Wednesday, February 29, 2012

MASwings new destinations bring economic growth

KUCHING: MASwings’ foray into new international destinations in BIMP-EAGA will bring about competitiveness and stronger economic growth.

This is because the direct flights connecting the main cities in Sarawak and Sabah with Brunei, West Kalimantan and East Kalimantan will be able to integrate economic-related activities in the region.

Besides that, the tourism industry will flourish and there will be a ‘spill over’ to other economic sectors as well, said Tourism Minister Datuk Amar Abang Johari Tun Openg at the MASwings BIMP-EAGA gala dinner on Monday night.

MASwings commenced its international operations to Bandar Sri Begawan, Pontianak and Tarakan earlier this month.

“Sarawak, in particular, has been enjoying good relationship with our neighbours at the government level, and we hope to continue to improve the relationships within the private sector.

“With better facilities in terms of connectivity, we can definitely enhance good relationships in the region.

“Business communities will be able to engage among themselves and explore new areas for cooperation,” added Abang Johari.

He noted that the increasing demand from the people calls for more carriers and flights.

“For instance, there is an increase in the number of students from West Kalimantan in Swinburne University and other colleges. There is also an increase of visitors who come here for medical checkups in Normah, KPJ and Sibu Medical Centre.

“With the new routes, MASwings is able to serve those demands,” he said

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Mangrove Discovery Centre a plus for nature tourism in Sabah

SANDAKAN: The newly-upgraded Mangrove Discovery Centre in Sepilok Laut, near here is slated to become another tourism attraction for Sabah, specifically the east coast town of Sandakan.

The centre, upgraded and completed on Jan 12 at a cost of RM1.04 million, is located 5.5 kilometres away via a jungle trail from the Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre.

Sabah Forestry Department director Datuk Sam Mannan said the centre aims to provide a unique and magnificent experience to visitors who will get to experience a natural mangrove habitat.

“A 700-metre Belian wood boardwalk connects the existing information centre to a camping site. Other facilities include resting areas, bridges and a multipurpose tower.

“The department plays an important role in operating and maintaining this centre, which is also in line with the Sustainable Forest Management principles,” he said in a statement issued here yesterday.

He said Tourism Ministry secretary-general Datuk Dr Ong Hong Beng and officers from the ministry’s development division recently visited various attractions in Sandakan, including the centre.

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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Mystery cats of Sarawak

For about 100 years, the city of Kuching, capital of Sarawak on the island of Borneo, was ruled by the legendary White Rajahs. Now it seems to pay homage to the domestic cat.

Take a tour of Kuching and you certainly see the more normal sights, such as a brilliantly decorated Chinese temple, an elegant pink mosque, traditional Malay stilt houses sharing the banks of the Sarawak River with a magnificent new state Parliament, a lively market and a Chinatown.

But it is cats and the memory of the White Rajahs - the three generations of Britain's Brooke family - which dominate.

The rajahs are the easiest to explain. The first, James Brooke, was given a huge slice of Borneo by the Sultan of Brunei as a reward for saving his kingdom from rebellious Dyak tribes, and he set himself up as its ruler in 1841.

Despite a spectacular construction programme fuelled by Sarawak's oil and gas riches, the highlight of the city is still the Astana - the elegant white palace on the banks of the river built in 1870 by the second White Rajah, James' nephew Charles Brooke, as a wedding gift to his wife.

The palace is not open to the public because these days it is the official residence of the Governor of Sarawak, but visitors can explore the superb gardens.

I spent a pleasant half-hour sitting on the bank opposite, sipping a cool drink from one of the riverside stalls, watching the little water taxis zip to and fro, admiring the palace's old-world charm and dreaming of a time when a young Englishman could make himself into a rajah.

If James was the city's founder, Charles seems to have been its builder, transforming Kuching into a modern Western city with all the latest amenities of the time.

The plaque outside the Sarawak Museum - described by our guide, Taylor, as "one of the finest in Southeast Asia" - said it was built by Charles Brooke in 1881 to display the wildlife and handicrafts of Sarawak.

It certainly does that, displaying everything from a headhunter's house complete with skulls to an orangutan skeleton, a collection of blowpipes and a display of Borneo's hugely beaked hornbills.

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Kalimantan releases orangutans into the wild

Four orangutans were released into the wild on Indonesia's Borneo island on Tuesday, an official said, as the country ramps up efforts to protect the animals from extinction.

They were the first among 40 orangutans planned to be released by the end of the year, Mega Hariyanto, the forestry ministry's conservation chief for Central Kalimantan province, told AFP.

"The orangutans were flown from the rehabilitation centre to a town near the Bukit Batikap forest on Monday. A team of vets took them to the forest this morning by helicopter," he said.

The release was a collaborative effort between the Forestry Ministry and non-profit organisation Borneo Orangutan Survival (BOS) Foundation, Hariyanto said.

"There are still more than 600 individual orangutans at the Central Kalimantan Orangutan Reintroduction Project who are waiting to be released back to their natural habitat," the organisation said in a press statement.

A dozen more orangutans are expected to be set free by end of next month, it added.

Experts say there are about 50,000 to 60,000 orangutans left in the wild, 80 percent of them in Indonesia and the rest in Malaysia.

They are faced with extinction from poaching and the rapid destruction of their forest habitat, driven largely by palm oil and paper plantations.

Conservationists in the region have been raising awareness about the plight of the endangered primates in various ways.

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Monday, February 27, 2012

Call to revamp Sarawak's handicraft industry

MIRI: Artisans and retailers face a bleak future unless the local handicraft industry can organise and modernise to meet buyers’ demands while preserving the integrity of local handicrafts.

Although the industry is currently stable, an increasing portion of Sarawak’s unique reservoir of traditional handicraft skills and knowledge is being lost forever as older artisans pass away with no one to take their place or pass their expertise to, secretary of the Miri Handicraft Centre Alice Janting told the Borneo Post Adventure Team (BAT) yesterday.

“Young people are not interested in taking up handicrafts, perhaps because they don’t feel inspired by it,¨ she said, adding that the work was very labour intensive and required much patience and focus.

A flood of cheap but poor quality imports from Indonesia compounds the problem of limited skilled labour locally.

“Unfortunately, the market is very price-driven,” said Alice, who co-owns Teng Bumicrafts No. 12 which she has operated with her husband at the Miri Handicraft Centre for the past seven years.

She explained that many buyers do not understand the amount of time and effort which goes into producing iconic Sarawakian craftwork such as the Iban’s pua kumbu and the Orang Ulu’s intricate bead necklaces.

Local artisans also tend to underprice their work, she said.

The prices demanded by the market and charged by local artisans do not commensurate with the quality of local crafts which tend to be much better than similar imports, she pointed out.

Alice, who is a skilled beadworker, suggested that the government could look at regulating imports of handicrafts to protect the integrity of local craftwork.

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Sunday, February 26, 2012

RM3b Aeropod project at Tanjung Aru takes off

Kota Kinabalu: A RM3 billion mixed commercial development that will see the Tanjung Aru Railway Station getting a major facelift has begun with the launch of the Aeropod by internationally-renowned Malaysian developer, SP Setia Berhad, Saturday.

The ambitious project would be done in five phases and includes retail offices, three hotels (including a 5-star hotel). They are expected to be completed between eight and 10 years from now.

Preparation of the infrastructures as well as construction of the State Railway Department headquarters at the present station would be done under Phase One.

Costing more than RM200 million, the first phase is expected to be completed in three years.

The launching ceremony was a culmination of more than three years of studies conducted by SP Setia to know Sabah and bring their worldwide knowledge in terms of property development into the State.

Officiating at the event, Chief Minister Datuk Seri Musa Aman said the State Government welcomed such initiative as Sabah aimed to continue positioning itself as a main gateway for investments from within the region, including through the region of Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines-East Asean Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA).

He said in tandem with the aim, the real estate market has also become stronger in recent years with increased investor interest and overall confidence in Sabah's economic growth.

"We are seeing an upward trend in real estate value not only in Kota Kinabalu, but also in other major towns like Sandakan, Tawau and Lahad Datu," he said.

Musa who is also State Finance Minister said the redevelopment and modernisation of the railway station, which is situated within SP Setia's Aeropod, is especially important as the State enters the second phase of the Sabah Development Corridor (SDC).

He said the Aeropod's proximity to the Kota Kinabalu International Airport (KKIA) and integration with the Tanjung Aru railway station will allow it to benefit from the projected growth in tourist arrivals to Sabah.

"The development of tourism calls for a number of initiatives, including improvement of our transport systems, such as the redevelopment and modernisation of the Tanjung Aru Railway Station.

"This is one of a number of efforts that will provide an impetus to Sabah to attract a greater number of visitors, helping the SDC achieve part of its goals.

"The second phase will run until 2015 and will see the SDC pursuing an ambitious list of development projects to generate employment and income for Malaysians in Sabah, and to help jump-start sustainable economic growth," he added.

Musa said that the cumulative planned investment that has reached RM63 billion, almost four times the target value set in 2010 now that the SDC is entering its second phase of growth.

He also said that the railway line from Tanjung Aru to Tenom has been around since the early 1900s and is steeped in history as a transportation link built by the British to transport produce from the inland to the coast for export.

Continue reading (Incl. Pic) at: RM3b Aeropod project at Tanjung Aru takes off
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Sabah still favoured among foreign tourists

Kota Kinabalu: Sabah is still a favoured destination among foreign tourists, said Tourism, Environment and Culture Minister Datuk Masidi Manjun.

He said this is proven by tourist arrivals last year, which totalled 2.8 million, surpassing the target set.

"Sabah remains the favourite choice among the tourists, especially the foreigners, due to our security, harmony, peace, friendliness and hospitality of the people.

"Tourist arrivals last year was more than that in 2010 where the State registered 2.63 million tourists," he said.

Masidi said this in his speech before flagging off a motorcycle convoy of 150 big bikers, headed by State Commissioner of Police Datuk Hamza Taib, for a crime prevention awareness campaign in Kepayan.

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Saturday, February 25, 2012

Agri-tourism to bear fruit in Brunei

By Azlan Othman

The large-scale planting of longan fruit trees on agricultural land in Brunei Darussalam has the potential to promote agri-tourism like what other countries in the region, such as Malaysia and the Philippines, have been able to achieve.

This observation was made by Awang Hj Jamain bin Hj Momin, the Brunei-Muara District Officer, during the launching of Kg Lugu and Kg Katimahar Consultative Councils' longan and mangosteen fruit tree-planting yesterday.

'Timbunan Rindu' farmers from both villages were also on hand to help out.

The fruit trees were first planted on a 10-acre site two years ago with a workforce of 15 people. The workforce has grown to 50 and the target now is to plant even more fruit trees on a 100-acre site.

Such an initiative is commendable, as it shows what other Village Consultative Councils can do with vast plots of land, said Awang Hj Jamain.

"We will give our utmost support to (help further) develop the farm," he said, noting that the Brunei-Muara District Office along with the Village Counsultative Councils of Kg Belimbing Subok, Kg Jerudong and other villages are in the midst of implanting various projects to promote agri-tourism.

Brunei first imported longan fruits from Thailand in the 1980s. It was only in recent years that villagers in the Sultanate began to plant these fruit trees.

The large-scale planting of fruit trees is a wise move made by the Village Consultative Council in diversifying the economy, whilst reducing the import of such fruits, the Brunei-Muara District Officer said.

Awang Hj Jamain went on to say that the Brunei-Muara District Office would help promote and market these fruits through the annual 'Fruit Fiesta'.

The chairperson of the farm, Hj Zainal bin Hj Safar, meanwhile, said that the farming project could provide employment opportunities for youths, as well as senior citizens.

Besides promoting agri-tourism, such sites could be turned into a fruit research centre that could look into preserving fruit plants that are nearing extinction such as 'Buah Menungan', 'Buah Rancah-Rancah', 'Buah Sigir' and so on.

Courtesy of Borneo Bulletin Weekend
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Friday, February 24, 2012

Braving dangers to capture Sabah’s beauty from air

At 9pm tomorrow, 25 Feb, a new documentary that features two professional photographers Jonathan Tan and Cede Prudente flying paramotors and braving risky weather conditions to capture breathtaking bird’s-eye views of Sabah’s tropical rainforest and sea will be aired over the Bio Channel (Astro 731).

The ‘Shoot for the Sky’ documentary will take viewers to various locations, including the mangroves on Sandakan coastline, Semporna islands, the reefs and home of the sea gypsies and foothills of Mount Kinabalu.

According to its director Julian Shori, the production of the show involved huge physical and emotional challenges.

“It all started in Kuala Lumpur when we had to pack and transport over 500kg of equipment to Sandakan. We encountered many technical, logistical and weather problems.

“In the early stage, the fuel was contaminated and could not be used. So the engines had to be emptied and cleaned, then refueled.

“We also had to travel by boat each day from Semporna to the islands and had to return by late evening with the heavy equipment,” he said.

Julian said the time for taking better photographs varied from location to location.

“In the Sepilok area, good lighting for photographs was in the early morning and late afternoon. At the islands, the ideal lighting condition was around noon when the light was from above. At the mountain the only time they could photograph the eastern ridge was in the early morning,” he said.

“So it was a nightmare for me. Could they ever accomplish their mission with all these conditions and all the obstacles in our way?

“This programme was completely unscripted and therefore the talents were not directed at all in anyway. We, the crew and I, had to anticipate what would happen and be there when it did.

“It was difficult to say the least, but we succeeded in most situations,” he said, adding that “Murphy’s Law” was their guide all along, which means that if anything goes wrong, it will go wrong.”

Julian said they spent four days in Sandakan as they realised that Cede and Jonathan needed some more time training with their cameras.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: Braving dangers to capture Sabah’s beauty from air
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MASwings offers school holiday deals in East Malaysia

KUCHING: MASwings is offering special deals online at www.maswings.com.my for the coming school holidays.

A press statement here said the “irresistible” and “value for money” fares for travel on MASwings’ domestic destinations will be offered until March 9.

Subject to seat availability, the seats are available on a three-day advance purchase before the date of travel and are valid for travel from Feb 26 to June 30.

“Customers can purchase a one-way ticket from Kota Kinabalu at prices starting from as low as RM65 to Labuan and Mulu, RM75 to Bintulu, Sandakan and Lahad Datu, RM85 to Tawau and Sibu and RM95 to Miri and Kuching,” said MASwings head of commercial Zainuddin Mohamed.

During this period, customers can also enjoy fares from Miri starting at RM35 to Bintulu, Mulu and Limbang, RM55 to Labuan and RM75 to Sibu.

For journeys from Kuching, the fares start from RM65 to Sibu and RM85 to Bintulu, Miri and Mulu.

Zainuddin said MASwings wants its customers to take advantage of these fantastic deals during the coming school holidays and travel with their families and friends to explore what Sabah and Sarawak have to offer.

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Thursday, February 23, 2012

Kuching Wetland National Park to be important tourist draw

KUCHING: In its effort to promote eco-tourism, the state government through the Ministry of Tourism is intensifying efforts to promote Kuching Wetland National Park (KWNP) as an important destination for local and international tourists.

The 6,610-hectare KWNP is located about 15 kilometres from the city in an area formerly known as Sarawak Mangrove Forest Reserve (SMFR). In 2002, the area was gazetted as a totally protected area and was recognised as a Ramsar wetland end of last year.

The state government in 2008 commissioned Universiti Malaysia Sarawak to conduct a multidisciplinary assessment of KWNP aimed at establishing a comprehensive description of the physical, biological and human environment of the area.

The exercise also included the assessment of threats and opportunities and developing a management plan for the park in accordance with the requirement of a totally protected area and as a Ramsar site.

According to the officer-in-charge of the Ramsar project Suliman Jamahari, from the state Forest Department, the recognition of KWNP as a Ramsar wetland made it the fifth wetland to be listed in the country and the first to be listed in the state.

Suliman said KWNP fulfilled four out of the nine criteria required before it could be listed as Ramsar Wetland, namely the beauty and maintenance of the mangrove system and that it supports the lifestyle and breeding of animals that are becoming extinct.

“The third criteria that KWNP fulfilled is that it is a breeding sanctuary for crocodiles as according to a survey, this (KWNP) area has the most population of crocodiles — estimated to be about 317,” he stated during a special media tour to KWNP in conjunction with World Wetland Day which was themed ‘Wetland Tourism, A Great Experience’.

Suliman highlighted that the highest concentration of crocodiles were found in and near the confluence of upper Sungai Sibu and Lobak Matang at Sungai Lemidin, Sungai Semariang, Lobak Kilong and Sungai Gelugor-Enggang, which suggested that estuarine crocodiles use these areas as breeding ground.

“Besides being a sanctuary for crocodiles, the fourth criteria that KWNP fulfilled is that it is also the breeding ground for fish,” he said.

Suliman said from observation and by mist-netting method 104 species of birds from 41 families had been recorded at KWNP.

“The lesser adjutant stork is listed as vulnerable by International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) while five other species are listed as near-threatened. Seven species of birds are totally protected and 38 species are protected by Wildlife Protection Ordinance,” he added.

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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Borneo Jazz Festival to be held on March 11-12

KUCHING: It is time to get ready for the 7th edition of Borneo Jazz.

An adult daily pass to Borneo Jazz 2012 is available online at a special promotional price of RM30 starting yesterday.

This early promotional offer is only available via phone and Internet purchase and is not applicable via outlet sales.

The promotion will be held until March 31.

The ‘not to be missed’ Jazz Festival will be held at Parkcity Everly Hotel in Miri on May 11-12 from 7pm to 10pm.

The organiser is pleased to announce a special preview show on May 10 the opening night.

Ticket to the show including dinner is on sale at RM80.

South Africa’s Schalk Joubert’s 3 Continents Sextet will be performing during dinner.

They will also showcase a local cultural performance.

There will be two previews in Kuala Lumpur prior to the festival on May 8 – 9.

Jazz performers from Indonesia and France will be performing at the preview scheduled from 7-10pm at Taylor’s University Lakeside Campus in Sunway and the second venue is soon to be confirmed.

Continue reading (Incl. Pic) at: Borneo Jazz Festival to be held on March 11-12
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Sarawak national parks, nature reserves charge new rates, beginning May 1

KUCHING: Effective May 1, all national parks and nature reserves in Sarawak will implement new rates for entrance fees, park guiding fees and other charges.

The move was part of efforts to develop better products, services and facilities for the tourism sector, Sarawak Forestry chief executive officer/managing director Ali Yusop said today.

He said the corporation aimed to broaden the scope and functions of the national parks and nature reserve through an additional source of revenue, better facilities, services and manpower, in accordance with the new rates.

In a statement here today, he said the Sarawak Forestry was responsible in managing all national parks and nature reserves in the state, overseeing operational matters which were handled by wildlife experts, park guides, veterinarians and conservators, alike.

Ali, who is also Director of Forests and Controller of National Parks and Nature Reserves, said the new charges included entrance fees for the foreigners, locals, senior citizens and the disabled categories for World Heritage Site, national parks, Semenggoh Nature Reserve and other nature reserves, besides park guiding fees for leisure and adventure trekking and commercial filming and photography.

He said, the national parks and nature reserves had shown positive outcomes, in terms of visitation, industry and stakeholder interest, as well as worldwide recognition and support in the past year.

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Sabah popular holiday destination for military personnel

SEPANGGAR: The ability of the Royal Malaysian Navy (RMN) to promote tourism in Sabah has achieved great success when 10,021 military tourists arrived and landed at the Sepanggar Naval Base in the past couple of years.

Sabah Navy Regional Two Commander Rear Admiral Datuk Anuwi Hassan said the number of military tourists recorded last year doubled the figures of previous years.

“Last year alone, about 6,260 military tourists arrived at the Sepanggar Naval Base, double the figures recorded in 2010 with 3,761 military tourist arrivals.

“For the past two years (2010 and 2011), we had received 30 foreign naval vessels with a total of 10,021 military tourists visiting Sabah.

“This is a great achievement of the state’s tourism and it shows that tourists are choosing Sabah as a holiday destination because the state’s waters are safe for visit,” he said at the Sabah Navy Regional Two Commander farewell parade held at the KD Sri Kota Kinabalu, Sepanggar Naval Base yesterday.

Anuwi will relinquish his post on February 24 and will assume the position of Assistant Chief of Staff (AKS) Operations and Exercise at the RMN headquarters.

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Monday, February 20, 2012

Kalstar holds promotion on Kuching-Pontianak flight

KUCHING: Kalstar Aviation (Kalstar) is promoting its flight from Kuching to Pontianak via a low all-in fare as well as a new schedule for the convenience of travelers to Pontianak and other Indonesian cities.

Kuching branch manager Adlan Sabri said that as of February 6 this year, the departing time from Kuching had been moved to 10.05am, giving passengers ample time to arrive at Kuching International Airport (KIA) to check-in and board the aircraft.

“The promotional all-in fare of RM98 includes, 20 kilogrammes (kg) of check-in luggage, light refreshments, free seating as well as complimentary sports equipment check-in.

“Passengers with excess luggage need pay only RM7 per kg and this can be done at the check-in counter at the airport,” he explained.

With regards to connectivity from other cities, he noted that flights from Kuala Lumpur International Airport, Kota Kinabalu, Miri and Sibu arrive at KIA around 9am.

With an arrival time of 9.40am in Pontianak (one hour behind Malaysian time), this would give transiting passengers sufficient time and the ability to continue their journey to Pontianak and onto other cities.

Apart from Kalstar’s main hub in Jakarta, other destinations from Pontianak include cities in Kalimantan such as Sintang, Putussibau, Ketapang and Sampit. Adlan noted that studies for more possible routes linking other cities in Borneo and Java are currently ongoing.

With a travel time of just 35 minutes, the bi-directional connectivity also makes it convenient for travelers from a wide range of segments such business travel, medical tourism (patients and professionals) as well as university students.

Continue reading (Incl. Pic) at: Kalstar holds promotion on Kuching-Pontianak flight
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Sunday, February 19, 2012

The elusive Borneo pygmy elephant

IT was in conversation with a former student of mine that my thoughts drifted towards this article. Dr Kate Evans has been working in Botswana, with her husband, in researching the behaviour and patterns of movement of African elephants for many years. She inaugurated the Elephants for Africa Trust Fund. I once had the great pleasure to teach Dr Evans about vegetation and wildlife on the African savannahs and much later in my life got very close to African elephants in their natural habitat in the Masai Mara Game Reserve in Western Kenya.

My fascination for the Borneo pygmy elephant (Elephas maximus borneensis) became a reality 11 and 12 years ago in leading two expeditions of UK students to Danum Valley and along the lower Kinabatangan River in eastern Sabah.

Whilst driving along a logging track, I observed fresh elephant dung and, as elusive as ever, there was not a single sighting of my friends. Clearly, as the dung was still steaming, the elephants had recently used the logging track in the early morning mists to cross from one section of the dipterocarp forest to another.

Dr Evans, in her research for her PhD, was one of the first pachydermists in the world to track elephants, in Botswana, with the use of the global positioning system (GPS) by attaching transmitting collars to male elephants.

For a year – 2005 to 2006 – five female Borneo pygmy elephants were tracked by satellite to come up with a plan for their protection in eastern Sabah. This was sponsored by the Sabah Wildlife Department, the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) – International, and the Asian Rhino and Elephant Action Strategy (Areas) WWF – Malaysia.

These elephants are usually located on the floodplain tributaries and middle catchment areas of the Kinabatangan River and in the Danum Valley. Often they migrate across the human border into East Kalimantan (Indonesia).

Smaller by some 600 centimetres to one metre than their other Asian counterparts, and less aggressive, they have rounded faces, larger ears and longer tails, which sometimes sweep the ground. They are a chubbier species of elephant.

As their forest habitat shrinks, despite the creation of elephant corridors, as plantations take over the land, they often confront humans over food needs to guzzle crops in particular, leading to the beating of gongs and even fireworks to scare them away.

Long thought to be feral remnants of a domesticated herd of Javan elephants donated to the Sultan of Sulu in the 17th century, owing to their non-aggressive behaviour and semi-tamed nature, this theory has now been disproved. Interestingly Javan elephants on Java are long extinct.

DNA analysis in a 2003 joint research project between Columbia State University (USA) and WWF established that our Bornean pygmy elephants are genetically different from other Asian elephants and became isolated from the Asian mainland population of elephants some 300,000 years ago. Thus the Borneo pygmy elephant is a subspecies endemic to areas of Borneo. This research was based on the analysis of elephant dung.

Continue reading (Incl. Pic) at: The elusive Borneo pygmy elephant
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Seven reasons to visit Malaysian Borneo

Malaysian Borneo is one of those rare places where you can sense the adventure in the air, along with the green smells from thousands of miles of rainforest just waiting to be explored. Borneo is the third-largest island in the world, and a virtual paradise on Earth for anyone who shares a love for plants, wildlife, and adventure.

The island of Borneo is divided between Malaysia, Indonesia, and tiny Brunei. The Indonesian part of Borneo -- known as Kalimantan -- covers around 73% of the island, while Malaysian Borneo occupies the rest along the northern edge.

Malaysian Borneo has two states, Sarawak and Sabah, which are separated by the independent country of Brunei. Sarawak's capital of Kuching and Sabah's capital of Kota Kinabalu are the usual entry points, and act as hubs for exploring Borneo's wild attractions.

Here are just a few of the many reasons to get yourself to Borneo!

1. See Wild Orangutans

Borneo is one of two places on Earth -- Sumatra is the other -- where endangered orangutans can still be viewed in the wild. Orangutans are among the smartest primates; they make medicine, craft tools, and even exchange gifts!

Unfortunately, due to habitat loss caused by massive palm oil plantations, orangutan numbers are dwindling; now is the time to see them while you still can.

The Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre in East Sabah is the most popular place to view orangutans in Borneo. A better option is the cheaper and less-crowded Semenggoh Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre just outside of Kuching. While there are never guarantees, you have a pretty good chance of seeing semi-wild orangutans at both refuges during feeding times.

Alternatively, you can chance a real orangutan encounter in the wild by taking a river cruise along the Kinabatangan River!

2. Learn About the Rainforest

Only open to the public since 2006, the Rainforest Discovery Centre in Sabah is a world-renown environmental education center.

Today, for a great entrance price of only US $3.50, visitors can learn about an amazing array of plants, insects, and animals found in Borneo's rainforests. After touring the well-manicured botanical garden and education center, visitors can then apply their new knowledge while trekking along the many trails nearby.

An impressive, canopy walk matrix elevates visitors above the dense trees where they can spot rare birds and sometimes even orangutans.

3. World-Class Scuba Diving

Not all of Malaysian Borneo's natural attractions are found on land. Sabah boasts some of the world's premier scuba diving sites. Compared to diving in places such as Malaysia's Perhentian Islands, diving in Borneo is certainly not cheap; however, from turtles and macro life to hammerhead sharks and whale sharks -- you get what you pay for!

The diving in Sipidan is so famous, that conservationists now only issue 120 permits per day in an effort to preserve the fragile reefs; you must organize your diving well in advance to ensure a permit.

Mabul, a nearby alternative to Sipidan, offers arguably some of the best muck diving in the world, and is also considered the premier dive site for underwater macro photography.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: Seven reasons to visit Malaysian Borneo
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Saturday, February 18, 2012

Sabah targets 2.95m tourist arrivals for this year

Kota Kinabalu: The targeted tourist arrivals to Sabah would be revised to a slightly lower figure of between 2.93 million and 2.95 million, said Minister of Tourism, Culture and Environment Datuk Masidi Manjun.

Masidi noted that Sabah had an impressive figure last year when it broke the all time record with total tourist arrivals of 2,844,597.

"I think we worked too hard last year, so we are going to revise it slightly down because the arrival last year means it's 13.6 per cent increase," he said during the launching of 'KK City Boardwalk' here, Friday.

"Thus, we want to be a bit realistic in the arrival and perhaps we are targeting 2.93 or 2.95 which would mean three to four per cent increase," said Masidi.

"I hope this doesn't de-motivate hoteliers, I'm a very realistic person and we know some routes were cut by Malaysian Airlines (MAS), such as Australia and Japan.

"Thus, I am taking that into consideration but I believe we will still be able to come up in a positive territory next year," said Masidi who expressed disappointment with the move taken by MAS.

"It's a very serious problem because we are living in an island, we are not like those living in Kuala Lumpur, where people can travel by train from Singapore or from the North.

"Obviously we in Sabah cannot go to Kuala Lumpur by sampan (boat), it has to be air service, which is why connectivity is very important to the tourism industry," he said.

"Last year, since MAS reduced some direct flights, we had to redirect our move, which is why Sabah Tourism is now looking more towards the north which is China.

"Last year, the Chinese arrivals went up by 37 per cent although China has no direct link with us, except through Hong Kong and I think it will increase in the future.

"We have talked to a couple of Chinese airlines and one airline has already started a charter flight and I will be going up to Guangzhou on Feb 26 to meet up with another airline.

"Hopefully there will be another airline from China who will start with initially charter flight and if the business is good, will continue as a scheduled flight," he said.

'Last year, tourist arrivals from Australia went up by 33.9 per cent and I was told by our agent in Perth that all the guests are now going to Singapore Airlines, just so they could come here.

"As a Malaysian, I'm sad that we have a national airline that should be serving us, but seems like they have taken a drastic step which may not serve the interests of Malaysians in Sabah and its own interest," he said.

He explained that the government has taken steps to set up a task force under the chairmanship of the Minister in the Prime Minister's Department, Tan Sri Nor Mohamed Yakcop to look into the issue.

"The other members of the task force is of course myself, the Sarawak Minister of Tourism and MAS Chairman and hopefully we can come to an amicable solution soon, " he said.

"This is an assurance to the people in Kota Kinabalu, especially those in the business sector that we want to make sure that the business created by the tourism industry will continue to flourish," said Masidi.

Continue reading at: Sabah targets 2.95m tourist arrivals for this year
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Seven Festivals in Borneo Not to Be Missed

Borneo's sunshine, vivid rainforests, and laid-back attitude are the perfect ingredients for outdoor festivals. The friendly people certainly know how to throw a party; festivals in Borneo are usually vibrant events with food, music, and good times for both locals and visitors!

You can find festivals in Borneo practically any time of year. With such a mix of indigenous cultures and religions there is always something to celebrate.

1. Rainforest Music Festival

The Rainforest World Music Festival is one of the largest music festivals in Southeast Asia. Held every year just outside of Kuching, the three-day concert features bands from nearly every continent. Musicians from all over the world showcase their traditional instruments in workshops throughout the day before the headlining bands take to the two main stages in the evening.

The Rainforest Music Festival takes place annually in July. The festival draws thousands to dance in the mud – make plans to attend early. Tickets can be purchased in Kuching or at the gate.

2. Miri Jazz Festival

Every May thousands of jazz enthusiasts flock to the city of Miri in northern Sarawak for two nights of world-class jazz performances. Well-known musicians from the US, Europe, and Asia get the crowd dancing rain or shine!

The $20 entrance ticket is a small price to pay for a great night of fun. Only a limited number of tickets are available at the gate, however tickets can be purchased online in advance.

3. Borneo International Kite Festival

The Borneo International Kite Festival began in 2005 as a small, local celebration and has quickly grown into one of the most pleasant festivals in Borneo. Hundreds of people gather in late September or early October to fly colorful and intriguing kites. Some kites are complex enough to require handling teams!

The festival is held annually at the Old Bintulu Airport in Bintulu, Sarawak; entrance is free. A week-long trade expo adds to the excitement.

4. Gawai Dayak

Gawai Dayak - also known as the Harvest Festival - is one of the most important celebrations for the Iban and other indigenous cultures in Sarawak. Traditional costumes, ritual music, a chicken sacrifice, and lots of locally-brewed rice wine make this event one of the most educational and entertaining in Sarawak.

Gawai Dayak is celebrated across Sarawak annually, beginning at sundown on May 31. The Sarawak Cultural Village outside of Kuching - the same venue as the Rainforest Music Festival - is just one of many places to witness the celebration of a good harvest. Sampling some of the traditional food in Kuching is half the fun.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: Seven Festivals in Borneo Not to Be Missed
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Friday, February 17, 2012

Sarawak Tourism Board welcomes arrival of cruise ship

KUCHING: Sarawak Tourism Board welcomed the second arrival of a cruise ship in a month at Bintulu Port yesterday morning, making it the fifth arrival for this year so far.

The 15,000-tonne MS Columbus, the luxury cruise ship owned by the Hapag-Lloyd of Germany, arrived at Bintulu Port at 6:30am.

Sarawak Tourism Board officials from Miri, who organised a special traditional welcoming reception, greeted the 287 tourists.

According to a press release issued here, the MS Columbus is on a 20-day “Devine Impression on the Far East” cruise, stopping at Bali, Semarang, Bintulu, Muara, Kota Kinabalu, Da Nang, Haiphong, Hong Kong, Xiamen and Shanghai.

Earlier this month on Feb 11, another cruise MS Pacific Venus from Japan arrived in Kuching and its 354 tourists and 208 crewmembers were greeted by STB Regional Marketing manager (UK & Europe) Maurice Balang with similar traditional reception party.

This is the third visit of the Pacific Venus to Kuching after earlier visits in 2000 and 2006. MS Pacific Venus is the 26,518-tonne luxury cruise ship operated by Japan Cruise Lines.

The cruise charges from RM30,000 (superior room) to RM160,000 (Royal Suites room) for a month trip across Japan, Macau, Bali, Komodo Island, Perth, Semarang, Singapore Penang, Melacca, Kuching, Kota Kinabalu and Hong Kong before returning to Japan.

The ship caters specially to Japanese tourists and it features karaoke rooms, a spacious hall and observation lounge situated at the base of the tunnel. Pacific Venus is engaged in cruising around the world and can accommodate up to 696 passengers.

While in Kuching, MS Pacific Venus passengers visited the Sarawak Cultural Village, toured Kuching City, Bako National Park, Gunung Gading National Park and explored as far as the Mulu National Park.

Continue reading (Incl. Pic) at: Sarawak Tourism Board welcomes arrival of cruise ship
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MASwings’ air services to Kalimantan receive good response

TAWAU: MASwings’ air services to a number of towns in the Kalimantan region in Indonesia from Sabah and Sarawak to date, has received good response, says its chief executive officer Datuk Kapt Mohd Nawawi Awang.

He said since the air service from Kuching to Pontianak in west Kalimantan began about two weeks ago, and the latest from Tawau to Tarakan, in East Kalimantan on Feb 13, the response from both Indonesian and Malaysian customers had been very encouraging.

“If the first phase succeeds, we will request for bigger aircraft to provide services to Balikpapan, South Sulawesi and Menado in Indonesia as well as Davao and Zamboanga in the south of the Philippines.

“For Kalimantan, particularly, if we succeed in the first six months, maybe by year-end, we will continue with the flights from Tawau to Tarakan and Tawau to Balikpapan.

“I am very confident of success as just in the first and second weeks, bookings have been full for return flights,” he added.

Mohd Nawawi was speaking to reporters in conjunction with the dinner function to commemorate the visit by a 22-member delegation from Tarakan who arrived on the inaugural MASwings flight from Tarakan to Tawau. The delegation was headed by Udin Hianggio.

He said the MASwings air service to areas in Kalimantan provided a boost to economic development in that area and Malaysia as well as the Brunei-Indonesia-Malaysia-the Philippines-East Asean Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA).

He said following the formation of the BIMP-EAGA in 1994, MASwings was the first company to answer the call for member nations to provide an service network to meet the groupings objective of ensuring regional prosperity.

Continue reading at: MASwings’ air services to Kalimantan receive good response
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Travel agent calls for long overdue direct flights between Sibu and Singapore

SIBU: A local travel agent has called for a direct flight between Sibu and Singapore.

Travel agency owner Robert Tan said locals should press for the long overdue route now that upgrading on the Sibu Airport is near completion.

“With the upgrading of our airport due to complete in September, we had better start to negotiate for this direct flight,” he said.

He proposed that a low-cost airline service the route.

“Why not Tiger Airways?” he asked and urged the government to begin negotiations with the Singapore-based low-cost carrier.

According to Tan, there should be load factor for the route as there is an increasing number of Sibu folk studying or working in Singapore.

There are currently four daily direct flights between Kuching and Singapore run by SilkAir, Tiger Airways, Malaysia Airlines (MAS) and AirAsia.

Continue reading at: Travel agent calls for long overdue direct flights between Sibu and Singapore
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Niah Cave artifacts on way home?

KUCHING: It would take two to three years for artifacts taken from Niah Cave in the 1950s by archaeologists from Nevada University, USA to be returned to the state.

According to Sarawak Museum Department director Ipoi Datan, the process of acquiring all 122 skeletons taken from Niah Cave in Miri was done with cooperation from the National Heritage Department.

“There are several procedures that we need to follow and it will take another two to three years before we will reach something,” Ipoi said when met by reporters after the launching of a photography exhibition at the Sarawak Art Museum yesterday.

It was Chief Minister Pehin Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud who brought up the subject when he officiated at the opening of an international seminar on Borneon Archaeology back in 2010. He said the artifacts were an important part of the state’s heritage.

The archaeologists who had taken the artifacts had made some initial reports on their study but none were ever published.

Continue reading at: Niah Cave artifacts on way home?
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Thursday, February 16, 2012

Fine side of Borneo cuisine

KUCHING is where you can savour a variety of international cuisines from Japanese, Korean, Lebanese, European to Thai as well as fast food and oodles of noodles.

How about local cuisine? Chinese and Malay culinary arts are well represented but not local indigenous cuisine.

A restaurant, uniquely called The.Dyak, aims to fill that gap. Just opened late last year, The.Dyak serves restaurant-quality version of Iban and Orang Ulu dishes.

Many ingredients come from the fields and jungles, including bamboo shoots, cassava leaves, wild ginger shoots and a selection of the many edible ferns that sprout in the farm clearings.

It isn’t just the ingredients. The cooking methods too originate from the hunters’ camp fires and floor-level hearths in the longhouses.

Pork can be grilled or fried — anybody can do that — but it can also be preserved by controlled fermentation to make kasam.

Chicken-in-bamboo may be one of Sarawak’s iconic dishes, featured in many menus when “traditional fare” is called for, but there’s more than one way of braising a chook!


LONGHOUSE IN MANHATTAN

The restaurateur, himself a Dayak or Dyak, can draw on family lore that goes back generations, plus clearly expressed advice from a large circle of relations.

Dyak is the old-fashioned spelling of a term meaning “non-Muslim Borneo native”, which came up in the 18th and 19th Century.

This is the restaurant’s main theme, “with touches of Manhattan” to quote the owner. A few “longhouse touches” here and there don’t interfere with elegance or comfort.

We’re not “playing Dayak” here — the waiters aren’t costumed in beads and feathers, diners aren’t made to sit cross-legged on a mat either!

Wall hangings and old photos demonstrate a proud family heritage of artists, travellers and leaders.

Some of the decor feature Stambak Ulu, a famous longhouse in the Saribas district. Heirlooms like huge stoneware jars, antique brasswares or priceless hand-woven textiles displayed here and there make the point, ever so subtly.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: Fine side of Borneo cuisine
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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Borneo's orangutans: wild, with a certain civility

The swampy heat swaddles everything like a wet diaper. The coffee-colored Sekonyer River looks tempting to cool off in, but then there are the crocodiles and the water snakes. Somewhere out there, too, are rumors of headhunters - and not the business kind.

Instead, my family and I decide to kick back and let the orangutans in Borneo's Tanjung Puting National Park come to us.

The park is one of the best places in the world to see the endangered orangutan in the wild. With South Asia's tropical forests rapidly disappearing, particularly in Borneo, it's also one of the only places where you can still see the great apes in their natural habitat.

To reach the park, we fly to Indonesia's Central Kalimantan province from Jakarta, then take an old African Queen-style wooden boat from the port of Kumai on the Java Sea. We plop ourselves in deck chairs as the boat slowly putt-putts away from Kumai's fishing shacks, cargo sheds and bright blue mosque, wheezes past freighters and canoes, and finally enters a channel leading to the jungle. Here, an unexpected billboard featuring a large picture of a big-eyed orangutan announces the entrance to the park.

Other than in the picture, though, the orangutans are initially hard to spot. Although the rain forest presses close on both sides of the boat, the apes stay hidden.

Our guide helpfully instructs us to look for swaying branches up in the canopy and for nests made of sticks: This is because orangutans are tree-dwellers, in fact the largest tree-dwelling mammals in the world.

We also learn to look in front of the boat, rather than to the side, and soon we spot moms with babies firmly attached swinging from tree branch to tree branch or munching contentedly on fruit. At ground level, I see solitary males, with their telltale large, leathery cheek pads, along the reedy banks. Most are drinking from the river or scavenging for food. Scientists have found that some of the park's apes use sticks to spear fish, but the orangutans near us are stickless.

I spot one big male squatting in the mud, oblivious to the boat but riveted by a stray soda can. Slowly, he turns the can end over end, trying to divine its shiny purpose. Then, finding the top, he pops open the tab and, to his considerable surprise, sprays himself in the face. Those opposable thumbs can be a mixed blessing, I suppose.

Farther along, less shy orangutans, both moms with babies and solitary males, watch the boat from branches close to the shore. Our guide calls to the animals, whistling and making kissing sounds. The orangutans remain silent but cautiously swing closer to the boat. A few venture to waterside branches, although the park discourages visitors from getting too close for safety (the 250- to 300-pound males can be dangerously unpredictable) and health reasons.

I tentatively hold out a banana to one mom and, standing face to face with her, suddenly feel an easy kinship with the great ape. Not surprising, since they share 97 percent of our DNA. Our guide tells us that the word "orangutan" derives from a Malay word meaning "forest man."

Continue reading (Incl. Pic) at: Borneo's orangutans: wild, with a certain civility
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5 Years on, Heart of Borneo Faces Big Conservation Challenges

In February 2007, the three countries that share Borneo, the world’s third-largest island, signed on to a conservation and sustainable forest development program initiated by the World Wildlife Fund to protect a vast swath of forest.

Fives years on, officials concede that the Heart of Borneo program faces daunting challenges. In its latest status report on the area, the environmental organization notes that lowland forest in the 220,000-square-kilometer zone stretching across the island is under threat and needs immediate rescuing.

What makes the situation dire is that this type of forest is prime habitat for endangered species such as pygmy elephants, orangutans and rhinos.

In 2008, the Heart of Borneo report said lowland forests in the area were in good condition.

Stephan Wulffraat, forest and species conversation ecologist at WWF, attributed the decline to increased illegal logging and forest fires.

“The result showed 63 percent of remaining historic lowland rainforest is classified as good, but this is misleading because it’s now quickly becoming rare due to logging and forest fires,” he said.

He added that of the many types of tropical forest in the Heart of Borneo, however, the most threatened were heath forests. In the 2008 report, their condition was classified as fair. Now, very few swaths remain in Central and East Kalimantan.

“Even these are not pristine condition, as several areas have been burned in the past 25 years,” Wulffraat said.

“Their restoration is extremely difficult. Existing heath forest is 48 percent of historic levels compared with the proposed viable extent of about 60 percent.”

In 2000, WWF Germany made a dire prediction for Borneo’s forests. That year, 75 percent of the island was forested, and the group projected that by 2010 the forest cover would halve.

“Fortunately, the projection for 2010 didn’t happen,” said Adam Tomasek, the leader of the Heart of Borneo program.

However, he said huge areas of forested land were still lost, leading to the decline in the number of endemic species.

“In the last decade, at least 1.2 million hectares of Indonesia’s forests have been lost to large-scale logging activities and forest conversation,” he said.

While the populations of Bornean elephants and orangutans were categorized as fair in the new report, pygmy elephants are on the wane.

Their dwindling habitat means these endangered animals can now only be found in East Kalimantan and Malaysia’s Sabah and Sarawak states, according to the report.

Continue reading (Incl. Pic) at: 5 Years on, Heart of Borneo Faces Big Conservation Challenges
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Sarawak mulls special test for would-be tour guides

KUCHING: To strengthen the tourism sector, the Sarawak Tourism and Heritage Ministry plans to introduce a special examination for prospective tour guides in the state by year-end.

The minister Datuk Amar Abang Johari Tun Openg said the proposed examination was aimed at helping those keen on becoming tour guides but were unable to get a licence after failing the test conducted by the federal tourism ministry.

He said some of the guides who sat for examinations under the tourism ministry failed because some of the subjects were unrelated to Sarawak.

He was speaking to reporters after chairing the state tourism steering committee here today.

Abang Johari said the syllabus for the state examination was being prepared by tourism experts, including lecturers from University Malaysia Sarawak.

He said those who got through would be given a licence as tourist guide, but it would only be valid in Sarawak.

According to Abang Johari, it was important for the Sarawak tourism industry to have skilled and knowledgeable tour guides who could provide accurate information to foreign visitors.

Continue reading at: Sarawak mulls special test for would-be tour guides
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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Why Go to Malaysian Borneo?

My month spent crossing Malaysian Borneo from south to north in 2010 was one of the best travel experiences in memory. This magical place, still slightly off the mass tourism radar, won't last as a "secret" for very much longer; get yourself there!

Camping on island beaches, trekking to waterfalls, seeing wild orangutans and proboscis monkeys, sleeping in national parks, and enjoying the great culture of the former-headhunting Dayak people -- Borneo was everything that I hoped for in a travel adventure.

Malaysian Borneo is the type of place where you can be shopping in a modern mall in the morning, then attempting to open a fallen coconut you picked up on a private beach later that evening.

While the hubs of Kuching, Kota Kinabalu, Miri, and Sandakan are nice places to act civilized for a few days, Borneo's real attractions lay in the rainforests which cover most of the island. There is a reason you regularly meet biologists and botanists there: the diversity of life is astounding.

I was lucky enough to see a rare Rafflesia -- the world's heaviest flower, pictured above -- in bloom while trekking in Sarawak's Gunung Gading National Park. One of only a few visitors sleeping in the wooden, longhouse accommodation at the park, I virtually had the trails to myself!

Continue reading (Incl. Pic) at: Why Go to Malaysian Borneo?
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Monday, February 13, 2012

1.2 million Bruneians visit Malaysia in 2011

By Azlan Othman

There has been an increase of 10.2 per cent in the number of Bruneians who visited Malaysia last year compared to in 2010 where some 1,239,404 visitors were recorded in 2011 compared to 1,124,406 in the previous year, Tourism Malaysia statistics revealed recently.

The top 10 tourist generating markets from January to December 2011 for Malaysia were Singapore (13,372,647), Indonesia (2,134,381), Thailand (1,442,048), China (1,250,536), Brunei (1,239,404), India (693,056), Australia (558,411), the United Kingdom (403,940), Japan (386,974) and the Philippines (362,101).

Malaysia recorded overall growth in tourism last year as the positive effects of its luxury destination branding kicked in. Tourist arrivals rose to 24,714,324 compared to 24,577,196 in 2010 while receipts climbed to RM58.3 billion compared to RM56.5 billion the previous year.

Malaysian Tourism Minister Dato' Sri Dr Ng Yen Yen said this was in line with the Malaysia Tourism Transformation Plan 2020 of achieving 36 million tourist arrivals and RM168 billion receipts by 2020.

"The branding of Malaysia as a luxury destination and our efforts to attract high-yield tourists to Malaysia have been well-received and this has made a difference," she said.

Since 2010, the Ministry of Tourism had implemented various initiatives to draw high net-worth tourists to Malaysia with events like the 1Malaysia International Shoe Festival, 1Malaysia Contemporary Art Tourism Festival and the packaging of helicopter tours.

Other events included private sector collaboration on the 'A Journey through Time' luxury watch exhibition and the CIMB Asia-Pacific Classic Malaysia golf tournament sanctioned by PGA Tour which positioned Malaysia as a luxury tourism destination.

Dato' Sri Dr Ng said that despite being hampered by global economic, political, social and natural challenges, "our tourism partners pulled through and I have no doubt that we would have been able to perform even better under different circumstances".

"This year will continue to challenge us but we will proceed with efforts to promote Malaysia as one of the preferred holiday destinations in the region," she said.

The minister thanked partners in the Malaysian travel trade industry and overseas, as well as members of the media, for their support.

Courtesy of Borneo Bulletin
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Atkinson Clock Tower Exhibition a hit

KOTA KINABALU: The Atkinson Clock Tower exhibition at Hotel Sixty3, Gaya Street here, in conjunction with the recent ‘Bonding With Gaya Street’ event has proven to be such a hit among locals and tourists that the exhibition has been extended until February 14.

The exhibition venue is located at the hotel’s first floor atrium, situated just opposite the Sabah Tourism Board building.

Among the highlights of the exhibition is a 48-foot long graphic mural of the Atkinson Clock Tower, sponsored by Hotel Sixty3 as well as numerous images and information of Kota Kinabalu’s oldest and most popular city landmark.

According to Richard Nelson Sokial, a local heritage advocator involved with the exhibition, the public response to the Atkinson Clock Tower exhibition had been very good, and by popular demand, the hotel’s management had kindly extended its goodwill and hospitality to host the exhibition for another two more days.

Curious members of the public have come steadily since Saturday to view the exhibition, which is one of the activities organised by the North Borneo History Enthusiasts (NBHE) for the recent ‘Bonding With Gaya Street’ event. The exhibition was put together by members of the Heritage Sabah group with the help of NBHE volunteers and the cooperation of Sabah Museum, Sabah State Archives, Sabah Information Department, town planning studies by AIA Consortium as well as photo contributions from private individuals.

Besides displaying rare photos showcasing the importance of the Atkinson Clock Tower as a city marker for more than 100 years, the exhibit features a 100-year old original railway sleeper used by the North Borneo Railways (now known as Sabah Railways), courtesy of Cap Kuda Coffee Company. A visual multi-media display by various supporters of Heritage Sabah group’s Save Our Heritage Atkinson Clock Tower campaign is also on display which shows the younger generation’s appreciation of the clock tower as a legacy for their own generation in Sabah.

Continue reading (Incl. Pic) at: Atkinson Clock Tower Exhibition a hit
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Sunday, February 12, 2012

MASwings To Boost Air Travel Within East Asean Region

BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN (Brunei) -- The Brunei-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines-East Asean Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA) is set to witness greater economic growth with improved air connectivity.

The area is now increasingly emerging as an economic region with good development potential, unlike 18 years ago, when BIMP-EAGA was established.

However, during each BIMP-EAGA ministerial meeting the limited air connectivity has been identified as a setback in the efforts to develop the area.

The matter was again brought up during BIMP-EAGA's latest meeting in Cagayan De Oro, the Philippines in November 2011.

BIMP-EAGA leaders were optimistic that good air connectivity would serve as a catalyst for the region's economic activities, especially in the tourism and trade sectors.

At the end of the BIMP-EAGA Ministerial Meeting in Cagayan De Oro, the four nations agreed to look into ways to enhance aerial connectivity within the region.

Their consensus also included the initiative to extend the existing MoU with more destinations in the list, including those outside the BIMP-EAGA cooperation scope.

INAUGURAL FLIGHT

The consensus achieved enabled a Malaysian regional airline based in Sarawak, MASwings, to emerge as the first airline to connect entry points within BIMP-EAGA, with inaugural flights to Brunei and Indonesia.

Numerous parties felt that the flights were necessary and their introduction were timely.

Sabah's Assistant Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Bolkiah Ismail noted improved air connectivity would also help boost trade and tourism activities and, indirectly, the ties between member states.

The MASwings' flights to Brunei are contributing to this objective. Effective 6 Feb 2012, there are two daily flights between Kota Kinabalu-Bandar Seri Begawan and three weekly flights between Kuching-Bandar Seri Begawan.

Continue reading at: MASwings To Boost Air Travel Within East Asean Region
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Saturday, February 11, 2012

'Heart Of Borneo,' Last Stronghold Of Lowland Forest

KUCHING -- The Heart of Borneo (HoB), which straddles the transboundary highlands of Brunei, Indonesia and Malaysia, may be the last stronghold for the preservation of lowland forest in Borneo, said a report released by World Wide Fund for Nature-Malaysia (WWF-Malaysia)'s Heart of Borneo Initiative.

Its team leader Adam Tomasek said today based on the the new report titled "The Environmental Status of the Heart of Borneo", the good news overall was that most forest types in the HoB were currently rated as good or very good.

"This is particularly important for lowland forest which is under severe threat across the rest of the island of Borneo, especially as it is prime habitat for the pygmy elephant, orang utan and rhino," he said in a statement here.

However, he said, the HoB still remained under serious threat from industrial conversion of natural forest for oil palm cultivation and other agricultural crops as well as illegal logging and unsustainable rates of legal timber extraction.

Forest fires, mining and over hunting of wildlife were also major threats which future versions of the report would serve to monitor, said Adam in highlighting the significance of the report, which analysed the environmental health of the area via 13 key targets and more than 50 scientifically derived biological and ecosystem indicators.

The targets included endangered animal species, such as the orang utan, rhino and pygmy elephant and a selection of ecosystems, including lowland, heath and montane forests and river systems, with each key target being given a rating of very good, good, fair or poor - depending on its current quality within the HoB.

Continue reading at: 'Heart Of Borneo,' Last Stronghold Of Lowland Forest
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Sabah’s biggest graphic mural of historical Clock Tower

KOTA KINABALU: The newly-opened Hotel Sixty3 at Gaya Street here will be

unveiling Sabah’s biggest graphic mural of the Atkinson Clock Tower for a two-day exhibition to be held in conjunction with the “Bonding with Gaya Street” event this weekend.

The 8’ x 48’ graphic mural, depicting KK city’s oldest landmark, the Atkinson Clock Tower, will be the highlight of the exhibition that will be placed in the atrium of the hotel.

The mural will be an artwork collage of various old photographs of Jesselton township combined to create an image of the clock tower. It will be the largest graphic bunting ever produced of the 107-year-old historical lock tower that

has now become the most important historical marker for the city of Kota Kinabalu.

The Atkinson Clock Tower (ACT) exhibition will showcase the importance

of the Atkinson Clock Tower as KK city’s historic landmark with old photos taken over the past 107 years of its existence by the past and present residents of Kota Kinabalu (then known as Jesselton).

Richard Nelson Sokial, a local heritage advocate who is assisting in curating the ACT exhibition together with Sabah Museum, praised the hotel management for its interest and support in promoting the event.

Sokial is also a member of the “Bonding with Gaya Street” organizing

committee under the North Borneo History Enthusiasts (NBHE) group that is aiming to bring the local community together in rediscovering the history of KK city’s early town centered around the activities of Gaya Street — then known as Bond Street.

“The graphic mural of the Atkinson Clock Tower is a huge and generous

gesture by Hotel Sixty3 in support of promoting our local history,” he said. Sokial is confident that with ongoing efforts to create awareness of the importance to preserve heritage in the city, more and more local business establishments are seeing the potential of heritage as a branding and tourism product by supporting the preservation of existing historical structures and their immediate surroundings.

Continue reading at: Sabah’s biggest graphic mural of historical Clock Tower
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Friday, February 10, 2012

All-time high tourists arrival in Sabah in 2011

KOTA KINABALU: Tourists arrival in Sabah last year was a record-breaking all-time high with 2.84 million visitors, not only exceeding Sabah Tourism Board’s (STB) arrival projection of 2.64 million for 2011 but has also achieved their 2012 projection of 2.75 million visitors.

It is a 13.6 percent increase compared to 2010's total arrival and an estimated RM4.98 billion in tourism receipts, proving the importance of air accessibility for the industry, Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Masidi Manjun announced yesterday.

Masidi congratulated the tourism players in the state for this better-than-expected result. He said this was due to the close rapport between STB and the industry players, and their hardwork.

“STB’s marketing strategies were very effective and everyone has worked on ‘overdrive’ mode to ensure success,” he said.

“It was an unpredictable year-end with the flight issues. However, I am pleased to say that Sabah recorded double digit growth every month since March last year. This consistency of growth shows the strong demand of visitors coming to our State be it for leisure or business. Ninety-six per cent of these arrivals come by air. The numbers show it all, air accessibility into Sabah is essential and the only way for the industry to grow,” added Masidi.

Strong markets indicated were from China (including Hong Kong) at 37.6% growth and Australia (33.3%). Despite the recent Japanese tsunami crisis, the Japanese market remained strong at 18.4% growth. Domestic tourists recorded the highest number of visitors of 1.99 million or an increase of 17% compared to 2010.

Recent news reported strong public opinion against the route cuts into Sabah by Malaysia Airlines affecting direct air access from Australia, Korea and Japan as well as the suspension of Malaysia Airlines low-cost carrier, Firefly.

Masidi cautioned that while he is optimistic of another good year in 2012 but it will also be a challenging year in view of MAS’ recent route rationalisation.

Continue reading at: All-time high tourists arrival in Sabah in 2011
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Thursday, February 09, 2012

Programme aims to prevent Sumatran rhino extinction in Sabah

LAHAD DATU: A female Borneo Sumatran rhino limps alone daily across the jungle.

She wakes up, searches for food, scratches her back on trees, trumpets her happiness, then dips for hours in her favourite wallow, before going back to her den to end the day.

Puntung, which means ‘stump’ in English, is the name given to this animal, one of the last rhinos of her type alive.

She lost her front left foot when she was an infant and for many years endured a lot of pain, injuries and bruises from passing through complicated areas in the jungle.

Since 2007, she has attracted the interest of Borneo Sumatran rhino rescuers, namely Sabah Wildlife Department, Borneo Rhino Alliance (Bora) and their strategic partner, Sime Darby Foundation.

Since Christmas day last year, Puntung has found a new home in Borneo Rhino Sanctuary (BRS), not far from where she used to live.

BRS is a programme by Sabah state government, located in Tabin Wildlife Reserve (TWR), with aims to prevent extinction of the Sumatran rhinoceros, especially by increasing the number of rhino births.


Puntung the survivor


Today, three Borneo Sumatran rhinoceros are protected at BRS, two nons, (female) named Puntung and Gelogob, and a bull (male) named Tam.

All of them have endured tragic histories in the wild.

The species, totally protected by law, is among the most endangered in the world.

Only around 150 of them are left in Sumatra (Indonesia) and less than 40 in Borneo, mostly in Sabah.

“Puntung is our latest member of the sanctuary following her capture from the wild last December after three years of monitoring,” said Bora chairman Dr Abdul Hamid Ahmad.

Although Puntung was actually safe in the wild as she roamed within the TWR area, Bora executive director Dr Junaidi @ John Payne said no other rhino had entered her range since 2007, leaving her alone and therefore unable to breed.

“There’s a desperate need to ensure breeding happens to avoid extinction.

“Once we found Tam to be fertile in 2009, we decided to capture Puntung in early 2010 to become his mate, as Gelogob was found to be unable to breed,” he added.

The capture of Puntung happened in December 2011, 22 months after the decision was taken.

Upon her arrival at BRS, she was immediately cleaned, fed and examined to determine her health condition.

The terminal bone of the stumped leg were found to be missing, a sure sign that it was ripped off by snare trap when she was an infant.

Miraculously, somehow she cheated death, and is now well and healthy.

“Simply said, Puntung is our new hope to avoid the extinction of our natural heritage,” said Dr Payne.


The real threat


It is estimated that at least 60 per cent of the Borneo Sumatran rhino population has been lost in the last two decades.

This species also lost its prime habitat in the lowlands due to human exploration, besides being hunted for its horn, normally used in traditional Chinese medicine. The price of the horn can reach US$30,000 per kilogramme.

Massive hunting has reduced the rhino population from 1,000 to its number (and declining) today. As result, they are now in danger of extinction.

Today, land exploration or hunting do not pose as much threat as before, but a new threat has arisen.

There are not enough fertile rhinos left in the wild today. With a small population scattered across the Borneo jungles, the chance of them meeting and mating is very slim.

“Our effort here (at BRS) is to bring together these rhinos and increase this chance,” said Bora Field manager Dr Zainal Zahari Zainuddin.

It is estimated that only five or six breeding female rhinos remain in Borneo, specifically in Sabah. TWR was gazetted in 1984 after surveys identified it as the location with the highest population of this species.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: Programme aims to prevent Sumatran rhino extinction in Sabah
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Sabah Tourist Arrivals Up 13.6 Per Cent In 2011 To 2.84 Million

KOTA KINABALU -- Tourist arrivals in Sabah last year rose by 13.6 per cent to 2.84 million compared to 2010, said State Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Masidi Manjun Thursday.

He said the figure not only exceeded Sabah Tourism Board's (STB) arrival projection of 2.63 million, but also achieved its 2012 projection of 2.75 million.

According to him, the industry contributed an estimated RM4.98 billion, proving the importance of air accessibility for the industry.

"It was an unpredictable year-end with the flight issues. However, I am pleased to say that Sabah recorded double-digit growth every month since March last year.

"This consistency of growth shows the strong demand of visitors coming to our state either for leisure or business with 96 per cent arriving by air," he said in a statement here.

Masidi said the strong markets that contributed to the figure were China (including Hong Kong) which grew by 37.6 per cent, Australia (33.3 per cent) and Japan (18.4 per cent), despite the recent Japan tsunami crisis.

Domestic tourists recorded the highest number of visitors with 1.99 million or an increase of 17 per cent compared to 2010, he added.

Meanwhile, Masidi remained optimistic for this year, despite being a challenging one with Malaysia Airlines' (MAS) recent route rationalisation.

"The rationalisation will especially affect the Japan and Western Australia markets.

"There are now no direct flights between Sabah and Japan, while for Australia, Sabah Tourism Board is working hard with other airlines to continue offering Sabah holiday packages," he said.

Continue reading at: Sabah Tourist Arrivals Up 13.6 Per Cent In 2011 To 2.84 Million
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Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Pandaw Cruise: Offer innovative options

SIBU: Tourism industry players involved in the Pandaw Cruise are urged to come up with innovative options to replace the luxury cruise that will cease operation next month.

Tourism Minister Datuk Amar Abang Johari Tun Openg said he would personally meet them (players) over the matter.

“I have read about their decision (Pandaw operator) to move out, but that should not worry us too much because we can think of options,” he told the media after officiating at the groundbreaking ceremony of a new housing project, ‘Pearl Avenue’, in Sibu Jaya here yesterday.

He added: “After having found a replacement for Pandaw Cruise, we have to work out a marketing strategy. We can promote it on the website and instead of restricting it to Europeans we can target those from Peninsular Malaysia to participate in the cruise.

“Sibu is well-known for its shipbuilding industry.

“For example, an operator can take hold of an old ship, fabricate it to meet the requirement of travellers and provide good food and entertainment.”

Assistant Minister of Housing Abdul Karim Rahman Hamzah, HD Cam Sdn Bhd director Azmi Hashim, Daya Builders chairman Dr Abdul Rahman Junaidi and Malaysian Institute of Microelectronic Systems president and chief executive officer Datuk Abdul Wahab Abdullah were among those present at the function.

Pandaw Cruise operator, Irrawaddy Flotilla, had in its November 2011 online newsletter said it would cease operation in March.

Continue reading (Incl. Pic) at: Pandaw Cruise: Offer innovative options
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Monday, February 06, 2012

MoU to create wildlife corridor for Malaysia’s largest wildlife reserve

KOTA KINABALU: The state government, represented by the Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD) and the Rhino and Forest Fund (RFF), signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) during the Sabah Wildlife Conservation Colloquium.

This agreement lays the foundation to improve a wildlife corridor between Tabin – Malaysia’s largest wildlife reserve and adjacent conservation areas.

Tabin Wildlife Reserve is one of the last areas on Borneo where large wildlife still coexist.

This includes the Bornean Rhino, Bornean Elephant, Orang Utan, Banteng and Sun Bear.

But Tabin is almost completely isolated from other forests and surrounded by oil palm plantations.

“Connecting forest fragments is an integral part of our strategy to secure wildlife habitat in the long term,” said Dr Laurentius Ambu, director of the SWD.

The director added that it was necessary for the SWD to be active in promoting the reforestation work throughout areas with wildlife as corridors and forest patches are much needed for wildlife connectivity.

“At present there is an increase of reforestation work within wildlife landscapes in Sabah and we want them to be successful not only for the benefit of wildlife but also local communities who close to these areas,” said Laurentius.

The wildlife corridor will facilitate the migration of critically endangered wildlife through the newly established Segama Corridor Conservation Area.

It is hoped that eventually this will lead to a narrow but continous corridor from Tabin up to Kulamba Wildlife Reserve, another important refuge for endangered species.

“To save endangered wildlife suffering from habitat fragmentation, we need to establish a network of protected areas of a sufficient size and quality.

This will prevent inbreeding of currently separated sub-populations and help to maintain healthy populations.

Tabin is absolutely crucial for the long-term survival of many threatened species and needs to be reconnected with adjacent forest land.

The outcome of our efforts will be a connected conservation area of more than 200,000 hectares, nearly twice as big as Tabin is today,” Robert Risch, one of the directors of the RFF.

In the MOU the State Government reassures that the restored area will remain protected excluding any conversion or logging in the future.

Continue reading at: MoU to create wildlife corridor for Malaysia’s largest wildlife reserve
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