Sunday, August 28, 2016

Gazetting Bukit Sarang and Binyo Penyilam as national parks

Backgrounds of the two proposed areas

DO you love nature and photography? Do you like flora such as pitcher plants and wild orchids or do you love fishing or even caving? If you do, then you might want to put down these two new places — Bukit Sarang and Binyo Penyilam — in your personal notebook.

Apart from the oil and gas industry, little is known about Bintulu’s unique forests and landscapes.

Bukit Sarang and Binyo Penyilam are two unique forest landscapes, located in the Bintulu region of Sarawak. Both areas are well-known for their rich natural resources. Binyo is a breeding ground for fish, especially Tapah (wallago leerii), while Bukit Sarang is known for natural bird’s nests and limestone caves.

Apart from these highly valued commercial resources, little is known about what these areas have to offer. Hence, it is important to know both are now undergoing transformation into National Parks.

Currently coming under the Planted Forest Project is an industrial tree plantation area covering Binyo and Bukit Sarang. Both are considered as conservation areas which are important for the unique landscapes as well as the rare, threatened or endangered species.

“The gazettement of both areas as National Parks will further enhance the protection of the biodiversity and recognise the importance of the areas as a reservoir for some rare, threatened or endangered species, including some new species” said Joanes Unggang, conservation manager for GP Pusaka, and leader of group of experts in biodiversity inventories in the areas concerned.

Research and inventory works in both areas have begun since 2004 and are on-going today in collaboration with numerous researchers from local and international institutions such as Smithsonian Institution, USA; Lund University, Sweden; National University of Singapore (RMBR); Nanyang Technological University; University of Canterbury, New Zealand; UNIMAS (Kuching); UTAR (Kuala Lumpur), Singapore Herbarium and AFSID, SFC.

“We’re not only conserving these two areas under our project but also connecting them with the largest existing wildlife corridor in Sarawak called the Bukit Mina Wildlife Corridor.

“The purpose is to have a virtual connectivity between the two areas for conservation. It’s the first of its kind in Sarawak. Everythihg is already in place and ready for legal protection,” Joanes added on the key conservation works in the Planted Forest Project.

1. Bukit Sarang – where white bats and lingering mystery

It was about three in the afternoon and the sky was suddenly getting darker when we were about to leave Kampung Keseng, a remote Punan village about two and a half hours drive by 4WD from Bintulu Town. Our destination was Bukit Sarang, another two hours and 45 minutes by boat from the village.

Our boatman 42-year-old Suring Jaweng assured us his top priority was our safety and getting us to our destination before sunset.

We set off from the makeshift jetty at Kampung Keseng amidst the grim prospects of a deluge.

We braced for impending storm and quickly wrapped up our cameras — and other personal belongings to ensure we at least had warm clothing for the cold night to come.

However, when the rain came, it was not as heavy as anticipated. We rejoiced at not having to endure the woeful consequences of getting all soaked up.

As we journeyed along the murky Kakus River, the weather improved and our boat cruised uneventfully upstream towards our destination.

About an hour later, the sky turned bright and as our boat headed towards the much smaller Sungei Maing, the murky water of Sungei Kakus slowly diminished.

The water of Sungei Maing was dark due to the peatland vegetation. But the river is still pristine and we came across many species of birds such as black hawks, colourful kingfishers and even some large owls. An hour later, we reached Sungei Sarang which had skrung due to the current dry weather.

Suring had to slow down due to the shallow steam and protruding deadwood and branches. It took almost 45 minutes of manoeuvring along the shallow and narrow Sungei Sarang before we finally reached the Bukit Sarang research station where we spent the night.

On our arrival, we met Su Lee Seng, 47, and his fellow workers who have been staying at their own quarters near the research station.

Su, fondly called Jimmy by his colleagues, has been working in the deep jungles of Bukit Sarang with eight others for a company, set up by the Bukit Sarang cave-owners from Kampung Keseng and a businessman, to manage the caves mainly for the lucrative bird’s nests’ industry.

Su has taken over the job as supervisor from his late younger brother who had mysteriously disappeared some time in February and his remains were found just last week about half an hour of boat ride downstream.

Jimmy said he and his family were now trying to come to terms with his brother’s tragic death, saying the investigation was still on-going (optional).

Bukit Sarang Limestone hill

Bukit Sarang is a small limestone hill, surrounded by peat swamps. It comprises two limestone hill complexes, the larger being Batu Anyi and the smaller Batu Lebik, both riddled with numerous caves of various sizes with underground water passages that support rich aquatic wildlife and other biodiversities that depend on the caves and the peat swamp ecosystem.

There are over 20 caves in Bukit Sarang whose systems create a suitable condition for bird’s nests production. Here is where sustainable harvesting of bird’s nests has been successfully carried out.

Some of the well-known Bukit Sarang caves are the Pakan Cave, Padong Cave, Bintawa Cave, Lebih Cave, Gua Rusa, Tanjung Cave and Mahkota Cave. Around Bukit Sarang area, there are several high hills but only two are of significant heights — namely Up 33 and Up 3. We had the chance to ascend Up 3, taking us about half an hour to reach the summit.

The panoramic view from the peak was breathtaking. We were in awe of the verdant canopy of the lush pristine rainforests. Visitors would definitely find scaling the hill well worth the effort.

In recent years, Joanes revealed, their research collaborators had discovered two new species of plants, one new species of lizards and frogs, and 26 endemic snail species which is the highest endemic snail concentration on the smallest surface of limestone bedrock in Borneo.