, placing his hand on the gnarled buttress of a large tree.

“You should know it well.”

I squinted up at the towering giant, futilely wracking my brain for a decent response as Yahud awaited my reply while smiling ear to ear. The tree’s top was so tall I could not even make out the shape of its leaves.

Engkabang? I hazarded a guess.

Yahud’s smile broke into an even wider grin as he gleefully surrendered the answer: “It’s a durian tree. Maybe a hundred years old or more.”

He pointed to some round, marble-sized objects scattered on the ground under the tree.

Upon closer look, I saw they were tiny, miniature sized durians, blown off the tree by strong winds before they had a chance to mature into the size and shape most of us recognise durians to be. I had walked right on top of them without even noticing what they were!

The diameter of the durian tree was so big that even when joining hands end to end, Yahud and fellow team member Yazid Kalbi could not circle their arms around the base of its trunk.

This was the first time I had encountered such a large durian tree, much less one probably at least twice as old as this country I was born in.