Sunday, July 31, 2011

Climbing Mount Kinabalu - An Amazingly Accessible Experience

The 20th tallest mountain in the world and the 3rd tallest mountain in Southeast Asia, Kinabalu is an impressive massif on the island of Borneo. Tourists from all over the world come every year to Kota Kinabalu city in attempt to go climbing Mount Kinabalu. Kinabalu stands 4,095 m above the sea level, being the tallest peak between the Himalayas and the Jawijaya Mountains, in Indonesia.

The mountain is very important to the local people. The natives even considered it sacred, saying that it is inhabited by the spirits of their dead ancestors. That is why tourists used to sacrifice chicken before climbing Mount Kinabalu, hoping they will soothe the mountain's spirit. In fact, the mountain's shape is even displayed on the State flag. The life of the people from Sabah is in close connection to the mountain. The villages of Mesilau, Kiau and Bundu Tahan have a tradition in providing guides for the climbs at Kinabalu Mountain.

Thousands of tourists come every year, eager to make this memorable climb. Despite the massiveness of the mountain and its impressive physical features, climbing Mount Kinabalu does not necessarily require special skills. The two-days climb can be tiring, but if you are healthy and have a good physical condition you will be able to get to the top. In fact, Low's Peak, the highest peak of the mountain, is the easiest to climb and the trip does not require any equipment. However, the other peaks are not that "friendly"; equipment and some abilities, or at least a greater effort, are needed to climb them.

The tourist trail extends to the southern part of the mountain; 8.5 kilometers before reaching the top. This journey usually takes two days and climbers spend one night at the huts in the vicinity of Laban Rata.

Continue reading at: Climbing Mount Kinabalu - An Amazingly Accessible Experience

Sarawak - Take it to the streets

IT'S dusk on the Sarawak River. Crouched in a longboat, a fisherman unravels his tattered nets, his lined face lit by the flickering flame of a paraffin lamp. The ropes cause scarcely a ripple as they hit the water's surface and from across the river, the call to prayer echoes from a nearby mosque. Tonight, the fisherman could be in for a long wait but in these parts, no one seems in too much of a hurry.

Despite its status as the capital of Sarawak, a visit to Kuching is a reminder of a time when Asian cities were far less hectic. Until about 150 years ago, Sarawak was the name of the tidal river cutting through a province initially ruled by the Sultan of Brunei. In 1872, the city earned its present name under the second white Rajah, Charles Brooke.

Kuching literally translates to "cat" and while there are numerous theories as to how the name came about, the most likely explanation stems from the Indochinese word cochin, meaning port.

Mistranslations aside, to this day, Kuching retains a vaguely unhealthy obsession with cats. There are cat statues on roundabouts, outside temples, inside shops. There's even a cat museum. Resembling a flying saucer from the outside, it's a bizarre tribute to all things feline - there are figurines of every conceivable size, shape and colour, as well as displays charting their history in anything from movie posters to advertising campaigns, comic books to literature. One exhibit even displays photographs of owners who have tattooed their bodies with portraits of their beloved pets.

Cat obsessions aside, Kuching is a city with many attractions. Undoubtedly, one of the main drawcards is the Semenggoh wildlife centre, 24 kilometres south of the city. Though not as famous as the Sepilok centre in Sabah, Semenggoh acts as a rehabilitation facility for more than 20 of Borneo's injured or orphaned orangutans and the primates can come and go as they please within the 740-hectare forest enclosure. The centre comes across as a decently run enterprise where the animals' welfare takes precedence over the tourist dollar.

Within Kuching itself, there are numerous attractions. For an overview of the history, geology and wildlife of the region, the Sarawak Museum is a good bet.

Though stately from the outside, the interior - which dates to 1891 - is a little jaded but among the chipped cabinets and fading glass, some exhibits shine through. Some of the best include the gruesome headhunting history of the region and the origins of oil pioneering in the 1800s.

Also worth a look is the recently restored Fort Margherita on the banks of the Sarawak River. Built in 1879 to guard Kuching from pirates, it now houses the Police Museum and showcases interesting artefacts such as old cannons and a collection of "laughing skulls".

Other popular attractions include the much-lauded (though vaguely kitsch) Sarawak Cultural Village, with its daily dance routines and traditional longhouses, the Astana, which is now the official residence of the Governor of Sarawak, and the Chinese Museum.

While all these sights have merit, the best way to experience Kuching is simply to go walkabout. With a population made up of Malay, Chinese, Indian and indigenous tribal people, this is a city rich in cultural diversity. Its compact centre also means most areas of interest are easily accessible on foot.

Continue reading (Incl. Pic) at: Sarawak - Take it to the streets

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Sarawak Tourism targets 10 pct increase in tourist arrivals from China

KUCHING: Sarawak Tourism Board (STB) expects more tourist arrivals from China as its top agents target a 10 per cent increase for the year.

Chief executive officer of STB, Datuk Rashid Khan said the state recorded 34,888 tourists from China last year while hosting 11,390 visitors up to April this year.

“STB and relevant stakeholders in the tourism industry would like to work together with all of you to exceed this target.

“We have set aside a substantial marketing support budget to realise the number. We will provide incentives to motivate your organisations to aspire to greater heights,” he told a welcoming dinner for top agents from Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Xiamen, Kunming and Hong Kong at BCCK here Thursday.

Rashid added that the board would offer joint consumer advertising campaign and other media support for these agents to promote the state’s products.

The board, he said had been “aggressively promoting” the destination to China markets and hence looked forward to facilitating agents there for a mutually beneficial business relationship.

“I am sure that with your assistance, we can be confident that we can even do better.”

He was pleased to announce that the air accessibility to the state had “improved tremendously” and tourists could easily connect to Kuching and other cities in the state from Kuala Lumpur and Kota Kinabalu.

The outbound tourist volume from China would continue to grow, he noted, adding that the board hoped Sarawak would be among their choice destinations.

Meanwhile, Assistant Minister of Tourism Datuk Talib Zulpilip told the Chinese top agents that the state had a lot more to offer in terms of nature and culture.

“I can assure you that Sarawak is a peaceful, beautiful and friendly place. It is my hope that you all will bring more visitors from China.

Continue reading (Incl. Pic) at: Sarawak Tourism targets 10 pct increase in tourist arrivals from China

First Encounter With Mulu National Park Sarawak

I never knew that a veil could be formed in the sky. That was what happened in Mulu National Park... A seemingly endless stream of bats surging out of Deer Cave in search of food. It was a sight to behold and I was awe-struck for the 15-20 minutes it took for the undulating black ribbon, and last bat, to leave the cave as dusk began to fall. Bon appetite! I thought to myself.

I stayed in one of the wooden chalet in the Park itself and experienced first hand the rustic ambience and the feeling of being close to nature. The hustle and bustle of city life seemed so far away, and it was. The complete darkness and quiet of the night, inside and outside, made me wonder whether I was the only human there, or in the room in this case. The gentle rustles of my sleeping colleague in the next bed revealed otherwise, and came as a relief too. I was and still am a bit of a faint-hearted boy.

The other excursion, which I was faint-hearted about, occurred the next day when I took a tour of Deer Cave. I realized to my horror that viewing the bats from a distance is very different from viewing them upfront. Not that I had personal conversations with the bats, but the fact that the cave was littered, everywhere in fact, with bat guano (bat shit) made it a very personal experience for me.

Deer Cave was dark and damp. The voice of the tour guide was nice enough but not overly reassuring especially when he advised us to watch our steps and to be careful of where we placed our hands. Needless to say, my concentration was not fully on his explanations of the cave's history. I was profoundly thankful that I did not slip and fell or touch any guano. I came away with a healthy respect of tour guides who had to do this for a living.

Clearwater Cave, as its name implied, had clear water rushing and flowing through the cave. I would have liked to dip myself into the river of crystal clear cool water but unfortunately due to the rainy season, the water level was high and currents too strong for a safe dipping. So I contented myself with staring at the churning water and trying to imagine what might have been.

Continue reading at: First Encounter With Mulu National Park Sarawak

Friday, July 29, 2011

Review Sabah's tour guide zoning policy quickly

KOTA KINABALU: Minister of Tourism, Culture and Environment Datuk Masidi Manjun, who described the zoning system for tourist guides in Sabah as ridiculous, has urged the Federal Tourism Ministry to review its suitability in the state.

Masidi said those responsible for introducing the system should come and look at the situation in Sabah.

He said since the Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak has ordered all government leaders to go to the ground, the federal ministry officials should study the real situation in Sabah and not just making decision in the comfort of their offices.

“Maybe their intention is good but they also should see the situation. We are in Sabah, only 10 minutes from the city we will see the jungle. This new policy is does not make any sense and it’s ridiculous,” he said.

“I am hoping the federal ministry would come here to analyse and study the real situation and we would be more than happy to assist,” he said.

Masidi said his ministry, together with the Sabah Tourism Board (STB), will find a way to assist tourist guides in Sabah by determining whether there is a provision in the Sabah tourism enactment to allow them to work the way they used to.

He said he will do that if the federal ministry responsible for implementing the zoning system cannot solve the problem soon.

“Sabah Tourist Guides Association (STGA) has explained to me about this matter and I sympathise with their situation, where tourist guides issued with the blue badge were previously free to guide anywhere, but are now limited to picking up tourists to and from the airports and hotels as well as conducting city tours,” he said.

Continue reading at: Review Sabah's tour guide zoning policy quickly

Borneo Travel to Kuching - Capital of Sarawak, Borneo

With incredible outdoor attractions, multiple endangered species, and enough rainforest to keep even hardcore trekkers busy for a long time, Borneo travel is a exactly what every backpacker dreams of. Unfortunately many budget travelers making their way around Southeast Asia tend to bypass Borneo, buying into the myth that the world's third-largest island is out of their budgets.

Malaysian Borneo is comprised of two states - Sarawak and Sabah - which are separated by the small, independent nation of Brunei. The bustling city of Kota Kinabalu in the northern state of Sabah receives a lion's share of tourism in Borneo, while Sarawak - both cheaper and more peaceful - manages to stay off the mass tourism radar. Backpackers wanting to stick to a shoestring budget should definitely consider visiting Sarawak first.

Travel to Kuching, Sarawak

Kuching, the pleasant capital of Sarawak, takes many travelers by surprise. Considered one of the cleanest cities in Asia, Kuching's enjoyable waterfront and brick esplanade is well-manicured and spotless. The waterfront also serves as a venue for many of Sarawak's festivals; there always seems to be music or some form of free, cultural entertainment taking place. Chinatown in Kuching provides cheap accommodation and eateries, while free museums and green parks keep your Borneo travel budget happy.

Things to Do in Kuching

Museums and cultural centers in the city are free and are a great way to learn more about Borneo's indigenous headhunter cultures. Headhunting was common practice in Sarawak well into the 1950s; scores of removed heads still hang on display in local museums.

While Kuching has a few interesting draws, the rainforest just outside of the city is the real reason most people choose Borneo travel. Kuching serves as the perfect base for taking advantage of Sarawak's natural wonders. Gunung Gading National Park - only two hours away by bus - is the perfect place to luck upon the world's rarest and strangest flower: the rafflesia. Flowers bloom sporadically and unpredictably; check with the Forestry Office in Kuching to see if any flowers are in bloom. Even without rafflesias making an appearance, the Gunung Gading National Park is a peaceful retreat with accommodation and excellent trekking.

Continue reading at: Borneo Travel to Kuching - Capital of Sarawak, Borneo

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Mabul Island named one of the world’s “Best Secret Islands”

Mabul Island in Sabah, Malaysia was named one of the best islands in the world with that is not teeming with fish instead of tourists.

The Travel + Leisure magazine stated, “Diving enthusiasts should opt instead for the secret island of Mabul, off the northeastern coast of Malaysia, where the marine life is on a par with the Galapagos.”

The magazine adds, “Even better, the native sea moths, bobtail squids, and elusive paintpot cuttlefish are some of the only inhabitants.”

Diving is a year round activity on this island, with more than eight popular dive sites.

It takes approximately 15 minutes or less to reach any of the Mabul dive sites by boat.

Most of the diving in Mabul is very shallow with depths from 10 – 60 feet.

Marine life that can be seen include fire gobies, crocodile fish, pipefish, cuttlefish, snake eels, sea horses, exotic starfish, and much more.

Mabul Island is reputed to be one of the best destinations for underwater macro-photography in the world.

Continue reading (Incl. Pic) at: Mabul Island named one of the world’s “Best Secret Islands”

Up to 50% off Pandaw Borneo River Cruises

Borneo, the third largest island in the world after Greenland and Australia, has one of the most diverse eco systems on the planet, its primary rain forest home to a vast number of species of flora and fauna.

Now part of Eastern Malaysia, Sarawak was ruled for exactly one hundred years by the Brooke family, known as the Raja Brookes, and only joined the British Empire after the war, gaining independence in 1966.

The Rajang River, at 640km is the longest river in Malaysia, flows across Borneo from Sarawak into Indonesian Kalimantan. Though well know to many from Redmon O’Hanlon’s classic Into the Heart of Borneo, there is very little tourism here due to the river’s remoteness and lack of facilities. The scenery is magnificent – a total jungle experience with the rainforest tumbling into the fast flowing river.

The Rajang is navigable on a ship of Pandaw’s size for at least 250km until the Pelagus Rapids, and further on its main tributary the Baleh River. The river is peopled with the Iban, headhunters till the 1950s, whose unique long house culture survives well to this day, blending well animist tradition with modernity.

There is much to do and see upriver, whether just gazing at the amazing scenery or visiting long houses traditional and modern. In these river towns we can explore the architectural vestiges of the Brooke Raj. Jungle treks, for all levels, are a must as are long boat trips to the Pelagus rapids.

Downriver, the prosperous Chinese city of Sibu with its old shop houses, markets and friendly inhabitants, is a calm reflection of an old China that probably no longer exists in mainland China. Sibu with its rich surrounding farmlands and tropical climate is an important agricultural area.

Continue reading at: Up to 50% off Pandaw Borneo River Cruises

Sarawak Plan To Gazette Kuala Lawas As National Park

LAWAS -- Sarawak plans to gazette a new area made up mainly of water bodies in Kuala Lawas near here as another national park in a move to protect and conserve marine life, State Second Minister of Resource Planning and Management, Datuk Amar Awang Tengah Ali Hasan said.

He said the proposed national park that features fringe mangrove along the coastline has become a favourite feeding ground for dugongs and green turtles and would play an important role in marine eco-system.

Speaking at the South East Asia Regional Workshop on Dugong here Wednesday night, he said the plan was among the State's commitment to protect and conserve the invaluable heritage and wealth of wildlife.

He said to date, a total of 206,344 hectares of water bodies had been gazetted as totally protected areas to conserve endangered marine species such as sea turtles, marine mammals, sea horses, coral and marine eco-system.

"It is in our greatest interest to constantly improve our current approaches and innovatively transform our assets into legacies that will continue to provide beauty and wonder for generations to come," he added.

Continue reading at: Sarawak Plan To Gazette Kuala Lawas As National Park

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Tour guides in Sabah boxed in by restrictive zoning

KOTA KINABALU: A new zoning policy implemented by the Federal Tourism Ministry has caused dire impact on the livelihood of blue badge or seasoned tourist guides in Sabah.

According to Sabah Tourist Guides Association (STGA) honorary disciplinary officer Lillian Agama, tourist guides issued with the Blue Badge were previously free to guide anywhere in Malaysia, but are now limited to picking up tourists to and from the airports and hotels as well as conducting city tours.

They are no longer allowed to take the guests out of the city and this has caused the 300 odd blue badge guides to consider surrendering their badges in protest at the new policy which they deem to be highly restrictive and impractical in Sabah.

In the past, licensed tourist guides, after completing their course, were issued with a yellow badge for a two-year probationary period, after which they will be required to undergo a confirmation examination to qualify for the blue badge.

A tourist guide with a blue badge could conduct tours all over the state even in Peninsular Malaysia then.

However, a few years ago, the Tourism Ministry introduced the green badge which is meant to legalise mountain guides or those who take tourists on nature tours.

This was accepted with a pinch of salt as some of these people were indeed well versed with the nature and areas they guided in.

However, of late, a new policy pertaining to zoning according to the colour of the badges was implemented and this has caused much confusion among the tourist guides in Sabah.

It has also caused much inconvenience as there have been instances of action being taken against blue badge guides because they were transferring their guests to Kinabalu Park.

Lillian said the issue is all about the badge and zoning policies that were formulated in the peninsula without prior consideration of the situation in Sabah.

“It may work well there but in Sabah it does not,” she said after a dialogue between about 100 tour guides and Tourism Malaysia officers over the issue here yesterday.

Continue reading at: Tour guides in Sabah boxed in by restrictive zoning

Sandakan to host inaugural Borneo Eco Film Festival

SANDAKAN: The eco-tourism gateway to Sabah will be playing host to the first ever Borneo Eco Film Festival (BEFF) at the Rainforest Discovery Centre Auditorium and BALIN Roofgarden Bistro, NAK Hotel from July 29 to 31.

Supported by EcoKnights, the founders of the Kuala Lumpur Eco Film Festival, BEFF is a free community-service event that aims to increase public understanding of environmental issues and solutions through the screening of international and local eco-themed films.

It is also a festival to encourage the public to take up film as a means of social expression through the exciting programme of events and competitions organized.

Environmental experts and international award-winning filmmakers including Chris Chong Chan Fui, Harun Rahman, Ikhwan Rivai, Roger Munns, the Global Diversity Foundation and Cede Prudente will be sharing their talents by conducting interactive workshops and talks.

Local and national music artistes such as Roger Wang, Amir Yussof, Angelina Perete, Hezekiah Asim, Cristopher Aban and friends will also be performing during BEFF.

Continue reading at: Sandakan to host inaugural Borneo Eco Film Festival

Sandakan Harbour Square a boost to Sandakan tourism

SANDAKAN: The new commercial focal point here, Sandakan Harbour Square, is poised to further strengthen the town’s position as a major commercial and tourism hub in Sabah.

“Most importantly, the RM500 million Sandakan Harbour Square will continue to be the enabler and catalyst for Sandakan’s economic growth, business activities and urban development,” said IREKA Development Management Sdn Bhd president/CEO Lai Voon Hon.

He said that eight years on, they are nearing completion of the Sandakan Harbour Mall and the Four Points by Sheraton Hotel, which are the Phases 3 and 4 respectively, making yet another new era for Sandakan town.

“Building the first modern shopping mall and having the first internally branded business hotel within one development is indeed a heartfelt achievement. But IREKA is not alone in the journey to this success, and we would not reach this milestone without the support of SMC as well as the Sabah State Government since its inception in 2003 to continuously enhance the value of these developments,” he said during the topping up ceremony for Harbour Mall Sandakan and Four Points by Sheraton and signing ceremony of anchor tenant yesterday.

Sandakan Municipal Council (SMC) president Datuk James Wong, who was present at the ceremony, said that SMC would continue to support investment that will bring major development or significance changes to the town.

He said that in addition to their continuous effort to revive the town’s former glory, it is their aspiration to further strengthen Sandakan’s position as Sabah’s second biggest urban metropolis.

“With the foresight of the developer, ICSD Sdn Bhd, development manager IREKA Development Management Sdn Bhd and together a joint-venture with SMC, it has indeed revived the town as one of the key tourist and economic destinations,” said Wong.

Continue reading at: Sandakan Harbour Square a boost to Sandakan tourism

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Orangutans in Borneo adapt their movements to swamp forest

Orangutans living in thin forest growing in peat swamps in Borneo have different ways of getting about to their cousins in drier rainforest on the neighbouring Indonesian island of Sumatra - but not as different as scientists expected.

New research shows that the Borneo apes have to move through sparser forest canopies with bigger gaps between thinner and more pliant trees. So they travel lower down in the canopy and use special techniques like swaying trees to make them bend towards others nearby to form improvised bridges over gaps, turning thinner trunks and boughs to their advantage.

But after following orangutans during several gruelling field trips, Kirsten Manduell, a PhD student in the Locomotor Ecology and Biomechanics lab at the University of Birmingham and lead author of the paper, was surprised to find that how they get about doesn't seem to depend much on their size and age. She'd expected that sparser vegetation in peat forests would make life harder for big males, forcing them to use different tactics from their slighter peers.

'I'd expected that in this environment, the big flanged males might not be able to do things that smaller orangutans could, because they weigh so much more - a flanged male can weigh up to twice as much as a female,' says Manduell. 'So it was quite surprising to find out that age and sex don't seem to make much difference to how they move in the canopy.'

Male orangutans come in two varieties - flanged and unflanged. The latter are smaller, usually younger individuals who travel around the forest looking for females. In later life they may develop the characteristic facial ridges of the flanged male, becoming much bigger and heavier. From then on they don't need to go looking for females; they stay put and attract mates with their sonorous calls and impressive appearance.

Orangutans live in a wide range of habitats across Indonesia and Malaysia, but previous studies have focused on their behaviour in drier rainforests, many of them not seriously affected by deforestation. This is the first study of how they travel in swamp forest, based on data gathered on three trips to Borneo's Sabangau National Park. It shows that orangutans can adapt to relatively sparse forest, even when it has been severely harmed by logging in recent decades.

Peat swamp is an important habitat for orangutans. Logging has hit the swamp forest of Sabangau hard, creating gaps in the canopy that cause additional problems for travelling orangutans. The canals that loggers dig to float timber out of the forest make the situation still worse; they drain the swamp, making its peat dry and highly flammable. Forest fires have become a serious problem in recent years.

Continue reading (Incl. Pic) at: Orangutans in Borneo adapt their movements to swamp forest

MASwings fare discount a treat for East Malaysian travellers

KUCHING: In conjunction with the coming Ramadan month prior to Hari Raya Aidilfitri festive celebrations, MASwings is offering its Ramadan Special Treats with best deals and discounts up to 90 per cent off the normal full fares throughout East Malaysia.

The two-day minimum advance purchase is available from July 25 to 31 only and valid for travel during the period from Aug 1 to 24.

During this period passengers travelling from Kota Kinabalu will enjoy fares to Lahad Datu, Sandakan, Labuan, Tawau and Miri at RM16 one way; to Bintulu and Mulu at RM21 and to Sibu at only RM26 one way.

MASwing is also offering RM11 for one-way travel from Sandakan to Tawau or vice versa.

From Miri, MASwings is offering RM11 fares to Bintulu, Mulu, Limbang and Labuan; to Sibu at RM16 one way whereas passengers from Kuching to Sibu will enjoy fares at RM16, to Bintulu and Miri at RM21 and to Mulu at RM26 one way.

“Being a wholly owned subsidiary of Malaysia Airlines, MASwings is continuously duty-bound to offer these promotional fares to encourage its customers to plan ahead their intended travel,” said MASwings Head of Commercial Azlan Tanjong.

Continue reading at: MASwings fare discount a treat for East Malaysian travellers

Monday, July 25, 2011

Bario goes Hollywood

BARIO: The small highland town of Bario may soon find itself listed as one of Hollywood’s exotic movie locations in Southeast Asia, alongside celebrated names such as Koh Samui in Thailand and Siem Reap in Cambodia.

Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Idris Jala revealed this during the launching of ‘Nukenen Food and Cultural Festival’ here recently.

He told those present that he had been in touch with ‘Hollywood people’ to create a movie on Borneo called ‘The Borneo Headhunters’.

“This is the dream that I always have, and I am now taking the steps to do it.

“The story is, of course, fictional – involving many tribal myths and legends of Sarawakian origins – while its concept will move around epic settings like the ‘Lord of the Rings’ or ‘The Last of the Mohicans’ movies.

“The settings will be constructed here in Bario.”

Idris added that he was also in contact with the party who would finance the proposed film.

“When it comes to scriptwriting, we want to make sure that we hire only the best.

“We aim for this movie to become a Hollywood blockbuster.”

Idris said he hoped that should the movie deal be clinched it would skyrocket Bario as a major tourist destination in the region.

Continue reading (Incl. Pic) at: Bario goes Hollywood

Conservationists keep tabs on proboscis monkeys via satellite tags

KOTA KINABALU: Wildlife conservationists in Sabah are working towards ensuring the survival of the state's unique primate the proboscis monkey by installing satellite tags on 10 of these long-nosed creatures.

Sabah Wildlife Department director Dr Laurentius Ambu said the department staff and volunteers from the Danau Girang Field Centre (DGFC) in the east coast Kinabatangan district had recently fitted the first satellite tag on a 24kg male proboscis monkey.

“This is the first time in Borneo that a proboscis monkey is tagged with a satellite device,” said Dr Ambu, adding that it was the start of a long-term research and conservation programme initiated by their department and DGFC with funding from the Sime Darby Foundation.

Department veterinarian Dr Senthilvel Nathan said the primate was caught by members of the Wildlife Rescue Unit and DGFC during the course of Proboscis Monkey Programme initiated last week, a collaboration between the department, DGFC and Cardiff University.

“We will catch proboscis monkeys in the whole state to collect blood for genetic analyses and parasite identification, saliva for viruses and bacteria, ectoparasites and morphometric data.

“We will also fit 10 primates with satellite tags in the Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary,” added Dr Senthillvel.

DGFC director Dr Benoit Goosens said the satellite tagging was aimed at understanding the ranging patterns of proboscis monkeys and the factors hindering their movement and density.

Continue reading (Incl. Pic) at: Conservationists keep tabs on proboscis monkeys via satellite tags

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Vanishing world of the orangutan


Borneo's rainforests are home to thousands of endemic species of mammals, reptiles, and insects. Its most famous mammal is the 'old man of the forest' that is, the endangered orangutan.

Over 90 per cent of the world's orangutan live in Borneo. However, deforestation and hunting are taking such a toll that, within two decades, the orangutan is likely to vanish from the wild in the only two places it still lives - the island of Sumatra, which is part of Indonesia, and the island of Borneo.

In Sarawak, active conservation programmes include rehabilitation of orphaned and displaced orangutan at the Semenggoh and Matang Wildlife Centres.

The Matang Wildlife Centre lies on the western corner of the Kubah National Park and encompasses over 180 hectares of lowland forest. It caters for researchers from local and oversea universities, as well as students and interested adults.

In addition to orangutan, other endangered species found here include sambar deer, crocodile, sun bears, civets, bear cats and native birds of Sarawak such as hornbills, eagles, kites and storks.

Other attractions include a series of rock pools, swimming area, picnic spots, camping sites, scenic nature trails and waterfalls

During a visit to the centre, we saw five adult orangutans and two infants.

We were fortunate to get a glimpse of an adult orangutan, whom we were told, rarely made an appearance. At the age of 25 years, the Bornean orangutan is an impressive male with large cheek pads, a tremendous laryngeal sac and long hair. As we peered through the cage in awe of the red ape, it stared back at us in curiosity.

In Matang, there is an infant care unit built to provide medical care for infants.

Premature orangutan babies or those which are unable to suckle are taken to the unit and monitored round the clock. Newly arrived orangutan undergo a medical check-up before being quarantined for 90 days to undergo observation. After another check-up and evaluation, the healthy apes go through several stages of rehabilitation.

One of the stages is the enrichment level where they are introduced to the rest of the troupe in large outdoor socialising cages.

Swings and ropes are placed in cages for the orangutans to build up their strength and stamina in preparation for their return to the forest. Once they are about five to six years old, they will slowly be weaned off human care and contact, and brought back into the forest in stages.

Courtesy of Borneo Bulletin Sunday

RM3m approved to build Bisaya Cultural Centre

Beaufort: The Bisaya community has every reason to smile - the Housing and Local Government Ministry has approved the construction of a RM3 million Bisaya Cultural Centre here.

Deputy Housing and Local Government Minister Datuk Lajim Ukin, who made the announcement, said apart from becoming a culture and art activities centre, it would also be used to place the community's historical documents for posterity.

"The allocation warrant for the Cultural Centre has been prepared.

This proves that the Barisan Nasional (BN) Government under the leadership of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak is committed to make the 1Malaysia concept a success even though the Bisayas are just a small community in Sabah," he said.

Speaking at the opening of the Eighth Adau Janang Gayuh celebration that was attended by more than 10,000 people here, he hoped the Cultural Centre would become a tourist attraction for the district.

Lajim, who is also President of the Sabah United Bisaya Association, said the centre was also a token of appreciation to the people here and in Kuala Penyu who have shown commitment to develop their areas.

Meanwhile, Chief Minister Datuk Seri Musa Aman, in his speech delivered by Local Government and Housing Minister Datuk Hajiji Mohd Noor, said the involvement and strong support of the people for the various cultural-related programmes in Sabah was encouraging and further strengthened Sabah as the model of the 1Malaysia spirit.

He said he wanted to use excellence as bait to lure tourists to the State.

He said excellence should be reflected in programmes to highlight the potentials and uniqueness of a district or culture of the ethnic groups, especially those listed in the State tourism calendar.

Such an approach is essential to ensure the programmes remain attractive to the various strata of society each year, he noted.

Continue reading at: RM3m approved to build Bisaya Cultural Centre

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Tips on luring millions of China tourists to Sabah

KOTA KINABALU: Sabah can still do better to attract more tourists from China, a country already considered one of the most important markets for the Sabah tourism sector, said Wang Jinzhen, the vice chairman of China Council for the Promotion of International Trade (CCIPT).

One simple way of boosting Chinese tourist arrivals to the State, he said, is by having hotels here provide television channels that cater to travellers from that country apart from more aggressive promotional campaigns in major cities in China.

“I found that there is no Chinese TV channel at all (at most hotels in Sabah), even though the CCTV 4 and Channel 9 (from China) are available globally.

“A lot of Chinese people do not speak English, but at the same time they are very concerned and want to follow the current events back at home while travelling. So, this could be a simple thing but a huge plus for Sabah to have.

“If you can have for instance the CCTV 4 at all of your hotels, I’m sure a lot more of the Chinese tourists will come in,” he suggested.

Speaking at the Sabah-China Trade and Investment Forum here yesterday, Wang said Sabah, being a wonderful holiday destination, could also develop greater business collaboration with China in tourism.

He pointed out that close to 10 per cent of the over 1.3 billion Chinese travel overseas every year and only a very small number from them chose Sabah as their holiday destination.

“Sabah is a beautiful place, I personally think tourism is an industry with great potential for cooperation… With your ongoing promotional efforts, and more collaboration (with China) in future, it is likely that we can increase the figure (visitors from China to Sabah),” he said.

He noted that the World Travel Organisation has projected that about 100 million Chinese will travel overseas annually by 2015, and currently only about one million Chinese visit Malaysia per year.

Out of this figure, he added, less than 10 per cent come to Sabah.

“I am not sure how accurate this figure is but it clearly demonstrates that the number of the Chinese coming to Sabah is not that many.

Continue reading at: Tips on luring millions of China tourists to Sabah

Friday, July 22, 2011

Ecological linkages to connect National Parks in Sabah

KOTA KINABALU: A plan to set up ecological linkages connecting the national parks in Sabah, as a way to further strengthen biodiversity conservation efforts in the State is expected to materialise soon, said Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Masidi Manjun.

He revealed that a 15-month long study carried out since 2010 for the setting up of the linkage, to be known as Kinabalu Eco-Linc (Kinabalu Ecological Linkage), was nearing completion.

“The whole idea is to provide a link or connectivity between both protected areas so that they can boost each other’s potentials,” he said after officiating at the opening of a two-day final stakeholders workshop for the study here, yesterday.

The plan was to link Kinabalu Park in Kundasang and the Crocker Range Park in Tambunan, which are currently separated by a distance of up to 10 kilometres at the closest points, through enhanced ecological connectivity between the two parks.

The challenge is the plan would affect approximately 11,000 people living at over 20 settlements situated within the area.

“The Kinabalu Ecolinc plan is vital towards the realisation of the full potential in all aspects within these protected areas, including tourism. The plan should be accepted by all parties as an initiative for biodiversity conservation and a move towards empowering the village people to look after their own forests,” said Masidi.

He added the linkage would only involve areas densely covered with pristine forests along a ridge that lies within the village reserve areas (native customary reserves).

The government, he added, was working together with the villagers involved under this initiative.

“The government prefers that this initiative not involve any gazetting of a new forest reserve, because we rather look at this as a joint effort between the government and the village people themselves.

“We would rather take it as an effort on the part of the village people themselves to look after their own village surrounding environment, with the government assuming the role of a facilitator. We trust the village people because they have been living there for generations,” he said.

The 15-month long study is undertaken by ERE Consulting Group Sdn Bhd.

The other objective of the project, said Masidi, was to ensure that the quality of environment in the areas already inhabited by the natives would not be degraded.

Continue reading at: Ecological linkages to connect National Parks in Sabah

Borneo International Yachting Challenge - Calm wind means trouble

KOTA KINABALU: The unfavourable wind condition test the mettle of the competitors taking part in the 165 nautical miles Miri – Kota Kinabalu Passage Race of the Eighth Borneo International Yachting Challenge.

“The almost windless condition is giving the sailors tough time to move their boats,” said Jesus Jun Avecilla Selma Star skipper.

It was the biggest upset for the favourite Selma Star from Philippines who finished the race in about 75 hours which was far beyond the estimated time of 41 hours.

Selma Star which was owned and skippered by Jesus Jun Avecilla was flagged off from Miri at 11 am on Monday and reached the finishing point at Kota Kinabalu at 1 pm yesterday.

The defending champion was among the four boats in IRC Racing Class who were forced to retire from the passage race due to light wind condition and receiving the same fate were Sarawak’s Ulumulu and Miri Magic 1, and Salina from United States.

Although it is an upset for Selma Star, the boat is still leading in the IRC Racing Class followed by Ulumulu, Miri Magic 1 and Salina, from second to fourth positions respectively.

Only 18 out of 27 boats taking part in the longest passage race in the region made it to the finishing line.

Continue reading (Incl. Pic) at: Borneo International Yachting Challenge - Calm wind means trouble

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Sarawak confident Niah Caves will be World Heritage site soon

NIAH: The state government has high hopes that the Niah Caves that sheltered early humans more than 40,000 years ago will be listed as a World Heritage site soon.

With this in mind, Assistant Minister for Tourism Datuk Talib Zulpilip said the state government had sent all the necessary paper work to Unesco.

Saying the state would follow up on the matter, he pointed out that the listing was very important and would have far reaching benefits not only to the people in Sarawak and Malaysia but also to the world community.

Among the benefits, he said, are tourism attractions and development as the caves and park are already popular tourist attractions, and getting the caves listed as a World Heritage site could also attract conservation funding.

“While the government and the relevant agencies are doing their best to have the caves listed as historical site, and also continue becoming places of attraction, the people, particularly visitors to the caves, too must play their roles.

“Visitors, please stop the ‘modern paintings’ on the caves. It is very disgusting and insulting to the heritage,” he said.

Talib told reporters this on Tuesday before leading members of the Tourism Taskforce Group (TTG) Miri Division, staff of his ministry and the Sarawak Forestry Corporation (SFC) in the ‘gotong royong’ project to remove graffiti in the caves.

Among those present were Sibuti MP Ahmad Lai Bujang, deputy chairman of TTG Abdul Aziz Yusuf, who is also the Deputy Resident of Miri Division, SFC Miri head Abang Araby Abang Aimran, Niah Park warden Haidar Ali and the Miri coordinator of Totally Protected Areas Kamal Abdullah

Continue reading (Incl. Pic) at: Sarawak confident Niah Caves will be World Heritage site soon

RM1.5 million to conserve proboscis monkeys in Sabah

DANAU GIRANG: Yayasan Sime Darby (YSD) yesterday donated RM1.5 million to the Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD) to conserve and manage the estimated 2,500 to 3,000 proboscis monkeys that are living in the fragmented forests in the Lower Kinabatangan.

The three-year commitment will see SWD and Cardiff University of the UK conduct a Proboscis Monkey Conservation Programme at the Danau Girang Field Centre (DGFC), a centre established by SWD.

The programme will support research and conservation work on proboscis

monkeys, considered as one of the most unique, charismatic and endemic primate species of Borneo.

YSD Governing Council member Caroline Russell said during a press conference following the handing over of a mock cheque of the amount to SWD at DGFC yesterday that this was part of Sime Darby’s corporate social responsibility efforts to give back to society.

She added that they were keen on the project as the proboscis monkeys are one of the YSD’s ‘Big 9’, which are the sun bear, orangutan, pygmy elephant, Bornean clouded leopard, hornbill, banteng, proboscis monkey, Bornean Sumatran rhinoceros and Malayan tiger.

Proboscis monkeys in Sabah are most commonly found in mangrove forests and are sighted in mangrove forests in Sandakan (Sukau, Sepilok) and Klias Wetlands as well as in Tabin. Deforestation is the main threat to the population.

In her speech earlier, Russell mentioned that the cooperation was the first of its kind in the world.

“It will allow for the management of proboscis monkeys in Sabah and allow SWD to execute research and management of the species, particularly in Danau Girang,” she said.

She added that YSD was attracted to the project due to its emphasis on sustainability and community building.

Eventually, she said that they hope to formulate a comprehensive management plan for Sabah with regards to the species and get a consensus for the proboscis monkeys.

The three-year project shall also include the rescue and translocation of proboscis monkeys residing at non-viable locations.

“It is estimated that 100 to 200 are living at sites that are under threat,” she said.

Continue reading at: RM1.5 million to conserve proboscis monkeys in Sabah

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Pulau Sipadan waters to be gazetted

SANDAKAN: There is a need to gazette the waters off Sipadan Island as a protection park to safeguard marine life there, said Sabah Parks director Paul Basintal.

At the moment only the island, stretching 13.5km, has been gazetted and the waters would be gazetted in the second phase.

He noted that 12 popular diving spots in the area did not come under the conservation zone.

Speaking to reporters after opening a Sabah Parks seminar here yesterday, Paul said the process to make it a gazetted area was in progress, with the cooperation of relevant authorities, like the Semporna District Office, which had put up a public notice pertaining to the proposed gazette.

“There have been no objections till date,” he added.

Paul said marine park Tun Mustapha Park in the north of Sabah, is also expected to be gazetted by 2015.

The park, which stretches to 1.1 million hectares, covers the waters off Kudat, Kota Marudu and Pitas, including 50 islands.

Continue reading at: Pulau Sipadan waters to be gazetted

Danau Girang, Kinabatangan wildlife haven for photographers

DANAU GIRANG: The wildlife in Danau Girang and in the Kinabatangan region is just so magical with its abundance and diversity and is a haven for wildlife photographers.

For Robert Colgan, 21, a Cardiff University undergraduate student presently a volunteer at the Danau Girang Field Centre (DGFC), it has been an incredible opportunity to have been allowed to stay in a place like Danau Girang for so long and gets to see so much.

“And I have been here for so long and I still find some things that are amazing,” said Robert.

He has been at DGFC for over a year, helping researchers with their projects as well as help conduct field surveys and field courses.

During the course of his stay, he has learned the cultures of the Sungai people that reside at the Kinabatangan, acquired a liking for spicy food served during Hari Raya Aidilfitri open houses as well as gotten a brand new camera to record all his experiences while in Sabah.

His pictures, mainly on the wildlife of Kinabatangan, are amazing.

He believes that he has snapped up more than 16,000 pictures of wildlife since getting his camera last October.

“On average I shoot several hundred pictures a day, particularly when we go out into the forest at night,” he said.

Having the camera has been beneficial.

It has allowed him to have a database of wildlife pictures he and his peers had encountered during the course of their work, he said.

Yet more importantly it has allowed him to practise taking pictures on some of the really exotic subjects in Danau Girang.

Wildlife photography, said Robert, is a lot more interesting and has allowed him to learn about the habits of the animals.

“I have captured mostly monkeys, western tarsiers, five of the eight species of hornbills such as the rhino hornbill, white crowned hornbill, black hornbill, oriental pied hornbill and wrinkled hornbill. I try to get a good picture but by the end of the day, it has to do with luck and being at the right place and the right time. It is awesome,” said Robert.

Continue reading at: Danau Girang, Kinabatangan wildlife haven for photographers

Sabah International Folklore Festival - Participants take to the streets

Kota Kinabalu: Participants from across the globe who will be performing at the Sabah International Folklore Festival paraded in the city centre, Tuesday.

The parade started from the Community Centre and ended at the City Hall building where Mayor Datuk Abidin Madingkir greeted them.

In his speech he said, the showcase of various cultures from different parts of the world would no doubt enable the people of the State, especially in the city, to enjoy the sensational blend of ethnic dances, as well as musical presentations.

"This festival is not only to celebrate the heritage of different countries but also acts as a platform for cultural exchange," Madingkir said, congratulating the Sabah Cultural Board for organising the festival.

"It is my hope that this festival will continue to be held in Sabah every year and perhaps, with an even bigger number of participating countries," Madingkir said.

Delegates from India, Slovakia, Latvia, Namibia, Taiwan, Belgium, Malaysia, Estonia, China, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, South Korea, Russia, Singapore, Turkey, Thailand, Philippines and Egypt will be performing during the festival this year.

Continue reading at: Sabah International Folklore Festival - Participants take to the streets

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Sounds from the Rainforest

Festival rocks with song, dance and jam sessions

After a year's absence, the World Beat team headed down South to the jungles of Borneo for the 14th Rainforest World Music Festival last week for three days of music, dancing, workshops and mad jam sessions by musicians after each night's concert.

The event is held annually at the Sarawak Cultural Village, about 35km outside Kuching, the capital of Sarawak state, in Malaysia. The festival site is set at the foot of Mount Santubong, where a collection of longhouses surround a small lake - it's an idyllic place for a festival.

After heavy rain at the past two festivals, the organisers have put in better drainage in front of the stage, rebuilt the second stage and one of the longhouses. And with full corporate sponsorship, the site had become better organised. The second stage no longer features short skits from comedic musical acts - and I must admit I missed these wacky, zany bands - but rather concerts by trios and quartets.

As with previous years, a highlight was the varied workshops held in the afternoons, in two sessions, which offered fans the chance to see performers up close. Percussion sessions like "Drum Dance", "Beat Guru" and "The Rhythm Method" drew packed (long) houses, as did the fiddle workshop, "Femme Fiddles". Two workshops that stood out for me were the string-themed "Flying Fingers" and a bagpipe special (I had no idea there are so many kinds of bagpipes) called "My Main Squeeze".

In between the workshops, festival-goers were treated to a rare and ancient tradition - water music from a lovely bunch of ladies from the Vanuatu islands in the Pacific. The Leweton Women's Water Music waded into the lake at the Cultural Village up to their waists and proceeded to beguile us all with percussive beats on the water that mimicked the sounds in their environment: The Sound of Rain on Water, Waves Breaking on the Reef and The Sound of the Dolphin, and so on. I enjoyed it so much I went back several times to watch how they made music using a material (water) that is fluid. Amazing.

Friday night kicked off the night shows with the soft, ethereal strings of the sape, or Borneo boat lute, played by the Masters of Sape - Mathew Ngau Jau, Tegit Asat and Asang Lawai. Matthew is a regular at the festival but I wondered what had happened to some of the younger players and bands we've had at previous festivals. In fact, with the next act, a gamelan ensemble from neighbouring Sabah, only two Malaysian bands played over the three days and there were no other bands from the region. That's something the organisers should look at.

The Friday night was, I thought, a bit flat, although the Victor Valdez Trio from Mexico livened up proceedings, as did one of my favourite bands from the festival, The Blue Canyon Boys from Kentucky, USA, who featured a fantastic banjo player, Jeff Scroggins, in their bluegrass music.

Europe dominated the early part of Saturday night, with The Shin from Georgia the pick and the pace picked up with a jaunty set from Ireland's The Paddy Keenan Trio, featuring Paddy himself on the uilleann pipes. The Warsaw Village Band then picked up the baton and whipped through a wonderful set of ancient Polish folk tunes, cranked up to the present day. The crowd was heaving by this point, ready to dance and Joaquin Diaz brought the place to fever pitch with his accordion-based merengue music from Dominica. You'll be hard pressed to find a faster dance music anywhere on the planet.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: Sounds from the Rainforest

Discovering the hidden gems of Kuching

I HAVE always lamented coming back to Kuching for my semester holidays.

Aside from frequenting the cinemas or kopitiam, I have no idea where else to go.

But my first visit to the recent Rainforest World Craft Bazaar (RWCB) changed my perception about my hometown which actually has a lot to offer.

I was assigned to cover the Rainforest World Music Festival (RWMF) 2011 for three days.

The Bazaar was held in conjunction with RWMF 2011 at Sarawak Cultural Village to showcase arts and crafts from around the globe.

As I read the word ‘craft’ on the festival programme, my eyes lit up – it’s a perfect excuse to satisfy my craving to shop for handicrafts.

It has been years since I went to the Sarawak Cultural Village.

As I walked toward the Melanau Tall House where the Bazaar was held, the view of the Village took away my breath and filled me with awe.

Lush green rainforest surrounds the village, guarded by pristine Mount Santubong.

The gorgeous view was reflected by the placid lake in the centre of the Village.

I whip out my camera phone to capture the moment.

At the Bazaar, the soothing sounds of sape, played by a local musician on a nearby stage, welcomed local and foreign visitors alike.

The laid-back tempo seemed to slow down time, and offered a relaxing ambience.

The afternoon sun was scorching hot but the visitors were protected by Mother Nature with the thick foliage of the rainforest.

Being at the Bazaar felt like reverting back to the old days.

Many traditional crafts and games were displayed.

There were Malay children in their traditional Baju Melayu expertly spinning the gasing (traditional wooden top) while an elderly Malay man was in deep concentration, sculpturing a wooden doll with a sharp knife. Nearby, two women were sitting on the wooden floor, busy frying kuih bahulu in a wok.

The apetite-whetting aroma of these cakes filled the air and placated my growling stomach.

As I browsed around to find good bargains, I realised the wide array of the local handicrafts was more than an excuse to shop.

They showed an amazing display of Borneo’s rich and diverse cultures.

Every ethnic group has different crafts, artworks and jewellery yet when displayed together, the beautiful resemblance is evident.

Borneo handicrafts use a lot of colours, and when put together on one table, they are an amazing sight to behold.

An explosion of colours lit up the place — sunny yellow ethnic jewellery, fire-like orange beads, ocean blue ethnic pendants, deep green bamboo coin banks and brown and red weave baskets — all arranged neatly at the display tables.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: Discovering the hidden gems of Kuching

Cool Kuching

AMONG the many cities in Malaysia, many believe that Kuching is one of the coziest.

While Kuching may be the largest city in the state of Sara­wak, it is also one of the few cities that is best discovered on foot. Reserve a few days for the city and wander around the streets of the "Cat City", as it is fondly known.

Although many believe that the city got its name from the word 'kuching' (cat), it is more likely that it was derived from the Chinese word for port (cochin). Whatever the case may be, these days the name Kuching is often synonymous with the feline creatures.

One of the best ways to enjoy what Kuching has to offer is by browsing through the classic shops and cosy restaurants and taking time to find out what the city has to offer.

There are, however, many spots to visit to get to know Kuching and the surrounding areas better.

Some of the must-see places to include on your itinerary is the one-stop Sarawak Cultural Village. Known as a living mu­seum, the Sarawak Cultural Village is the epitome spot of heritage of the major ethnic groups in Sarawak.

Located 40 minutes driving time from Kuching, it showcases and celebrates the various lifestyles amidst 14 acres of land. The village is also the spot for the annual Rainforest World Music Fesival, held annually in the month of July.

This visit will offer a chance to see and experience Sara­wak's rich culture diversity - including the Iban, Melanau, Bidayuh, Orang Ulu, Penan, Malays and Chinese - all in a day. At the end of the cultural-centric visit, visitors will have the opportunity to witness cultural performance of songs, dances and entertainment in a 45-minute time-frame.

For those who like to know the historical aspects of the state, head down to The Sara­wak Museum.

Housed in a two-storey building completed in 1891, the museum displays local na­tive arts and crafts as well as a collection of local animals, said to be spearheaded by famous naturalist Alfred Wallace.

The ground floor of the museum hosts the natural his­tory collection and specimens of Sarawak's fauna and other animals, all professionally prepared and mounted for display.

The west wing compromis­ing of the Shell exhibition is where visitors can find out the history of petroleum in Sara­wak, while the first floor offers a display of ethnographic artifacts including models of longhouses of the many eth­nic groups in the state, musical instruments, various kinds of fish and animal traps as well as handicrafts.

Fans and lovers of cats must not miss going to the Cat Museum. Initially displayed for show for the first time at the National Museum, Kuala Lum­pur in 1987, the cat artifacts were brought over to Kuching under the care of Sarawak Museum.

Continue reading (Incl. Pic) at: Cool Kuching

Monday, July 18, 2011

Sabah To Push For Ramsar Site Status For Kota Kinabalu Wetland

KOTA KINABALU -- The Sabah government is pushing for Ramsar Site status for Kota Kinabalu Wetland, one of the eco-tourism attractions in the state.

Ramsar Sites are designated under the Ramsar Convention, also known as the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance. The Convention has the unique distinction of being the first modern treaty between nations aimed at conserving natural resources. The Convention was signed in 1971 at the small Iranian town of Ramsar, and hence is also known as the Ramsar Convention.

Disclosing this, Chief Minister Datuk Seri Musa Aman said the state government was also in the process of consulting relevant stakeholders to register the Crocker Range Park for Unesco's Man and Biosphere programme.

"I am pleased to learn that the Secretary General of the Ramsar Convention is scheduled to visit Kota Kinabalu Wetland tomorrow. I hope the representatives from Unesco will get an opportunity to visit Crocker Range Park which is only about an hour's drive from here," he said in his opening speech at the Asian Wetland Symposium, here Monday.

The text of his speech was read out by Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Dr Yee Moh Chai.

Musa hoped that the Sabah Declaration, the expected outcome of this symposium, would become a catalyst for future integration of efforts in ensuring the protection and wise use of the state's natural resources.

Continue reading at: Sabah To Push For Ramsar Site Status For Kota Kinabalu Wetland

Expecting the unexpected at the Sarawak Rainforest World Music Festival

FROM its humble beginnings 14 years ago, the Rainforest World Music Festival (RWMF) has grown into one of world’s best international festivals (as voted by music magazine Songlines) and the paramount attraction in Sarawak’s tourism calendar.

Surveying the motley crew of visitors, performers, volunteers and media in the audience of festival goers during the 14th RWMF last weekend, it’s easy to understand why the festival has spawned a unique culture all its own.

For most first-time festival goers, they are drawn by the promise of witnessing world-class music acts from around the globe against the unprecedented stage setting of a tropical rainforest. It’s the chance to flock together with other like-minded music lovers and immerse themselves in the exhilarating world of music where the traditional and the contemporary dovetail to form harmonious musical expressions which are at once familiar yet fresh and dynamic.

For returning festival goers, it’s all these things plus an annual pilgrimage of sorts – a time set apart in the year to enjoy good music and meet up with friends and acquaintances from far and near – with Sarawak Cultural Village (SCV), Santubong, as the point of confluence. It’s a time to renew old bonds and friendships.

But what all of these different groups expect is good music and a good time – something which is still very much a challenge for the festival’s organisers even with 13 festival’s worth of experience under their belt.

It could be said the success of the festival largely depends on balancing these different expectations of comfortable predictability with just the right amount of unpredictability, stemming from the pleasant surprise of new discoveries of new music, new acts, and new friends.

Magic of discovery

The afternoon workshop sessions, organised by themes such as instrument types, genres and geographical regions, demonstrate this delicate balancing act at work.

Afternoon workshop sessions are the defining attraction for many new and returning RWMF goers. In addition to giving them the opportunity to interact with performers in a fun and casual setting, it also provides performers with an intimate platform from which to share their unique knowledge, experiences and cultural background with other performers as well as audience members.

This successful formula of thematic workshops rarely changes from year to year but it does not always lead to the same outcome.

For example, this year’s ‘The Rhythm Method’ workshop. As the percussionists representing Afro Caribbean (Joaquin Diaz – Dominican Republic, Malike Pathe Sow – Senegal), bhangra-rock (Kissmet – UK), Eastern European (Warsaw Village Band – Poland) and gamelan (Agung Beat – Sabah) played in unison, it almost seemed possible that the venue was in danger of falling in on itself – such was the roar of appreciation from the crowd, clapping their hands and stomping on the wooden floor in time to the music.

A loud, rip-roaring good time is the outcome which the RWMF crowd have come to expect from the two or three percussions workshops organised every year.

But what they did not expect but, nonetheless, found themselves enthusiastically participating in was singing and dancing en masse in synchronisation to a bhangra rhythm led by the tabla, complete with familiar Bollywood-esquehand gestures thrown in for good measure.

Adding to the mix, the organisers also introduced twice daily 20-minute performance by Leweton Women’s Water Music – which was a stroke of ingenuity on their part as this group fast became a crowd favourite despite not having a performance slot during the main night concerts.

Dressed in traditional garbs hand-made from leaves, freshly plucked from plants around Sarawak Cultural Village (SCV), the group’s six female members began their moving performance with a swaying dance by the man-made lake at the centre of SCV before wading into its waters until water levels reached up to their waists.

Then, using only water as their instrument, these women astounded onlookers by producing a surprisingly wide range of sounds – from deep, resounding booms to light splashes reminiscent of fish splashing in shallow waters – beating the water with their bare hands while singing and dancing in time to the rhythms.

The festival marked their maiden trip outside their home country of Vanuatu to perform but these unassuming women with shy but ready smiles quickly won the hearts of many festival goers.

Magic of music

As for this year’s night concerts, probably the most unexpected thing to occur was that the weather stayed clear and the (in)famous muddy moshpit of years past did not make its usual showing – much to the disappointment of some festival goers who missed getting down and dirty.

This year, the organisers largely managed to achieve the right balance of contemporary and traditional world music acts, traversing the gulf between fans demanding world ethnic music versus festival goers who just wanted to party.

As expected, the show stealers were mainly those able to get the crowd on their feet and dancing. Memorable sets included Grammy nominated zydeco-Cajun music group Lisa Haley and the Zydecats (USA), Australian folk music ensemble Kamerunga, bhangra-rock fusion group Kissmet (UK), Mexican music act Victor Valdez Trio, Latin-Caribbean music maestro Joaquin Diaz (Dominican Republic), and Paddy Keenan (Ireland).

Continue reading (Incl. Pic) at: Expecting the unexpected at the Sarawak Rainforest World Music Festival

First radio-collaring of Bornean slow loris

KOTA KINABALU: In the dense forest of the lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary, lurks a Bornean slow loris in search of insects, lizards and other prey.

So what, you might ask? Well, that is no ordinary slow loris. It is the only species of its kind which is equipped with toxic defence and a hunting mechanism to snare its prey— insects, lizards and the like.

Going by the name, ‘Krik’, this slow loris has been fitted with a VHF radio-collar to record its every movement, ranging from sleeping habits and preferences to behaviour. Fitted by the Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD) and Danau Girang Field Centre (DGFC), the radio-collar will enable DGFC research assistant, Baharudin Resake, who is in charge of the project, to locate ‘Krik’ more easily in the forest.

In a joint press statement here, the SWD and DGFC said the first such attempt on the Bornean species was part of an ongoing Nocturnal Primate Project funded by the Columbus Zoo and Cleveland Zoological Society of the United States.

DGFC director Dr. Benoit Goossens said: “The collar weighs less than three per cent of his (slow loris) body weight, so will not hinder the animal as he moves around the forest searching for food.

“As little is known about the Bornean slow loris, particularly in Sabah, any information collected by Baharudin, through tracking through the forest, will be important in understanding the species, from sleeping site locations and preferences, to ranging behaviour. With this study, we also hope to raise awareness in Sabah on the importance of protecting nocturnal primates, as much as protecting the orang utan, proboscis monkey, sun bear and the elephant.”

The slow loris, ‘Krik’, is named as such as it is one of the sounds it makes a kind of clicking, chirping noise.

Continue reading (Incl. Pic) at: First radio-collaring of Bornean slow loris

North Borneo Railway ‘Vulcan’ returns to offer rides down memory lane

KOTA KINABALU: The steam locomotive from the North Borneo Railway (NBR), featuring the British ‘Vulcan’, one of a few that is still functioning in the world is now back on track.

After being put into retirement in the 1970s after it was replaced by diesel and petrol-powered locomotives, the steam locomotive was relaunched in 2000, through a joint venture project between Sutera Harbour Resort (SHR) and the State Railway Department.

Today, the NBR provides two scheduled runs on Wednesday and Saturday, departing from the Tanjung Aru station to Papar town at 9.30am and returning at 1.40pm.

The train features five carriages named after all the five stations where it stops and it can carry a maximum of 80 passengers.

The route which covers 38.5km will take passengers from the Tanjung Aru station to Putatan and will make a 20-minute stop at Kinarut town before continuing the journey to Kawang and finally arriving at Papar town.

It stops in Papar for 30 minutes during which passengers can disembark to explore the town.

A ride on the Vulcan will certainly evoke nostalgic memories of a bygone colonial era of the late 19th century.

SHR director of marketing communications, Kattie Hoo said: “The train service was resumed on July 4, this year and the response has been encouraging as most of the passengers are our hotel guests, while some came after reading about it.”

“This is an old locomotive train and it has attracted people to come because they want to experience the ride as this is one of a few that is still functioning in the world. The people want to enjoy the natural beauty and the sights of the countryside which they cannot see in the city,” she added.

The steam engine train is operated by a five-member crew after a six-year break since 2005 to allow for the upgrading of the railway tracks.

Continue reading at: North Borneo Railway ‘Vulcan’ returns to offer rides down memory lane

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Trekforce helps preserve Kelabit Highlands heritage

TREKFORCE – a UK-based environmental conservation and community development volunteer organisation – has completed a major conservation project in the Kelabit Highlands, particularly in Bario, Pa’ Umor and Pa’main.

The project – from November 5, 2009 to June 25, 2011 – has reinforced past and present researches by the agencies concerned in documenting and preserving the priceless cultural heritage in the areas, believed to contain the most dense assemblage of culture sites in Sarawak, if not in Malaysia.

Among the agencies involved were the Sarawak Museum (1986 and 2004) and Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (Unimas) while other institutions included International Tropical Timber Organisations (ITT0). Also taking part in the project were researchers such as Sarah Hitchner (2007) and an academic from Pa’ Umor, professor Poline Balang of Unimas.

Trekforce comprises groups of young self-funded volunteers who embark on extreme expeditions to remote tropical rainforest areas. A large number of them – mostly from the UK, Europe, Canada and the US – are students, aged between 18 and 30 years, who have completed their education before entering college or university.

They are normally formed into mixed teams of around 10.

Their three key aims on each expedition are:

* To help protect and conserve the tropical rainforest ecosystems.

* To help the local people with vital community development projects in remote rural areas.

* To learn vital life skills such as teamwork, initiative and self-sufficiency during the physically and mentally demanding two-month expedition.

Survival training

Expeditions begin with a week of intensive jungle survival training where the volunteers are taught a wide range of survival skills, including fire-lighting, use of parangs, jungle navigation, building natural shelters, setting animal traps and collecting wild food.

Once trained to live and work safely and effectively in the challenging jungle environment, they trek into deep rainforests to set up basic hammock camps and begin the six-week conservation phase of their expedition.

On June 28, thesundaypost had the opportunity to interview the expedition leader and country co-ordinator, David Osborne, 30 (fondly known to the locals as ‘Os’ or by his Kelabit name ‘Berapui’ – meaning strong fire).

According to Os – along with close friends Al Davies, 31 (an English jungle survival expert) and Rian John Pasan, 40, (a local Kelabit guide and expedition leader) – Trekforce has, so far, carried out six successful expeditions in Sarawak since 2009, involving a total of 51 people, including Os himself.

He said since then, they have been working closely with the Rurum Kelabit Sarawak Association (RKS) and the community of Pa’ Umor on an ambitious cultural site and rainforest protection project, and a wide range of community development projects including teaching English at SK Bario and Pa’ Dalih.

He added that in 2009, work began with volunteer groups, protecting ancient Kelabit cultural sites such as stone megaliths, burial grounds and dragon burial jars in the jungles of the Kelabit Highlands.

Continue reading (Incl. Pic) at: Trekforce helps preserve Kelabit Highlands heritage

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Rainforest World Music Festival

By George Francis

MIRI - There was no rain in Santubong last weekend despite its name tagged..Rainforest.. as it usually rains during this time of the year; there was no resounding rhythms of the rain but forest, yes! Thanks to the good weather for entire three-day of the 14th edition of Rainforest World Music Festival (RWMF) 2011, which offered more than 20,000 enthusiasts a fantastic concerts by top musicians.

There's nothing quite like the atmosphere of a music festival. Then again, there's nothing quite like the RWMF!

It was where people regardless of their ethnicities, cultural backgrounds and music interests came together to have a blast of musical fun.

The festival continued to grow and attracted attendees from around the world with more bands and artistes with bigger international names, said its organisers, the Sarawak Tourism Board.

Apart from main-stage night concerts, attendees were caught up with daytime musical workshops, sunset concerts or group jam sessions as well as delighted in cultural displays, craft displays as well as variety of food stalls.

Running from July 8 to 10 at the Sarawak Cultural Village, 35 km from state capital Kuching, under the imposing shadow of Mount Santubong in the midst of virgin rainforest the festival emphasised the use of traditional acoustic world instruments with of course, common electric instrument accompaniment. It really was reconnecting the world with nature once more through music and culture!

This year featured 22 bands including international names: Grammy nominated Lisa Haley and the Zydecats of USA, award winning Blue Canyon Boys of USA; famous world music IIgi from Latvia, Kissmet of UK and from Georgia, The Shin.

A special addition side performance this year, saw the Leweton Women's Water Music Group of Vanuatu. They performed daytime in the cultural village lake showing their beautiful percussive water the water itself is the instrument. The water is beaten in rhythmic dance of bodies and waves producing a wide range of sounds intoxicating rhythms.

Among the myriad performers were Masters of Sape (Sarawak, Malaysia), AgungBeat (Sabah, Malaysia), DuOud of Tunisia/Algeria, Frigg (Finland), Iskwew (Canada), Joaquin Diaz of Dominican Republic, Kamafei (Italy), Kamerunga (Australia), Kenge Kenge Orutu System (Kenya), Malike Pathe Sow (Senegal), Mamak Khadem (Iran), Pacific Curis (New Zealand, Paddy Keenan (Ireland), Startijen (France), Victor Valdez (Mexico) and Warsaw Village Band of Poland.

The grand finale featuring all 22 bands on stage wrapped up a superb three-night concert; proven to be a hit with audiences with many foreign music lovers promised to come back next year.

RWMF has been voted for the second consecutive year as one of the Top 25 Best International Festivals by renowned world music magazine, Songlines, elevating its status in the international music scene as the festival, which has well and truly put Sarawak on the world tourism map.

Courtesy of Borneo Bulletin Weekend

‘Heart of Borneo’ communities linked by traditional music

KUCHING: When Elyas Yesaya from East Kalimantan started knocking on a ‘tubong’ to create a series of harmonies, the handful of music enthusiasts and historians at the Sarawak Museum broke into cheers as the bamboo instrument, not more than two feet long, is proof that the communities living in the ‘Heart of Borneo’ share common roots.

Geographically located in the middle of Borneo, the name ‘Heart of Borneo’ was given due to the several ecological wonders of the place among them, the huge network of rivers which brought and sustained lives in both Malaysia and Indonesia.

Even though separated by borders, the cultures and traditions of the communities living on the highlands have created a bond shared for generations.

In 2003, the late Datuk Dr Judson Sakai Tagal, former state assemblyman for Ba’ Kelalan, mooted the idea to form a forum to bring both countries under one roof as a stronghold to sustain cultures and traditions without borders.

It took a year to realise the dream, when the Borneo Highlands Community and Culture Forum (Forum Masyarakat Adat Dataran Tinggi Borneo, Formadat) was formed in October 2004 among the communities of Sarawak, Sabah and East Kalimantan.

For the Sarawak side, it was formed from the Lun Dayeh, Kelabit, Lun Bawang and Sa’ban from Bario, Ba Kelalan and Long Semadoh while East Kalimantan was made up of the Krayan Induk and Krayan Selatan communities.

Sabah completed the forum with her communities living in Long Pasia, Long Mio and Ulu Padas.

“This musical instrument is unique as it sounds quite similar to the gongs of the Orang Ulu in Sarawak,” said Elyas who handcrafted the musical instruments with skills he picked up at a young age.

Among the bamboo musical instruments Elyas handed to the Sarawak Museum director Ipoi Dantan were the agung bulu, kelinang, sanang, keng, telingut and ruding.

“These instruments are made from several types of bamboo,” said Elyas who explained that some of the musical instruments are actually everyday items in their community such as the keng which is used to pluck fruits.

Continue reading (Incl. Pic) at: ‘Heart of Borneo’ communities linked by traditional music

Friday, July 15, 2011

Bird-watching tourism in Sabah

SANDAKAN: As home to 600 resident and migratory bird species, including about 50 that can only be found on the Borneo island, Sabah is a paradise for bird watchers.

Though Sabah is on the international bird watchers list, more needs to be done to promote the diverse bird fauna in the state, and convert it into economic returns.

Realizing the economic potential of bird-watching, and the need to create awareness of the state’s unique avian heritage, the Borneo Bird Club was established in Oct 2010, headed by Gary Albert.

Gary, president of Borneo Bird Club, told Bernama, recently, that the club, with 100 members, serves as the best platform to promote bird-watching as part of Sabah’s tourism industry.


Though Sabah has been a favourite haunt for many foreign bird-watchers, the activity isn’t very popular in the state. Sabah is unlike neighbouring countries, Philippines, Thailand, Singapore, Taiwan, or even Europe, where there are many bird-watchers’ clubs and tours.

“Only now has the club, with the cooperation of the state’s Tourism, Culture and Environment Ministry, Forestry Department and the Wildlife Department, embarked on programmes to inculcate interest in bird-watching and conservation activities,” he said.

The Malaysia Nature Society and the Nature Society in Sabah play an important role in cultivating interest in bird-watching.


Sabah’s first official bird-watching activity, the Borneo Bird Festival, was held in Oct 2009, in Sepilok, near Sandakan, with overseas bird-watcher club members taking part, as well.

Due to an overwhelming response, the second festival took place in the following year. This year, the third Borneo Bird Festival will take place in October.

Gary pointed out that Sabah has a number of established bird-watching spots – Rainforest Discovery Center (RDC) in Sepilok, Kinabalu Park in Kundasang, Kampung Sukau in Kinabatangan, Danum, Tabin Valley in Lahad Datu, and Sungai Klias in Beaufort.

These are the places where many species can be seen, including those endemic to Borneo.

However, bird-watching is not limited to bird-watching club members. The club is now focusing on programmes to attract public participation, especially from the younger generation.

For a start, the Borneo Bird Club has enlisted primary and secondary students for activities such as the young ranger programme at RDC.

A mobile exhibition is also on the cards, apart from the upcoming Borneo Bird Festival.


According to Gary, to create greater appreciation for the state’s avian heritage, the club plans to train more bird guides, as their numbers are currently limited.

There are about six licensed bird guides in the state, and their services see high demand.

In the long term, the club plans to train tour guides to serve as bird guides as well. They will be taught different bird species, and the ethics of bird-watching.

At present, tour agents offer bird-watching in their tour-packages, but it is supervised by tour guides.

Continue reading at: Bird-watching tourism in Sabah